Kid’s Sun Safe Swimwear: Exposure to sexism really is bad for your health

“Exposing your child to too much sun may increase their risk of skin cancer later in life.” NHS

Click to hear the “Slip Slop Slap Song” by Sun Safe Nurseries!

Its that time of year again when we dig out or dig deep to buy sun hats, sun lotion, swim suits, shorts, t-shirts and sandals – all in the name of celebrating the glory that is British Summertime. And why not! After a long winter inside, its time to go out, go play, splash, dust off last years bucket and spade and head down to the nearest beach. I am THERE.

  • New swimsuits (last years too small)
  • New Factor 50 Sunscreen (last years too crusty)
  • HATS. Hats for all… (begins sewing)
  • Shorts and T-Shirts (standard)
  • Sandals (last years and one new pair for the 3 year old)
  • All-in-one Sun-suit for beach, sand and water play (bit of a luxury, but hey, we’re parents – we’re told every day that buying the RIGHT things is part of our duty. We buy, therefore we parent)

School swimsuit shopping thus far a pain, with “sorry, the plain, sturdy swimsuits are out of stock!” and being directed to the frilly tropical tankini’s and wondering why anyone would want their child to look like a cocktail.

We know there are big differences in the design and marketing of childrenswear between girls and boys ranges, but does this include retailers annual dive into Sun Safety sales? The first place I check:

Screenshot_2016-05-22-12-15-10 Screenshot_2016-05-22-12-15-06

Followed by:



(Websites, May 22nd 2016)

Marks and Spencer’s Swimwear: Girls 61 items, boys 48 items and yet…

Boys: 11 “Sun safe” suits (1-7 and 5-14) plus 9 rash vests

Girls: 3 “Sun safe” suits (1-7 only – pictured below) plus 2 rash vests

Despite there being more Swimwear options “for girls”, there are LESS “Sun Safe” options. Why is that? Have I missed something here? Does being a girl mean you are not susceptible to the dangers of sun exposure?

1-7 year old’s catered for, but of course only if your son only likes Thomas/Blue and your girl Butterflies/Pink.

thomas mand s 1-7 1-7 mark s and spencer fun n sun

NEXT Swimwear: Girls 129 items, Boys 140 items

Boys: 44 “Sun safe” options including rash vests

Girls: 23 “Sun safe” options including rash vests

Plus if your kids want to splash about in Disney Pixar NEMO swimwear, tough luck girls, your skin isn’t as important as male fans (yes, the hat is “for boys” only too)

nemo next nemo boys sun safe tuis sun safe boys nemo next

George at Asda: Girls 52 swimwear options, Boys 41

Boys: 6 “Sun safe” suit options

Girls: Only 2 “Sun safe” suit options – despite there being a bigger swimwear selection

Plus check out the leg length protection below… (Star Wars for boys and Frozen for girls, did you see that coming?)

star wars asda swim shorts boys asda frozen swimsuit

Alternatively, George at Asda sell a “Boy-leg” school swimsuit for girls – yes, BOY LEG! I am not making this up…

school asda boy leg

Boden: Girls 46 swimwear options, Boys 24

Boys: 7 rash tops/bottoms (very similar, if not identical to those offered girls)

Girls: 7 rash tops/bottoms (3/4 sleeves and longer shorts, best range yet)

Also, take a look and stare in wonder… Dinosaurs in a girls range, and flowers in a boys 🙂 (so… now we can finally acknowledge children *can* like the same things, we can do away with the pesky gender marketing altogether? Yes?)

boden rash vest 3-4 sleeve boden boys shorts

Matalan: Girls 30 swimwear items, Boys 29 

Boys: 8 “Surf suits” – similar styles to girls options, but BLUE (ok if all boys like blue*)

Girls: 6 “Surf suits” …. and all PINK! (ok if all girls like pink*)

(*they don’t.)

matalan matalan mi matalan f matalan d matalan ar matalan 3

Below is some really important Sun Smart advice from the Teenage Cancer Trust, but retailers please:

Create a single swimwear destination within your children’s sections, with search options/placement by type and size. Consider many girls might want to wear swim-shorts with a rash vest, or a boy may love the Frozen tutu swimsuit pictured above. Its about choice, including sleeve/arm length. Make Sun Safety an important part of your Summer swimwear campaign – and mean it!

Please tweet your swimwear shopping antics and concerns to @letclothesbe

Please CC us, to any emails you send retailers, we’re happy to lend your feedback some support!


Advice from Teenage Cancer Trust:

  • Slap on SPF 30 sunscreen – Apply generous amounts of water resistant sunscreen of at least SPF30 and above, to clean, dry skin before going out in the sun. Make sure you re-apply regularly throughout the day.
  • Wear a hat – Whether it’s a stylish fedora, a trilby or a baseball cap, all can help to keep the heat off your head, face, neck and ears.
  • Stay in the shade between 11am-3pm –  When the sun’s rays are strongest between 11am-3pm, find a shady spot to avoid the burn.
  • Protect your eyes – Slip on those sunglasses to make sure your eyes are protected from the strong rays of the sun.
  • Cover up – Throw on a long sleeved shirt or top that ideally has a collar and a sarong or long shorts to protect your skin.

