Little Boy Blue—and Little Girls, Too?

Little Boy Blue—and Little Girls, Too? 1

The Winterthur Library, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera

"Polly's Brother Percy," from "The Baltimore American," Sunday, October 16, 1910. A new book explores whether the clothes worn in childhood really make the man (or woman).

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The Winterthur Library, Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera

"Polly's Brother Percy," from "The Baltimore American," Sunday, October 16, 1910. A new book explores whether the clothes worn in childhood really make the man (or woman).

When a new mother approaches with an infant swaddled in green, the modern-day American faces a dilemma: Is it a boy or a girl? Better not guess wrong. "Is that your, um, son?" we might ask, cringing inwardly if the child turns out to be a girl.

Americans of the 1800s would have been puzzled by the awkwardness, writes Jo B. Paoletti in Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America (Indiana University Press).

Before the early 20th century, it was