At TJ Maxx, merging boys and girls clothing is either clumsy marketing or culture war – Virginian-Pilot

Have you ever noticed that the mothers of bald baby girls like to slap headbands on the craniums of their offspring? And that boys with masses of curls are often dressed in shirts emblazoned with firetrucks?

There’s a reason. Parents want the world to know the gender of their kids.

But if a move by one clothing store is a sign of where we’re headed, finding gender-specific clothing is about to be trickier.

Let’s back up.

When my daughter visits from Mississippi we always shop in the stores she doesn’t have at home.

T.J. Maxx, for instance.

We go for the pillows, the prices and those quirky household items.

Oh, and ever since my granddaughter was born more than a year and a half ago, we go for the children’s section.

“What in the world!” my daughter exclaimed one afternoon last weekend as she searched for tiny sundresses. “What are all these boys’ clothes doing on the girls’ rack?”

That’s when we looked around and noticed something. Since our last visit, the signs designating “Infant & toddler boys” and “Infant & toddler girls” had vanished.

Instead of a neat rows of pastel ensembles and neighboring racks of drab boy apparel, there was a confusing jumble of miniature outfits.

Everything arranged by size, not sex.

Tutus brushing up against bow ties and firetrucks.

“It’s terrible,” a woman on the other side of the aisle grumbled. “I’m looking for something for my granddaughter. All this boys’ stuff is mixed in.”

That’s when I remembered that two years ago, amid much fanfare, Target announced that it was abolishing girl and boy designations in toy aisles.

It was a gesture, nothing more. The toys are still packaged by the manufacturers with gender in mind. But the move got the store tons of publicity, both good and bad.

“I bet this is a politically correct clothing arrangement,” I said. “You know, someone’s decided that it’s wrong to automatically put little girls in pink outfits. And little boys may want to wear dresses. So why not toss all the clothes together and let the shoppers sort them out?”

“That’s right,” came a voice from behind me, where a weary T.J. Maxx employee was standing with an armful of clothes on hangers. “We got a memo. No more girls and boys being separate.”

Short on time, we abandoned the sundress scavenger hunt and bought only the item that had brought us into the store in the first place: A suitcase.

On Friday I phoned T.J. Maxx headquarters in Framingham, Mass., to find out if the company had quietly jumped on the gender-free bandwagon.

I was told to put my inquiry in writing.

So I emailed the corporate headquarters, asking why this store on Virginia Beach Boulevard is no longer selling little girls and boys clothes separately. (The T.J. Maxx store in Red Mill Commons continues to segregate the sexes.)

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Is this a nationwide trend? Just the first step? Are there plans afoot to mingle women’s and men’s clothes, too, I asked, thinking about how much fun it would be to dig for bikini panties in a sea of boxers and briefs.

As I waited for a reply, I went back to the store and found manager Dustin Hendrix.

He explained that an email had gone out more than a month ago to all locations. Store managers were instructed to end the boy-girl distinctions for infant and toddler clothes.

He said he didn’t believe the chain was trying to avoid sexual stereotypes but was merely looking for a way to boost sales of neutral colors.

“We were missing out on the gray and green opportunities,” Hendrix said, referring to infant wear in neutral colors.


It never occurred to the marketing mavens of Massachusetts, who have been at this for more than 40 years, to simply start a neutral rack? Wouldn’t that be easier than forcing customers to paw through items they definitely didn’t want?

When I got back to my computer I had an official corporate reply.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be able to help you with your story,” wrote Erika Tower, director of corporate communications for The TJX Companies. She wished me well with my attempt to uncover the thinking behind the androgynous arrangement but noted that, “… we wouldn’t comment on how we arrange merchandise in our stores for competitive reasons.”

Since T.J. Maxx isn’t telling, you get to decide: Is this an innovative marketing move? Or just the latest balmy battle in America’s bizarre culture war?


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