Last month, Aliceana Belling marched past the rows of pink princess dresses at her local Wal-Mart and headed straight to the superhero outfits.

She mulled the options for Halloween. Iron Man? Spider-Man? The Hulk?

Then she saw the Captain America suit, shiny shield and all.

“I can fly in the air outside!” Aliceana, 3, said from her home in Fond du Lac, Wis., where she planned to go trick-or-treating as the Marvel Comics superhero this Halloween. “I’m going to save dogs!”

Aliceana and her parents, Brittany and A.J. Belling, make up one of many families that are fed up with the strict princess dresses for girls, action figures for boys stereotyping that they say still pervades children’s toys, clothes, costumes and other merchandise.

Retailers and manufacturers in the $22 billion toy industry, along with media companies, are starting to heed these concerns. Not only are toymakers more wary of marketing some items only to boys or only to girls, they and major store chains are creating gender-neutral or androgynous labels and store aisles.

In August, Target announced that it would no longer use signs to label toys for girls and boys in their stores. For the first time this year, the Disney Store banished girl and boy designations from its children’s Halloween costumes, labeling all outfits “for kids.” It also has switched to generic tags on lunchboxes, backpacks and other accessories.

Amazon no longer uses gender-based categories for children’s toys. Next spring, Mattel is introducing a line of action figures based on a new franchise, DC Super Hero Girls. And last week, the TV series Supergirl debuted on CBS.

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“The gender barriers are breaking down, and both manufacturers and retailers are not labeling toys like they used to,” said Jim Silver, the editor in chief of TTPM, a toy review website. “The industry’s learned that you shouldn’t be labeling for a specific gender. There are so many girls who want to be Iron Man and Captain America, and boys who want to play with Easy-Bake.”

The shift is part of a wider movement in retail to blur gender lines, as society moves beyond stereotypes, and celebrities as varied as Caitlyn Jenner and Jaden Smith put a spotlight on an array of gender identities. In fashion, designers like Rad Hourani are creating androgynous labels, and top-tier designers, from Marc Jacobs to Hermès, are eroding the divide between feminine and masculine clothes.

The rise in popularity of athletic wear and relatively genderless offerings from companies like North Face and Patagonia have also helped spread unisex design. Footwear brands like Converse, Vans or Birkenstock also now market the same styles for both men and women. Wearable technology, like smartwatches and activity monitors, has been relatively gender-neutral.

“If a guy wants to go out and buy a woman’s scarf and thinks that’s fashionable, whatever his sexual preference, it’s going to happen,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the New York-based research firm NPD. “This is something where the world jumped way ahead of retail, and now retail is trying to catch up.”

Still, the most significant shifts in gender categorizing — and certainly the most debated — have been in children’s merchandise. The shifts stem from a growing recognition, first among niche outlets and now among mainstream companies, of the role many traditional toys, clothes and costumes have played in reinforcing gender stereotyping. Experts have linked the items to all manner of gender disparities, including gaps in boys’ and girls’ self-confidence levels and career choices.

Parents have taken to social media to protest retailers’ overly girly offerings, or to show off their children defying gender norms. Last year, Land’s End introduced a line of science-themed shirts for girls after a New Jersey mother, Lisa Ryder, posted an open letter on the brand’s Facebook page calling out its boy-only science collection. More recently, a Virginia father, Paul Henson, garnered widespread kudos online for his Facebook post about his 3-year-old son, who dressed as Elsa from Disney’s Frozen movie this Halloween.

Target’s move to remove gender labels from its toy section came after Abi Bechtel of Ohio took to Twitter to protest a sign on display at the retailer for “Girls’ Building Sets.” Target announced in August that it was removing gender-based signs from its children’s toys and bedding aisles.

The retailer’s online store still labels girls’ and boys’ toys, however, because its data suggests that many shoppers on the site still search for products by gender, according to a spokeswoman, Molly Snyder. (The site does allow shoppers to search for gender-neutral toys.)

