Making Girls Underpants ‘Pretty’ Isn’t Just Unnecessary, It’s Creepy and Wasteful

"Girls are being conditioned into thinking that as soon as they are out of nappies, the female of the species should live in relative discomfort for the sake of keeping things ‘pretty'"

girls' underwear

by Nicky Elliot |
Updated on

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If you only have one child, or kids of the same gender, you probably don’t spend a huge amount of time thinking about their pants. You are just grateful to get them into a clean pair in the morning rush. And if you aren’t a parent you definitely don’t waste any brain space thinking about this small piece of clothing. But whether you are child-free or surrounded by ankle-biters, we are all living in a world where a century-old throwback is still languishing in the knicker drawers of little girls – yes, girls – all over the country. What am I talking about? Those fussy little pointless bows, stubbornly stitched onto the front of little girls’ knickers.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020 I did the soul-searching we all did, and – whilst on my second maternity leave – decided to jack in my job and launch a unisex children’s wear brand. The lightbulb moment came when I kept having to buy new clothes for my youngest child – a boy – because his big sister’s clothes weren’t appropriate for him. I felt frustrated (a mild understatement for emotions felt during lockdown parenting) that children’s clothing can expose our kids to damaging and limiting gender stereotypes from birth. Hence Wilder Ones, my third baby, was born. But my frustration didn’t stop at the binary choice of pink unicorns for her or angry dinosaurs for him. It stretched right to their briefs.

One day on social media this bubbled over into an unplanned ‘pant rant’ about the relative comfort and unfussiness of boys’ underpants compared to girls’. I talked about the glittery trim, narrower elastic more likely to cut into my daughter’s tummy, and those goddamn unnecessary bows. Within minutes so many parents had messaged to say that this annoyed them too. What struck me was how many people hadn’t thought to buy boys’ knickers for their little girls, and indeed, why should they have to? As a result, girls are being conditioned into thinking that as soon as they are out of nappies, the female of the species should live in relative discomfort for the sake of keeping things ‘pretty’. This isn’t just frustrating, it’s downright creepy.

My research led me to understand that the bows on girls’ (and women’s) knickers are a throwback from when knickers (originally bloomers) were very first invented, before elastic existed, and had to be held up and tied with ribbon. Then there are reports that they stuck around pre-electricity to help women know front from back when dressing in the dark. Well, at least that’s useful. Finally, my reading led me to the most troubling argument as to why some believe these pesky bows have endured: purely to satisfy the male gaze. What. The. Hell? My daughter is four years old. I want her out of sight of the male gaze for the best part of the next decade. More simply, I want her to be comfortable to play, and learn and grow, and not to be penalised for having a vagina. At least not any more than she already is.

As someone who has also spent the past year researching ethical fashion for my own clothing brand, Wilder Ones, I also couldn’t stop thinking about how wasteful this excess and totally unnecessary fabric is. The fashion industry sends a reported 92 million tonnes of textile waste to landfill each year. To say this is a problem would be a gross understatement, so why are we using more fabric than is necessary, to needlessly make our girls’ pants look pretty? For whom? Considering both electricity and elastic have now been knocking about for the best part of a HUNDRED years, I think it’s safe to say we no longer need bows on the front of our knickers in the way we once did. And we definitely don’t need them on our daughters’ knickers.

With one popular high street brand alone selling a reported 60 million pairs of pants a year – or two pairs per second – that’s a lot of pants, a lot of bows, a lot of waste, and a lot of needless gender stereotyping we can change. So here starts my campaign to #banthebows. If you think this argument is as frilly as the knickers themselves, think again. Research from equality charity the Fawcett Society shows that gender stereotypes imparted in early childhood cause significant damage to our children.

Significant damage? To my kids? To your kids? No thank you. You can bet your bottom dollar I’m going to be writing to that retailer I mentioned - plus the other major high street shops, and supermarkets too – asking them to consider why they put bows on little girls’ underwear in the first place, - but crucially to request they #banthebows for good in 2021. We don’t need them, we don’t want them, and they’re a waste.

Let’s ban the bows on girls’ knickers for once and for all. Now, are you with me?

Nicky Elliott is the founder of Wilder Ones, the new eco, unisex kids clothing brand. To follow her and her campaign check out on Instagram [@Wilder.ones]( or the hashtag #banthebows.

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