Dress optional

Women's restroom sign Men's restroom sign Girls Boys Women's restroom sign Men's restroom sign

A propos gender, I wanted to say a few words about some recent photo interests. A few months ago I decided to start taking pictures of gender signs. The most obvious location for these is restroom doors. I haven’t encountered any awkward situations yet running around public bathrooms snapping photos, but I can imagine eventually I may get some curious glances.

The purpose of this exercise is to see what are the core essential elements that the designers of such signs decide will be enough to distinguish between men and women. We are all used to the stick figures, with and without the skirt (or would that be a dress?). But how about the more innovative approaches? In the Hungarian Parliament, the emphasis on the signs seems to be on differences in hairdo while the signs in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences emphasize some facial feature variation (lips vs moustache) in addition to hairdo distinctions and some differences in clothing. (It would be interesting to know the date of these two pairs of signs, I guess I didn’t do adequate research.) In other cases, the focus is on how men vs women tend to go about their business, but sometimes the distinctions are not completely obvious (these tend to be some of the most intriguing cases).

I have compiled my photos on the topic into a set on Flickr. More interestingly, I also started a public group on Flickr (a pool of pictures to which any other Flickr member can contribute), which has led to the addition of some great photos from others, for example: this Ken and Barbie pair at the Shirn museum in Frankfurt.

The rule for the photo pool is simple: post images that have both the male and female symbol (either in one or two pictures) and give some description of where the signs are located in case others want to find them. I welcome contributions! Join the trend, don’t be shy to whip out your camera next time you spot a pair of gender signs.

Eventually, I could see this project leading to.. well, perhaps not a coffee table book, but maybe a bathroom book?

5 Responses to “Dress optional”

  1. Nishi Says:

    I’ll take some pics of the different gender’s next time I go to a restaurant.

  2. eszter Says:

    That would be wonderful, thanks!

  3. Biliana Says:

    I’ve started paying more attention to bathroom signs since you started posting those, but it looks like I don’t tend to go to very interesting places because I haven’t seen any out of the ordinary.

  4. eszter Says:

    Thanks for looking at least. You know, they don’t all have to be super out-of-the-ordinary. If you check out my photo set on this you’ll see that some are fairly usual. I realized at some point that I should take pictures of those as well just to show how widespread they are.

  5. Edward Vielmetti Says:


    There’s some photos of gym locker room signage at our local Y up on http://bluepencilcritic.blogspot.com , along with commentary on the grammar choices involved (why mens’ but boy’s?)