The History of Pink

photo –
Aamito Lagum by Daniel
Riera For Harper’s Bazaar


written by Dilek


Today’s world is comprised of societies that are still governed by gender stereotypes, and despite efforts to change existing opinions, some are so persistent and so pervasive that they almost feel as if we have had them even before birth. The truth is, some stereotypes have a more recent history than others, yet they have somehow become so deeply rooted in our belief systems that some people even accept them as absolute truths.

Study case: the color pink.

If you have ever been to a baby gender-reveal party, a baby shower, a kid’s birthday or, simply put, if you have been living in the last century, then you probably know that the norm dictates that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Pink is the color often associated with romance, tenderness, sweetness, weakness, and sensitivity, an association game that leads to a one-noun answer: femininity. But did you know that the color pink once represented strength? In fact, we are sure that there are few historical facts about this color that might change the way you view it.

For starters, pink was not always a color choice exclusive to girls. In a time way before Barbie and Disney Princesses helped carve a way for what is now a deeply rooted stereotype, pink was a gender neutral color that was loved and worn by both sexes of the European bourgeoisie in the 18th century. In fact, pink was a unisex color that was often perceived as more masculine than feminine because it was considered to be a sub-color to red, a color that adorned men’s uniforms at the time because it was regarded as more powerful than blue. That’s why, if we look back at historical paintings of noble families and their garments, especially those coming from 19th century England, we will find boys that were dressed in pink.

left – Andrea & Adrienne Gray
by Frances McLaughlin
right – Vintage New
Orleans poster
photo – Jimmy Marble

Strong feminization of pink started in the West sometime after World War I. In 1918, the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department advised that pink is more suitable for boys because it is a stronger color whereas blue is more delicate and dainty. Almost a decade later, in 1927, Time magazine surveyed the biggest department stores across the United States of America to see which of the two colors was associated with girls and came across mixed answers. This showed that there was a lack of consensus among manufacturers on how to color code clothes for children.

By the end of the 1920s, advertising had programmed people to think that these two colors were gender specific, and the lack of information persuaded them to think that it had been so for centuries. There are many explanations as to why pink got solidified as a ‘girly’ color. Some say that the media publicity that was generated around the purchase of two eighteenth century paintings by Henry Huntington, an American millionaire, influenced popular opinion because the titles of the paintings were “The Blue Boy” and “Pinkie” and they portrayed a boy in blue and a girl in pink respectively. Others say that Mamie Eisenhower’s strong liking of the color and her wearing a pink gown to her husband’s presidential inauguration caused people to associate pink with girls.

this photo – Kelsey McClellan
bottom – Norman Wong

Either way, after World War II, when women left the workplace and were expected to return to “their original place” also known as the kitchen (not coincidentally, pink kitchen elements were widely advertised at the time), pink became the default color for girls, and in the 1950s, “pretty in pink” dresses were already in full swing.

Pink saw a decline in the 1960s as women started questioning gender roles and realizing the setbacks they had suffered due to gender stereotypes that got enhanced by post-war advertising meant to bound women to the premises of the home. In what was probably an act of rebellion, women switched dresses for pants and almost forsake pink, a change that influenced the following decade as well.

photo – Hedvig Jenning

It wasn’t till the 1980s and 1990s that pink came back full force, giving pink a stronger role in society as the color started getting associated with important movements that bore powerful messages. It is no coincidence that October is known as the “pink month”. Back in 1991, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation gave out pink ribbons to runners who participated in its New York City race, making the pink ribbon a symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness Month since then.

As we analyze the history of pink, we can clearly see how the previous century mainly omitted men from conversations about pink. Yet, the color was far from absent in men’s fashion in that period. For example, the Brooks Brothers introduced a pink shirt in the early 20th century, the popularity of which fluctuated throughout the decades before finding its place with “preppy style”. Also, Elvis Presley and The Beatles are just a pair of famous names who did not shy away from the color.

Sadly, there are a lot of people, or even entire societies that put in question men’s masculinity based solely on their decision to wear pink. Men wearing pink are also labeled as ‘feminists’ which is a complex term that deals with diverse economic and societal aspects of gender inequality, and yet it has been twisted to translate into ‘man-hating’.

The connotations that were attached to pink in the last century still influence our present, but luckily we now have new generations of men who don’t let those connotations influence their personal preferences and who, in general, didn’t grow up with the same prejudices as the previous generations.

photo – Krešimir Opacak & Brad
Danes photographed
by David Suárez
left – Hart+Leshkina
for T Magazine
right – Mansur Gavriel
Calf Circle bag

Pink experienced accelerated democratization in this last decade as millennial pink took over, which is actually a range of pink muted shades known under many names including Tumblr pink, Scandi Pink, Rose Quartz, pale dogwood, peachy salmon, etc. The best part about this currently ubiquitous color is that it is not exclusive to women; it is androgynous. In fact, millennial pink is less of a color and more of a communication tool which does not detach intelligence from being “pretty” and that enhances gender blurring. By wearing millennial pink, men are stating that they are aware of cultural changes and confident enough to challenge existing assumptions about the color. Currently, its popularity has encompassed fashion and interior/exterior design, advertising, branding, as well as technology with many citing the 2015 “rose gold” iPhone as the tipping point.  

The new century came with new attitudes that are helping pink gain power, but despite growing inclusivity of the color, it is safe to say that the world has still not progressed to the point where pink is regarded as a color and not a statement. Masculinity and femininity are vague concepts with characteristics that are constantly subjected to change and that will never be set in stone. We will keep changing and we will keep adapting, so it is time to recognize that the color does not have the power to ascribe meanings. Societies do. Pink is simply a color.

this photo – Arisha Kriukova
by Fernando Gomez
bottom – Leomie Anderson
by Rahel Weiss


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