Designing Boys' Clothes is Hard, But Not For the Reasons You Think


“Well, at least we know that the idea that girls care about their clothes and boys don’t is totally wrong.”

Eva and I had just axed yet another Boy, Wonder design and were banging our heads on the desk. Again. We’d been working on ideas for our new boys’ line for weeks, and at that point, we had a grand total of one design confirmed and ready to send to an artist.


Our very early concept for the cat shirt, the only design idea that survived the mayhem of our first few weeks of brainstorming.

Finalizing ideas for Boy, Wonder was proving to be a challenge. More than 4,000 parents had taken our survey, telling us about their wonderful sons and all the things they wanted to wear: sparkles, bright colors, unicorns, math, science, rainbows - the list went on and on.

We were not having any trouble coming up with ideas for Boy, Wonder. The problem was that, like their sisters, boys care very deeply about what is on their clothing - and also have strong preferences about the combination of things that they want to wear. Some boys want sparkles, but not pink. Some want pink but not sparkles. Some like trucks AND purple. Others only want purple, no trucks. Some boys will only wear a shirt with buttons, while others will-not-touch-with-a-ten-foot-pole a shirt with buttons or collars.


Six of the 20+ colorways we tried for the math monsters design.

 

So even just figuring out what style of clothing, much less the theme and colors we would use on it, was difficult. No single item in the boys’ section can be identified strongly as a “male” item of clothing. In other words - there isn’t the equivalent of a dress. We knew we would be making some kind of shirt, so we started there. We wanted the shirt to look like it belonged to a boy, so we chose a long-sleeve raglan with a Henley collar finish (2-3 button opening without a collar) and a polo tee. We thought these two products would read well as “for boys.” But then feedback came in - people told us that their kids never wear polos except for uniforms, and they never see other kids wearing polos, plus many folks said their kids never wear buttons. So we changed directions - kept the raglan but made the collar plain, and changed the polo to a short sleeve Henley, since we didn’t want to make just another t-shirt.


Eva drew the art for these flamingos herself!

Pants had similar issues. Parents did not want anything with buttons or zippers (understandably), and kids wanted to be comfortable. We had started out thinking we would make lightweight canvas pants, but changed to joggers when feedback came in that kids wanted to be comfortable and many parents liked the cuff finish so the pants wouldn’t drag.

Once we finally figured out the three styles of clothing we were going to make, we moved on to the second challenge - the prints and designs. This was an entirely new level of difficulty. So many people wanted unicorns - we had no trouble deciding right at the beginning that at least one of our new items would feature unicorns. But do we design a unicorn shirt for the boy who loves unicorns but who doesn’t like pink? Or do we design a unicorn shirt for the boy who loves unicorns and pink? Are we making a more “masculine” looking unicorn? Or should it look like something you could find in the girls’ section? Is there a way to design a unicorn shirt that would appeal to all boys who like unicorns? We wrestled with similar questions for other themes - cats, ice cream, flamingos.


We were struggling to come up with a science design - then Eva's 7yo colored his valentines like this. Eureka! Rainbow Science!

From this process emerged a collection of seven new items of clothing that we absolutely love. Unicorns, rainbows, science, math, ice cream, sparkles, trucks, pink, and purple all made it into the collection in one way or another. They are just the start of what we very much hope will be a long line of new favorites - for special little guys whose particular interests and tastes deserve to be honored and encouraged.

1 comment

  • Stevi

    You’ve pretty much summed up the problems I’ve been encountering with finding clothes for my kiddo. He loves bright colors, sparkles (especially those reversible sequin things!), cats, rainbows, and clever sayings with emojis. But he’s super particular about fit. Girls’ short-sleeve shirts have “annoying sleeves that get in my armpits.” Girls’ pants have fake pockets, tiny pockets, or NO pockets (I feel you, kiddo!). But boys’ clothes are too baggy, too boring, and the fabric is heavy and rough and uncomfortable. And let me tell you, this 6-year-old has a lecture on these troubles prepared for any unfortunate shop-person who tries to sell him on the “wrong” thing. He’s, unfortunately, one of those kids who won’t touch buttons with a 10 foot pole – so I ordered one of the Unicorn Adventures shirts – with fingers crossed that it’ll be a hit this fall. Thanks so much for thinking of our creative, wonder-filled kiddos who don’t easily fit in gender boxes!

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