Dressing Your Toddler – the Trials and Tribulations of Genderfication

If your little one doesn't like blue or pink, if dinosaur motifs are too 'scary' or flowers prints are too 'smelly', then finding an outfit to accommodate their tastes can be a challenge…

Every parent will have their own thoughts on how they want to dress their children and many children will have their own distinct ideas too. Nonetheless, a longstanding concern has been the polarised ‘genderfication’ of babywear and children’s clothes. It can make for a trickier shop if you don’t want to buy pink for your baby girl or blue for your boy, but each parent’s experience is as different as their child.

Here, as if to prove that point, we share five parents’ stories about their fashion-conscious toddlers, and how they negotiate the genderfication conundrum with the outfits their little ones choose to wear…

Julie, on the challenges she’s faced with her toddler, Casper:

Casper has strong opinions on what he wants to wear, with his tastes not always matching mine! I will always try to support his choices, and right now, Casper’s loves the colour orange. He loves hats too, and often partners his crocs with orange socks. I think it’s so important to support his sense of style and identity, and seeing his confidence in the combinations he puts together.

I often find it frustrating trying to find clothing within the boy section that matches his interests. I’ve found many high street retailers pigeon-hole what children’s interests should be based on gender stereotypes, so where possible, I try to shop with independent retailers. I’ve found these types of stores usually have a better choice, and although mainstream shops are starting to be aware of this conversation, it still feels they’ve a long way to go.

Kat, on her two little ones, Mollie and Charlie:

I have two children, Mollie aged 7 and Charlie who is 17 months old, as toddlers, neither resisted my fashion choices for them. I love Charlie in nautical themes and traditional boy outfits, whereas Mollie has always loved leopard print and flowers (though my powers of persuasion have perhaps influenced her sense of style over the years!)

But my biggest sadness is that there seems to be so much more choice when it comes to the girls’ clothing section, with a diverse range of dresses, skirts, shorts and playsuits, jeans and leggings. With boys, I’m limited to blues and dinosaurs, trousers and shorts.

During various lockdowns and the intermittent closing of high street retailers, I was forced to look elsewhere for children’s clothing. I was surprised to find that Instagram became my go-to place for dressing for my little ones as it showcases local, independent retailers. It’s made shopping so much easier and I have ended up with a lot more choice compared with what I used to find on the high street. Right now I’m enjoying personalised printing on children’s clothing, such as initials or motifs from independent retailers. I can choose the colours, prints and sizing, making each piece one of a kind.

Caroline, on dressing Daniel, Katie and Molly 25 years ago when they were toddlers, and how her outlook has changed now that she’s a grandmother.

Despite having three children (a boy, followed by two girls) close together, with only 18 months between each of them, I never wanted to dress them the same. I found many parents love dressing their children of similar ages in matching outfits, but I always wanted them to have their own identity. 

Twenty-five years ago, when they were toddlers, online shopping didn’t exist. I relied on high street stores and I found it very limiting. I hardly ever put the girls in traditional dresses, preferring dungarees for their shape and practicality but it was especially difficult to dress Daniel. I often bought his clothes when on holiday in the US, where I found much more choice with boys clothing. In my experience, American toddler clothing in general was much less restrictive.

Now as a grandma to my two year old nephew, it’s a very different story. Online shopping is so much easier, and I’d choose to spend more money than on my own child – opting for special occasion clothing that is pricier than your ‘everyday’ t-shirts and shorts.

Martha, on the benefits and limitations of hand-me-down clothing


I have always counted myself lucky because of my generous friends and their hand-me-down clothing for my daughter when she was a toddler. It meant that I didn’t have to spend a fortune on buying new clothes for her. Thanks to a few wealthy friends, my daughter was given some beautiful designer pieces that ordinarily I could have never afforded to buy.

Saying that, when my daughter became older, she stopped wanting to wear these clothes as she wanted to make her own choices. One day, she refused to put on this stunning Moncler top and instead she picked this glittering unicorn T-shirt from Sainsbury’s. I asked her why, to which she replied: “Because Mum, you bought it for me and we chose it together.”

Emily, on her son Josh’s preference in brightly coloured clothing

When my son was little he had no interest in cars or trains but liked dressing Barbies. He wanted his clothes to be brightly coloured, ‘like Barbie’s’, but it was often really difficult to find anything other than army style combat greens and browns or branded sports kit for little boys.

We would go to shops and he’d naturally be drawn to the girls’ section with all the fun colours and sequin tops. We ended up with a variety of girls and boys clothes, including some lovely sequined emoji t-shirts from the ‘girl’s section’ which he really loved and when we went to France on holiday one year, we noticed they had a much better range of bright, happy colours for boys, and so stocked up!

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