Sexual innuendo is everywhere—including … baby clothes

April 20, 2022

If you’ve tried to buy baby clothes lately, you might have noticed that the selection is, that some would say is interesting and inappropriate—with onesies gleefully announcing a baby’s raging sexual prowess, reports BuzzFeed News.

Whether it’s your own infant or a friend’s newborn, you can buy him apparel that suggests he is a “ladies’ man,” that “ladies love him,” and that he is a “lady killer.” You can put a baby in a shirt that says he’s a lover boy, too.

Predictably, items designed for girls are even more cringe. While baby boys can unknowingly boast about how well they will be cleaning up with women, baby girls get to convey that they are off-limits, because they are under the control of their fathers. Stay away from me! This baby is not allowed to date, EVER, because I already found the man of my dreams, and it’s my DADDY. (Gross.)

If you venture over to Etsy, things get even more WTF. What proud dad doesn’t want his infant to wear a onesie referencing his sperm? Or the fact that he impregnated his wife during the one brief moment he gave her the time of day? Or the speed with which he did so?

Then there’s the whole genre of boob merch for babies. Breastfeeding is, of course, extremely common and shouldn’t be stigmatized, but it’s a little jarring to see a baby’s onesie emblazoned with a joke about how many “tits” they suck. There are some gifts for an infant who aspires to be a milk-drunk mess or appreciates their mom for her, um, attributes (dad likes them too!). And what could be more fun than picturing your infant and your partner fighting over them?

While these jokes are mainly harmless, many of these clothes also reference a stereotypical view of high-libido, protective men and the hapless women who are mostly useful because they are both sexy and a source of food.

Jo Paoletti is a researcher and educator who has been studying gender expression in clothing for more than 40 years. She, too, has noticed the proliferation of sexually suggestive clothing for children, and told BuzzFeed that when examining what it all means, it’s important to remember that infant clothing is ultimately a type of expression for the child’s parents, or whoever bought the item for the baby.

In this case, she speculated that by dressing an infant in provocative clothing, a parent may be trying to signal to the world that they are rebelling against the culture of parenthood that pretends everything is all sunshine and rainbows, or the idea that people get boring once their kids are born.

“It’s like [a] reality check, I’m not taking this parent thing all that seriously,” she said. Some parents may relate more to this type of irreverent humor than the parental aesthetic centered on what a blessing a baby is, she added.

One Etsy seller, a woman named Jenn Pickar who runs a shop called BrainJuiceTeez, told BuzzFeed that she only started selling what she called “innuendo” onesies about nine months ago and did so because she noticed how popular they were on the site.

In fact, Pickar says that, since she started selling these items, sales of these types of clothing have risen by about 300%, and she also has noticed a glut of shops that have appeared on the platform selling the same thing. She isn’t sure why these clothes have skyrocketed on Etsy, but she suspects that one popular shop made them and started a trend. As to why some parents like them so much, she speculated that it’s “just going against the grain.”

It certainly seems as if people are buying these designs for the shock and humor factors, and that other adults are the main target of these slogans. In the reviews of one Etsy shop, buyers raved about a onesie that reads: “My Daddy Only Plays With The Box I Came Out Of!”

Another seller, Janet Smith of LittleLillyBugDesign, also told me she has seen sales of irreverent baby clothing spike in recent months. Her shop sells children’s clothing, including a onesie printed with a drawing of boobs and the slogan “Eat local.”

“There seems to be a trend of doing couples baby showers so people like to buy a gift that will also include the new daddy,” she said via direct message on Etsy.

It’s likely that major retailers like Buy Buy Baby are similarly stocking these types of clothes because of customer demand. (A spokesperson for the store didn’t respond to inquiries about these items).

Paoletti says that, ultimately, this type of apparel, and other hypermasculine or hyperfeminine clothing (trucks for boys, bows for girls), serves to reinforce the gender binary so acutely that it may subconsciously play into gender stereotypes as the child grows, especially if it’s part of “lots and lots of messages that this child was getting over the first several years of their lives.”

“We’ve accelerated the gendering of infants well before birth,” she said. “And we’ve been doing that for 40 years. So it’s not surprising that what happens is, when the little boy starts acting up and being aggressive and the little girl starts acting flirtatious or shy it’s [like], Oh, well, yes, because she’s a girl; that’s because he’s a boy, never imagining that you had anything to do with it.”

Research contact: @BuzzFeedNews