(Image via Unsplash)
An Atlanta mom founded the area’s first gender-neutral children’s clothing store this May, drawing on her lifelong passion for fashion and newfound interest in kids’ fashion freedom.
The boutique, called Mini Friday, opened in the Kirkwood neighborhood with a goal of “celebrating each and every child’s own style while not dictating that girls wear pink and boys wear blue unless they want to,” according to a press release.
Owner Allie Friday named the store after her own kids, whom Allie considers “mini versions” of herself. Mini Friday entered the world in 2016 as a fashion truck in Los Angeles, but Allie returned to her home city last year to open the brick-and-mortar location.
She was inspired by her daughter, Erin, who at the age of five started to resist her mom’s pink and feminine clothing choices for her. Rather than continue to fight over Erin’s style, Allie understood that letting her daughter dress how she wanted would be liberating for them both.
Since she had always wanted to open her own boutique and had been designing clothing lines since childhood, opening Mini Friday was a clear next step for Allie.
“At the end of the day, I just want a happy kid,” Allie said. “I decided I wanted to open my own gender-neutral, safe space for all children who simply want to wear what they like, without judgment.”
Mini Friday markets itself to the parents of kids “who don’t like to shop.” To entice those families, Allie designed the storefront as a "joyful, playful, safe zone" complete with a selfie station, creative chalkboard wall, and juice bar. The boutique also offers t-shirt customization and embroidery for an extra touch of personalization as well as an upcycling program, through which customers can return outgrown items for a discount on their next purchase. Mini Friday then donates returned clothes, if they’re in good condition, to local children’s centers.
The outfitter carries sizes for kids aged 2-8 and sources from West Coast and United Kingdom distributors, who have been more open to creating gender-neutral pieces than leading U.S. brands. Unfortunately, this means that some of the offerings are more expensive than the kids’ clothes available at chain retailers, but the upcycling program helps reduce that barrier to access among repeat shoppers and donation recipients.
Mini Friday isn’t specifically for kids who identify as gender-neutral or non-binary, but it normalizes the idea that clothing isn’t tied to gender expression at all, setting an important precedent for all parents and kids.
“Normalizing gender-neutral clothing choices has the potential to impact children in positive ways regardless of their gender identification because it encourages positive self-definition,” Dr. Roberta Chevrette, a professor of Communication Studies and Women's & Gender Studies at Middle Tennessee State University, told Step Up Magazine. “According to symbolic interaction theory, our identities are constructed through symbols and social interactions. Clothing—and the ways we relate to it—is one important means of identity formation.”
It might be easy to view Mini Friday as just another clothing store, but Chevrette said clothes are much more than that -- especially for kids. The impact of what we wear isn’t just an emotional or psychological one, she said.
“While we may think of clothing as something we simply put on our already existing bodies, this isn’t really the case. Instead, gendered fashion choices literally shape children’s bodies,” Chevrette said. “While shorts and pants often allow freedom of motion, dresses teach young girls to confine their movements as well as to be concerned with what is being revealed by their clothing. Over time, these differences in interaction required by clothing choices are naturalized, becoming a part of our bodies themselves.”
As Mini Friday takes its place amid the department stores and traditional boutiques throughout Atlanta, it’s clear that it’s the only shop of its kind. Pink dresses, blue t-shirts, and gendered advertising still line most storefronts, a stark contrast from Mini Friday’s unisex inventory and fun atmosphere. These gendered clothing expectations come with ingrained gender roles -- a cultural idea of how folks should present as a result of their assigned gender. It’s extremely limiting, and it can be uncomfortable and confusing for anyone, especially kids. So why are the majority of parents still married to gendered styles?
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University of Maryland researcher Jo B. Paoletti speaks to that question in her 2011 book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. She explored the history of kids’ clothes and how they’re marketed in order to determine when pink forged an association with girls and blue with boys.
Feminist publication Jezebel reported on Paoletti’s findings in advance of the book’s release. They wrote that prior to the 1920s, both boys and girls wore the same style of dress for practical reasons: parents can more easily remove a dress to change a baby’s diaper. When gendered color associations were introduced, popular media actually decided upon the reverse of what we know as normal today: blue was for girls, and pink for boys.
The media changed their tune over just a few decades, however. And as is far too often the case in this country, economic gain played an essential role in the development of gendered colors, too. Extending that to clothing was an easy jump for manufacturing companies and marketing agencies to land, and that’s where we are today.
“In the 1940s, manufacturers settled on pink for girls and blue for boys, so Baby Boomers were raised with wearing the two colors. But that wasn't the end of the story. Paoletti says that due to the women's liberation movement, more unisex baby clothes came into style in the late '60s and '70s. Yet pink and blue came back in the mid-'80s, with the development of prenatal testing. Once parents could find out whether they were having a boy or a girl, they could outfit their nursery in the ‘appropriate’ color. Manufacturers pushed the fad too after realizing affluent parents would buy a whole new set of baby products once they found out Junior was expecting a little sister.”
Luckily, popular perceptions of gendered clothing seem to be changing yet again, but this time in a much better direction. Between companies like Mini Friday, who are intentionally stepping up to provide a space for gender-neutrality, and those who will or are already catching on to it for economic reasons, it seems likely that unisex outfits could become a new normal.
And if we’ve learned anything from this, we know that will benefit us all.
Emily Rose Thorne is a junior at Mercer University and an aspiring multimedia journalist. She’s been involved with Step Up Magazine since 2017 and is now helping guide the editorial team as Senior Editor. Previously, she interned as a journalist for both Atlanta Magazine and Girls Rock Athens. She’s also served as Staff Writer, Lead News Writer and News Editor of her campus publication, The Cluster. She is currently the Digital Editor of The Cluster and a 2019 John M. Couric Fellow at the Center for Collaborative Journalism. This summer, she'll start producing audio and writing copy for Georgia Public Broadcasting in Macon.