Meredith Alston is no stranger to denouncing institutions of double standards when it comes to dress. In high school, she says creepy momShe was dresscoded so many times that she once covered her bare shoulders in paint and sat in the school cafeteria in protest.
“I was constantly being tied to the dress code for the length of the shorts,” Alston recalls.
The Maryland mom-of-two, known as @naptown_thrifts on TikTok, generally posts videos about thrift, but a recent trip to Target to get school uniform pants for her 7-year-old inspired her to comment on the stark gender discrepancies she found in their clothing offerings.
“Target, if you’re listening, I have a question for you,” Alston begins the first of her videos on the topic, which has garnered nearly 400,000 views.
“My daughter needed pants for school… in the girls’ department we have these lovely, stretchy, very skinny leggings.” Alston pulls a pair of navy pant legs between her hands before reaching for the comparable piece of clothing she found in the boys’ department. She describes the boys pants as “durable” and highlights the drawstring waistband and reinforced knees.
The differences are pretty stark: boys’ pants are more practical and durable. Girls’ pants offer less protection from weather and wear and tear – but offer less protection and fewer pockets (if any).
When Scary Mommy Target searched online for navy blue pants, we found a plethora of legging options in the girls’ department, as well as the stiff, zip-front uniform pants that kids of all genders hate – because they’re not made for play! There was a pair of more comfortable-looking “performance uniform pants” online with an elastic waistband and soft knit fabric.
In the boys’ department there were uniform trousers and fleece jogging pants, which had equivalents in the girls’ department, but the overall mix was clearly different. The emphasis was on being able to move, with a variety of “performance” and athletic pants. Cargo pants with their many pockets were only in the boys’ department, as was a sturdy looking pair from Volcom. According to the mega chain’s website, the Understoned Surf N’ Turf Pant is “made for maximum comfort, versatility and durability” and “designed for his active and adventurous lifestyle.”
Hmmm – do girls have active and adventurous lifestyles or…?
The Volcom pants available for girls are called “Bloom Shakalaka” and “Sunday Strut” and are both available in flowers and pink. You can’t invent this stuff.
Alston ends the video by saying, “You know I save everything, but if I can’t find their size or the color they need for their uniform, I have to buy them new. It’s local, I can afford it, and those are my options.”
Some commenters suggested that Alston buy gender-neutral brands. In response to a comment, Alston replied, “I’ve been saving a few things from @Primarydotcom and LOVE them but can’t afford them on a regular basis.”
When someone commented that the situation with shorts was even more concerning, Alston went to investigate and filmed a follow-up video of their findings.
Surprise! She found that the girls’ shorts were less durable, more expensive, and shorter than those in the boys’ department. One thing that particularly annoyed Alston was the lack of pockets in the girl’s designs.
“My youngest daughter loves picking up rocks,” explains Alston. “And she uses my pockets because her clothes don’t have pockets. So when I bought her the little boy pants that we have deeper pockets, she is so happy because her clothes serve a purpose instead of just covering her.”
While she’s aware that boys’ choices are also limited to appropriately “masculine” designs like trucks and dinosaurs, Alston says the consequences girls and women face are far more severe in what they wear and they only escalate as we get older. In elementary school, girls can be removed from the classroom because their shorts are too short, but by the time they’re teenagers, they may see their clothing as a “weapon as an excuse for violence against women,” says Alston.
Alston doesn’t expect a giant like Target to stop categorizing clothing by gender, and she points out that sizing for each gender is really slightly different as kids age. What she would like to see is some parity, especially given the severity of the implications for her own daughters and other girls.
“Clothing for young children serves a universal purpose,” says Alston. It’s designed to “keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and protect you from UV rays.” That girls are less well served in this way for “aesthetic” reasons is obvious sexism.
Target has a pretty solid history when it comes to inclusion and equity, especially for large companies – their advertising is diverse and they’ve released product lines specifically for children with autism. It seems they have some catching up to do in this area and the sooner the better.
It’s not just a Target problem, however. Most stores offer similar gender-specific choices, and frankly, most parents don’t want to buy clothes for their kids that will set them apart from their peers, even if they last longer and perform better. Thank you, overarching patriarchy!
“It’s difficult to find clothes for little girls that are designed the way clothes have always been designed for little boys,” Alston laments.
And it really shouldn’t be. All children deserve better.