Imagine you have twin 6-year-olds, one boy and one girl. You hit the boys’ and girls’ departments of your favorite clothing store in search of summer clothes for them. (After all, last year’s clothes don’t even come close to fitting).
You pick out a girls’ size 6 short-sleeved shirt and shorts for her and a boys’ size 6 short-sleeved shirt and shorts for him. His fits perfectly. Hers doesn’t even come close. And then you hold up these outfits and realize that her shorts are 65 percent shorter than his. Her sleeves are 36 percent shorter and her shirt is as much as 3 inches skinnier than his and 8 percent shorter than his. And yet, your two children are the same age and relatively the same size. Boys and girls are at that age.
What’s going on?
That’s a question Sharon Choksi, the founder of Austin-based clothing line Girls Will Be, has been asking for four years. The message out there, she says, is that “Girls are meant to dress to show their body and be slim. Boys are meant to be active and play.”
If a girl doesn’t fit into those smaller clothes and has to go up a size, the message is clear that there must be something wrong with her.
When we first covered Choksi’s line, she was on a mission to give girls T-shirt options that were not “girly.” Shirts that celebrated a love of science or dinosaurs. Shirts that weren’t pink and purple with butterflies and flowers, which was all she could find in the girls’ department for her own daughter.
Last year, she joined the Clothes Without Limits coalition of like-minded clothing designers who are working outside the gender stereotypes. Clothes Without Limits is a one-website stop for clothing lines like Handsome in Pink, Quirky Kids, Clever Belle, Princess Awesome that offer girls and boys different options than they can find in a traditional store.
Clothes Without Limits and like efforts have had some success moving the needle of non-gender biased clothing. You can now find some dinosaurs and rockets in the girls’ section of the big-box store.
The fit of girls’ clothing, though, hasn’t changed. Choksi measured 10 brands of boys’ and girls’ clothes sizes 6 and 10. And that’s where she found that girls’ shirts were 1 to 3 inches skinnier than boys’ and 8 percent shorter in length with 35 percent shorter sleeves. The shorts were 65 percent shorter in the inseams. In fact, the girls’ size 10 shorts were still 4 to 6 inches shorter in the inseam than the size 6 boys’ shorts. No wonder girls have trouble with school dress code when it comes to shorts.
Girls Will Be has grown to include shorts that actually fit girls, that they can be active in. Girls Will Be clothes are designed to have sizes that fit the average American girl of that age. The size 8 should fit most 8-year-old girls.
Shorter shorts are not a problem if your daughter likes that look and is comfortable in that look, Choksi says.
“There’s definitely girls out there that like that style and that’s perfectly fine,” she says. “The problem is when there’s not a choice or an option when she doesn’t want to wear that choice or that fit. She thinks maybe, ‘Something’s wrong with me.’ ”
A lot of girls end up shopping in the boys’ department. “Not all girls want to wear a boxy oversize fit or shop in the boys’ department,” Choksi says.
Choksi is partnering with Courtney Hartman, founder of Free To Be Kids, a line that lets girls choose how they want their clothes to fit by offering both a “girly” fit and a gender-neutral unisex fit.
“Hoping, with fit, we’ll eventually see more and more retailers start to see a wide variety of fits,” Choksi says. She would love to see that happen. “If they put me out of business, it would be a great thing for the confidence and self-esteem of girls.”