Toys R Us has not categorized girls’ and boys’ toys in its stores for some time, said Richard Barry, the retailer’s global chief merchandising officer. “What we’re seeing is that there are different play patterns that appeal to different kids, and gender lines are not necessarily what drives that,” Barry said.

The retailer’s role-play series — like its Pizza Chef or Cash Register play sets — are popular with girls and boys, he said. (The Toys R Us website continues to designate girls’ and boys’ toys; its Housekeeping and Ironing Board play sets, both in pink, are considered girls’ toys.)

And despite the recent changes, a stroll through the toy section at a Target or a Toys R Us is still a gender-specific experience. At a Target store in Brooklyn, there were the Frozen princess dresses, My Little Pony figurines, and the convertible-driving, glitter-haired Barbie dolls in one half of the children’s section. Then there were the separate aisles of Roboraptor robot dinosaurs, Star Wars spaceships and Nerf guns.

Segregation along gender lines in the toy category had worsened over the past decades before the recent pushback, said Elizabeth Sweet, a lecturer in sociology at the University of California, Davis who has written extensively on gender stereotypes in children’s toys. She puts much of the blame on the dismantling, in 1984, of restrictions on television programming aimed at children.

Soon after, the top toys, like Transformers, GoBots and My Little Pony, all had their own TV shows. This media franchising, she said, with storybook themes for girls and battles and adventures for boys, still colors much merchandise along gender.

“The pink aisle is still really pink, because the products in the pink aisle are still really pink,” Sweet said.

“Practically everything is gendered,” she added. “School supplies. Toothbrushes. Snacks with bunnies or princesses on them, and snacks with Superman. And boy is the gender-neutral default. For girls, they ‘shrink it and pink it.’”

Some toy makers have made some efforts to change that rigid assortment — but not without controversy. Lego’s “Friends” line, introduced in 2012 to appeal to girls, upset consumers because of its pink and purple blocks, curvy figurines and themes like hairdressing and horse riding.

Lego responded by adding play sets that included an inventor’s studio and veterinarian’s office, and has said the line has been a huge success. The Danish company is now gaining ground on Mattel, the world’s largest toymaker, raking in sales of about $2.1 billion in the first six months of this year, compared with Mattel’s $1.9 billion.

Mattel has won praise on parenting blogs for DC Super Hero Girls, a line it developed with DC Comics that will go on sale next year. The figures, led by Wonder Woman, are athletic. They strike powerful poses, and there is not a pink outfit in sight.

Young girls that Mattel surveyed had said they “wanted their superheroes to be authentic superheroes,” according to Tania Missad, Mattel’s director of global consumer insights. Girls roundly dismissed an early prototype that put the superheroes in heels, she said. “They told us, ‘She’s not going to be able to fight with heels.’”

Still, Mattel’s research showed some differences in what girls and boys wanted in their action figures, Missad said. “For boys it’s very much about telling a story of the good guy killing the villain. There’s a winner and a loser,” she said. “Girls wanted the action and the battle, but would tell us: ‘Why does the good girl have to kill the villain? Can’t they be friends in the end?’”

Jess Day of Let Toys Be Toys, a British nonprofit group that promotes gender-neutral toys, says that’s nonsense.

“Research repeatedly shows that boys and girls are more alike than different,” Day said in an email. “We’d like to see more products that are simply aimed at children who like superheroes, and that’s an interest that crosses gender.”

Belling, who blogs at the Domestic Geek, complains of the general dearth in female action figures: “Princess Leia is usually missing” from Star Wars merchandise, she said. And she was worried that Aliceana’s Captain America “Muscle” costume, “meant to fit young boys,” she said, would fit awkwardly on her frame.

Belling, for now, is relieved that Aliceana’s superhero costume seems to fit, at least. Aliceana begged to wear it in the house and yard before Halloween night.

“She’s often been interested in clothes, then they’d turn out to be for boys,” Belling said. “But Captain America, she’s actually pulling that off.”

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