British department store John Lewis has become the first major U.K. retailer to do away with gendered labels for its children's clothing.
The store announced that it has removed labels reading “boys” or “girls” on clothing from its in-house brand, replacing them instead with tags that read “boys and girls” or “girls and boys.” It will also no longer have separate gendered sections in the store for children.
While many have praised John Lewis’s decision to be more inclusive, others are up in arms, with some threatening to boycott the retailer. Chairman of the right-wing Campaign for Real Education Chris McGovern said that the decision may be “well-intentioned,” but “following the fashion to go genderless...risks confusing children and foists adult worries onto young people.”
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On “Good Morning Britain,” TV personality Piers Morgan accused John Lewis of “trying to turn the planet into a gender neutral planet and it should not be allowed to happen,” adding that none of his sons have “shown any interest in wearing dresses,” but his daughter “wears 20 dresses a day.”
Some customers took to John Lewis’s Facebook page to voice their complaints. One wrote: “Your bowing to politically correct nonsense over children’s clothes labeling is ridiculous. I hope people vote with their feet and shop elsewhere.”
For all the hubbub, John Lewis's clothes themselves have not significantly changed—there are still dresses and skirts and pants and shirts. The only substantive modification to the retailer’s existing children’s brand is the addition of a unisex line featuring items like dinosaur-print dresses and spaceship tops, which seeks to cut through gender stereotypes.
The head of childrenswear Caroline Bettis said that John Lewis does “not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want[s] to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear.”
John Lewis's move is similar to a decision by U.S. retailer Target, which in 2015 said it was phasing out gender-based signage from some kids' aisles. The store's move also comes weeks after Britain's advertising watchdog group said that it will ban sexist ads, such as spots that depict women as solely responsible for cleaning or ones that show men as clumsy parents. "Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children," said Ella Smillie, author of the group's report on the issue. "Such portrayals can limit how people see themselves, how others see them, and limit the life decisions they take."