Old Navy, mass marketer of cheap-chic fashion, is well positioned with Millennials and Gen Y consumers. From socks to swimwear, the retailer has a propensity for picking the right products and price-points. Not surprising, one of its most popular product lines is jeans.
If you haven’t visited Old Navy’s website recently to shop for women’s jeans (I haven’t), you might be surprised to find 169 varieties of denims, including styles like “Rock-Star,” “Diva,” and “Flirt.” You also may be surprised to see one style that’s targeted toward both teens and toddlers: It’s called “Boyfriend.” Old Navy sells Boyfriend jeans for very little girls, from 5T down to 12-18 months.
Of course, girls that young don’t have boyfriends, and no reasonable person would think that Old Navy is suggesting that they should, so what’s the problem? It’s cute to see babies dressed up like little adults, wearing the same styles as mom or dad. Plus, the miniature versions aren’t just smaller; they’re also specially cut for babies’ bodies.
Although all of the following may be true, we should also consider the direction in which our culture is evolving. We live in a society that tends to over-sexualize and objectify women. A sign of this trend is mounting pressure for younger and younger girls to act and look like women who are much older and more mature. The imitation ranges from alluring make-up to revealing clothing.
Again, Old Navy is not advocating that babies should have boyfriends, but by giving its baby and toddler girl jeans this moniker, it’s promoting rather than discouraging the pressure just described. Likewise, it’s worth noting why jeans and other apparel for girls use the “boyfriend” adjective—the girls are supposed to look as if they’re wearing their boyfriends’ clothes, as Hadley Freeman describes:
“To insinuate one has a boyfriend makes one look really cool and desired and validated (see: endless fashion blogs and tumblrs about models' boyfriends) and therefore it is super sexy to look like you just rolled out of bed (probably from having sex! Only cool people are allowed to have sex, ya know!), pulled on your boyfriend's clothes and hit the streets.”
Our little girls deserve time to be little girls. They shouldn’t be forced to grow-up too quickly, especially in a sexual sense. Encouraging such a hasty dash to maturity is harmful to them and unhealthy for our society (e.g., teen pregnancy: more than half of teen mothers never graduate from high school).
The apparent success of Old Navy’s Boyfriend lines suggests effective marketing and stakeholder value. However, because the retail strategy compromises on important social values, Old Navy’s baby Boyfriend jeans should be considered “Single-Minded Marketing.”