Guys and Dolls: Veteran Toy Designer Wrestles With the Industry's Gender Divide

The more modern Americans wants to expand gender roles and the career and lifestyle choices for their children, the more the toy aisles become segregated. Once upon a time, toys were mostly small and safer versions of adult objects of all kinds, but over time they were divided into boys toys and girls toys, with color-coding to match. Now they are in entirely different sections of stores. Stefanie Eskander is the Design Manager for girls’ toys at Toys “R” Us, and also collects vintage toys. She has some thoughts to pass along about how toy lines have changed over the years, and how gender preferences have complicated the business.  

Pink is a funny thing. In the early days of the 20th century, pink was not necessarily a girl color. I’ve even heard that pink was considered a popular color for boys because it was a lighter version of red, which has always been seen as powerful and masculine. But as the 20th century went by, pink became a much more popular color for girls. I’ve heard they’ve done scientific studies that show that women and girls and even female babies are more attracted to redder colors than boys, but I take all of that with a grain of salt. I think girls’ attraction to pink is societal for the most part.

For my entire life, my favorite color was always red. From the time I was little, I loved wearing red shoes or a red dress. And if I had loved blue, I would’ve worn blue. So even though I didn’t wear a lot of pink growing up, I can see why pink is popular.

Do you know that when Barbie came out in the 1950s, her original look didn’t have a smidgen of pink in it? I don’t think Barbie started using pink as her primary color until the ’70s. Barbie was supposed to be a high-fashion doll, so her first outfit was black and white, not pink. But Barbie really is to blame for all the pink: Mattel actually has a copyrighted color now called Barbie Pink. They own rights to that pink, and you can’t use that exact formula on anything that isn’t Barbie.

Today, pink is a very young color. In other words, younger girls tend to like pink much more than older girls. Older girls are a little more sophisticated. By the time they’re 8 or 9 years old, they’re more conscious of the fashions they’re wearing and the media trends they see, which isn’t all pink. So younger girls tend to like pink and the older girls tend to like other colors. You don’t see the Monster High girls wearing pink. That’s not their schtick. They’re wearing colors that are more edgy and modern.

Eskander has more to tell us, about the lack of toys for school-age girls, the effect of licensing on toy design, and some neat tidbits about the toys of decades past, at Collectors Weekly.

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