Boys’ Clothing Part 1–Valuing Toughness and Aggression

In my previous post about the gender environment we have created for boys, I talked about associative memory and the “environment of images” that surrounds young boys, concluding that the gender images that dominate boys’ popular culture influence their definition of masculinity.

As an example, I said that “…if boys repeatedly see portrayals of males as tough, aggressive warrior types, they will begin to associate those traits with men and masculinity.”

Boys don’t have to look hard for examples of the tough guy in popular culture—he is seen all over the television dial, in advertising, and in the books based on popular TV series. He is held up as a sort of ideal (in sharp contrast to “wimpy” smart guy characters) and he teaches boys that success comes from being aggressive.

Increasingly, the influence of this character can be seen in boys’ clothing. As the examples below demonstrate, scary imagery, with its undertones of aggression, appears on clothing marketed to boys aged one and up. (Links are included where available, although they may not work once the shirts are no longer sold via the retailer’s website.)

Looking at the youngest age range, we have this image from H&M. A little frightening for a one-year-old, isn’t it?

H&M Skull Shirt

Moving into the offerings for toddlers and preschoolers, we can look at some of the designs from The Gap. The pirate theme is a popular one for boys, but the imagery in this shirt, aimed at toddlers, is a little dark. The Skate shirt, also very dark, is available for boys aged four to fourteen.

Pirate Themed Shirt from The Gap

Skate and Skull Shirt from The Gap

Not to be outdone in the creepy department, The Children’s Place offers this shirt for ages four and up.

Target has more shirts for 4-year-olds with the skull theme.

Green Skull Shirt from Target

Black Skull Shirt from Target

Shopping at Canadian retailer Zellers, I saw plenty of clothes with the same theme. Unfortunately, pictures are not available online, but there were images of skulls, flames, and dragons encircled by flames in clothing marketed to boys as young as seven. The Gap also has a dragon shirt for boys aged six and up, shown here.

Dragon Shirt from The Gap

Graffiti-styled fonts also offer a hint of aggression, in shirts like these, seen for children aged four to fourteen at The Children’s Place.

Graffiti Styled Font from The Children’s Place

Skate Shirt from The Children’s Place

Loud rock music is another theme for boys, perhaps best represented by this shirt from The Gap. The text makes reference to stagediving, crowd surfing, killer riffs, and kickin’ bass.

Rock Revolution Shirt from The Gap

Girls face a whole host of other issues with their clothes, but the lack of aggression in theirs makes for quite a contrast with boys’ clothing. Girls and guitars tend to be less about noise: this shirt shows a guitar surrounded by butterflies.

Girls’ Guitar Shirt from The Children’s Place

Similarly, the only girls’ shirt I could find with skulls had a completely different vibe from those on boys’ shirts. These skulls look almost friendly, surrounded as they are by hearts, cupcakes, and rainbows.

Girls’ Skull Shirt from The Children’s Place

What kind of environment are we creating for boys with these images? One that makes aggression and toughness look cool.

As we’ll see in my next post, the warrior is not the only male stereotype to be exalted in boys’ clothing. The brat also makes his presence felt.


3 thoughts on “Boys’ Clothing Part 1–Valuing Toughness and Aggression

  1. I’ve been reading your blog backward from today, and just wanted to drop in and comment. I have two little boys, and am constantly disgusted by how ugly “boy” clothes are, compared to “girl” clothes. Mere genderization is an inadequate excuse for this divide, as it’s pretty easy to dress a boy in ‘masculine’ clothes that aren’t butt-ugly, but for some reason, parents chose not to.

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