Stereotypes to the core: Interview with a Childrenswear Designer

This week we spoke to a former designer for one of the UK’s biggest clothing retailers to find out how big gender stereotypes are in the design of children’s clothing (and how big a leap it is for retailers to change their ways…)


(This designer still works in the industry and has asked to remain anonymous, images have been added for examples from across the retail landscape and do not represent the work of this person or the store in question.)
Example of for boys, or for girls at George, Asda
 If I was in charge I’d want to see more choice for both genders. Boys want Elsa t-shirts too, girls want Darth Vader! The more common it becomes in our high street the less bullying there will be. Even if it just started off with breaking down the colour divide.”:
Can you tell us about your role at *Major UK Retailer*?
I was a designer for the Boyswear team. I’d illustrate characters and designs for boys clothing age 2- 15 years. I worked there for about a year.
Were you ever told not to put a certain designs on clothing?
You work to trends and “stories”. But I was told some designs couldn’t go on boyswear, just as some couldn’t go on girlswear. For example they didn’t want dinosaurs or cars on girls clothing. My boss said she saw dinosaurs on girlswear at another store and didn’t think it was right, and they wouldn’t sell.
Boyswear had to be bold and mostly shades of blues depending on the trend. If a design was soft it would have to go on baby boys wear. Older Boys would get skulls, skateboards and headphones for example, plus bold darker colours. Designers work was forced into boxes.
Example of girls vs boys, Marks and Spencer 2015 range
Was there ever an explanation as to why?
I don’t believe they thought it would sell. They were very adamant towards gendered clothing. We had set words that would go onto boys clothing e.g handsome, cheeky, chappy. My friend was constantly told her style was too girly for boyswear; for example, you couldn’t draw delicate designs or if it pushed on “girly” it went into the baby section.
How are girlswear and boyswear separated, is it different teams and department heads?
Girlswear and Boyswear were on different floors, we didn’t work together and rarely saw their designs until the finished products. We had completely separate teams and bosses.
What do those teams think about feedback from people who ask for more inclusive store layout and choice?
I never heard much talk about inclusive designs for both genders, and only negatives if anything. They know what they’re doing will sell, and I do believe they think it’s still what the market wants. They’re not ready to take a “risk”. I think there is a need for both types of design, but across both genders.
They knew people would still keep buying the “pink girly things” etc. Its been selling for years, so the idea of change scares them. There are still parents who treat clothing as very seperate sadly. I was in the Disney Store recently and saw a boy who wanted a Tinkerbell because she is friends with Peter Pan, and his Dad wasn’t having any of it. It was really sad!
In-store signage at Mothercare
What are the positives and negatives about clothing “for girls” or “for boys,” do you agree with the approach?
I think there will always be a need and a market for “girly” clothes and “boyish” clothes, some girls will always want pink! But it’s more accepting (socially) that boys do too! And some girls can want to be astronauts not princesses. I don’t think I’d want to see a shop of neutral colours to try to bridge the gap, more just integrating designs across both genders. I went into the job thinking I could do this, but was shut down.
Can you give us a glimpse of what its like to do your job?
It’s a fast pace environment, you work on designs far ahead so what we’ll see in summer 2017 is already being worked on or finished. Whole trends can be dropped and changed in a day so you’re always designing.
If you were in charge, how would you run things?
 If I was in charge I’d want to see more choice for both genders. Boys want Elsa t-shirts too, girls want Darth Vader! The more common it becomes in our high street the less bullying there will be. Even if it just started off with breaking down the colour divide.

To sign our petition and ask retailers to rethink how they design and sell childrenswear, please click here.

The Man on the Moon: This Girl Can at John Lewis

This years much anticipated Christmas advert from John Lewis is about two things – fighting the isolation felt by a million older people, and making amends to girls by saying ” yes, this girl can.”

The choice of Kim Gehrig to direct this annual £7 million tear jerker was an inspired move by John Lewis, who have up until now come under fire for stereotyping children, most notably with their John Lewis Boy and John Lewis Girl range. Gehrig is responsible for the popular “This Girl Can” advert for Sport England, part of a national campaign to celebrate active women up and down the country, no matter how they look, or how red their face gets.

“I was also aware that the majority of images representing women in sports advertising are very glossy and “perfect”. That was something I wanted to challenge. In particular, I had been fascinated about the portrayal of cellulite in the media for a while. I wanted to celebrate it and try to make it sexy. Why not, when most of us have it? I would love young girls to have a different perception of what is an ideal body image than I did as I grew up.” Kim Gehrig

The Man on the Moon features 6 year old Lily, who is seen throughout using her family telescope – she is the star of the show, and the mix of girl plus Astronomer is a welcome improvement to some of the stereotypes we have challenged John Lewis to tackle over the past year.


Dear old Monty and Mabel, this was a big hit for John Lewis, but the pink for girls (together) or blue for boys (standard) was indicative of the problem with many high street retailers, and yet on the back of our emails John Lewis did reply, did meet us and DID promise changes in the year ahead.


In June however we pulled John Lewis up on this as yet another example of cultural sexism, after all female Astronauts will probably just cry or fall in love with you, right?

“I welcome that “Space Man” has been changed to “Astronaut” on your website but there is no Science, History, Engineering or Technology themes offered in your girls section on line, or in store.”

So you can imagine our sheer joy, sheer elation that John Lewis has sent out such a powerful message to girls, and anyone who might think Space Science is not for girls, but they don’t stop there – oh no!

John Lewis Man on the Moon Unisex Pyjama Set glow in the dark pj john lewis man on th emoon glow blue

UNISEX, the Let Clothes Be Clothes holy grail, and theres a small part of me that sits back and thinks our work is done here. Its a small example within a childrenswear department that has a long long way to go before it fires gender stereotypes into space for good, but what a powerful celebration of girls, and Space Science.

This girl CAN  ride her scooter fast while wearing a Dinosaur helmet, play football, archery and dance, AND finally… wear her John Lewis Space clothes with pride. Well done John Lewis, and Happy Christmas!

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