Before she turned 2, my daughter Alice fell in love with dinosaurs. She spent her toddler years amassing all things reptile — living and extinct — before dabbling in amphibians for a while. Books, stuffed toys, you name it: If it showed something slithering or scaly, she was all in.
Like all children, Alice wanted clothing to match her passions from the time she could talk. In those early years I dutifully searched out T-rex gear from Carters. Once I even scored a rare dressy girl’s shirt covered in bugs. (Apologies to my stepsister, whose wedding photos show how much Alice loved it.)
As she’s gotten older, it’s near-impossible to get her into anything without an image of animals, sports or superheroes. And this is where, every time she outgrows another size, things get ugly.
Yes, Alice has an older brother, and she would be overjoyed to wear his hand-me-downs, assuming they weren’t demolished by the time he’s finished with them, which is rare.
But also, Alice is a petite 5-year-old. She swims in clothing cut for boys — even the toddler sizes. As Alice will tell you, she’s a “girl who likes boy stuff.” She doesn’t mind being confused for a boy, and when asked why she dresses like one, will respond, “I can wear whatever I want.” She may be unfazed, but she doesn’t exactly like having to explain herself, either.
As anyone who’s been in a major retailer recently can tell you, it’s slim pickings out there for girls who love Batman and Diplodocus. And if you’re a boy who loves ballet or slogans “love makes the world go round?” Well, that one pretty much answers itself.
In 2017, the world has changed enough that Target now carries girl-sized dino T-shirts. Among the pastel blandishments to “Smile!” is one proclaiming the wearer as “Future President.” Lands’ End has a couple with Pluto and Saturn, which happen to be Alice’s favorite stellar bodies. I know all of this because I scour various sites when the sales hit my inbox, looking for clothes that are affordable and will let my kid express herself the way she wants.
I’ve seen the indie clothing websites, where kids defy stereotypes in organic cotton. I’m glad they’re out there. But it’s invariably $30 for a T-shirt and they rarely go on sale. Either that, or the science- and ninja- patterns only come in dresses, because there’s only so many stereotypes girls should challenge at a time. (Alice hasn’t tolerated a dress since she was 18 months old, so those are out, too.)
And what about all the families who don’t have the money or patience to look beyond the local big box store? What should they do for girls who love Iron Man? What about the boys who want a shirt with Rey from Star Wars, not Kylo Ren?
Well, they’re finally getting a few options. It seems at least some retailers are catching on that not every boy loves skulls and danger, and not every girl wants ponies or pink. Every season I see a shirt here or swimsuit there that surprises me, and the job gets a little easier.
But Alice? She’s 5, and she’s not so patient. She came home yesterday and saw the shirts I was about to buy for her brother from the Gap online. The boys’ section had Star Wars, Hot Wheels, and DC Comics — along with the standard sharks and extreme sports. The girls’ section has none of those — only Disney Princesses, a few Looney Toons and Smurfs. In true 5-year old fashion, the injustice of this filled her with righteous indignation.
So she dictated the following letter, which we’re putting in the mail to Gap Inc. this week.
My name is Alice Jacob and I am almost 5½ years old. I like cool shirts like Superman and Batman shirts and race car shirts, too. All your girl shirts are pink and princesses and stuff like that. The boys’ shirts are really cool. They have Superman, Batman, rock-and-roll and sports. What about girls who like those things like me, and my friend Olivia?
Can you make some cool girls’ shirts please? Or, can you make a ‘no boys or girls’ section — only a kids’ section?
In her mind, this act of corporate activism is sure to result in a rash of new options, preferably in time for camp. I don’t have the heart to tell her differently. I’d rather she believe in the power of her voice to change things: starting now, and never stopping.
Beth Jacob is a policy wonk, writer, and mom–not necessarily in that order–in Washington, D.C.
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