Meredith Alston is no stranger to calling out institutions on double standards regarding clothing. In high school, she tells Scary Mommy, she was “dress-coded” so often that at one point she covered her exposed shoulders with paint and sat in protest in the school cafeteria.
“I was constantly being dress-coded for the length of the shorts,” Alston recalls.
The Maryland mom of two, known as @naptown_thrifts on TikTok, generally posts videos on the topic of thrifting, but a recent trip to Target to grab some school uniform pants for her 7-year-old inspired her to comment on the stark gendered discrepancies she found in their clothing offerings.
“Target, if you’re listening, I need to ask you a question,” Alston begins in the first of her videos on the topic, which has been viewed almost 400,000 times.
“My daughter needed to get pants for school... in the girls’ section we’ve got these nice, stretchy, very thin leggings.” Alston pulls a navy pants leg between her hands before reaching for the comparable garment that she found in the boy’s department. She describes the boys’ pants as “durable” and notes the drawstring waist and reinforced knees.
The differences are pretty stark: the boys’ pants are more utilitarian and built to last longer. The girls’ pants protect less against weather and wear — while offering less coverage and fewer pockets (if any).
When Scary Mommy searched Target online for navy pants, we found a plethora of legging options in the girls’ department, as well as the stiff, zip-fly uniform pants that kids of all genders hate — because they’re not made for playing! There was one pair of more comfy-looking “performance uniform pants” available online, featuring an elastic waist and soft knit fabric.
In the boys’ department there were uniform pants and fleece joggers that did have equivalents in the girl’s section, but the overall mix was markedly different. The emphasis was on being able to move, with a variety of “performance” and athletic pants. Cargo pants with their plentiful pockets were only available in the boys’ section, as was a sturdy-looking pair made by Volcom. The “Understoned Surf N’ Turf Pant,” according to the mega-chain’s website, is “made for maximum comfort, versatility, and durability,” and “designed with his active and adventurous lifestyle in mind.”
Hmmm — do girls have active and adventurous lifestyles or...?
Volcom pants available for girls are named “Bloom Shakalaka” and “Sunday Strut,” and they come in floral and pink, respectively. You can’t make this stuff up.
Alston ends the video by saying, “You guys know I thrift everything, but if I can’t find their size or the color that they need for their uniform, I have to buy it new. This is what’s local, this is what I can afford, and these are my options.”
A few commenters suggested that Alston shop gender neutral brands. In response to one comment, Alston responded, “I thrifted a few things from @Primarydotcom and LOVE them but I can’t afford them regular.”
When someone commented that the situation with shorts was even more distressing, Alston went to investigate and made a follow-up video of her findings.
Surprise! She found that girls’ shorts options were less durable, more expensive, and shorter than the ones in the boys’ section. Particularly galling to 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 have the, like deeper pockets, she is so happy because her clothing is serving a purpose instead of just instead of just covering her up.”
While she realizes that boys’ options are also limited to appropriately “male” designs like trucks and dinosaurs, Alston says the consequences girls and women face for what they’re wearing are far more severe, and they only escalate as we grow older. In elementary school, girls may be removed from the classroom because their shorts are too short, but by the time they’re teens, they may see their clothing “weaponized as an excuse for violence against women,” says Alston.
Alston doesn’t expect a behemoth like Target to stop categorizing clothing by gender, and she points out that sizing for each gender really is somewhat different as kids age. What she would like to see is some parity, particularly given the gravity of the consequences her own daughters and other girls.
“Clothing for small children serves a universal purpose,” says Alston. It’s “meant 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 these manners for “aesthetic” reasons, she says, is blatant sexism.
Target has a pretty solid history when it comes to inclusion and equity, especially for a large corporation — their advertising is diverse and they have released product lines especially for kids with autism. It does seem like they need to catch up in this area, and the sooner the better.
It’s not just a Target problem, though. Most stores offer similar gendered choices, and honestly, most parents don’t want to buy clothes for their kids that make them stand out from their peers, even if they last longer and function better. Thanks, overarching patriarchy!
“It’s difficult to find clothing for little girls that is designed the same way that clothing has always been designed for little boys,” Alston laments.
And it really shouldn’t be the case. All kids deserve better.