Pink Through the Centuries: From Dainty to Daring
By: Morgan Rubino
Contrary to popular belief, not all girls like pink. Growing up, I can remember actively hating the color, trying to defy the societal notion that I was “supposed” to love it. That resistance not only included begging my dad to paint over my baby pink bedroom walls as soon as I turned 13, but also maintaining a wardrobe that had a maximum of two or three pink items of clothing (which still pretty accurately describes my closet today).
From toys to shoes to shampoo bottles, the color pink always seems to be coded with all things “girly” and “feminine.” Suddenly, any normal product or piece of clothing is painted pastel, slapped with a “for her” sticker, and marketed as more fragile and dainty. I know that I can’t be the only woman that finds the aforementioned “pinkification” of girlhood to be frustratingly inevitable. I just believe that if pink’s societal associations are reassessed, the color can finally be given the freedom to reinvent itself and will no longer box women into an idea of how they “should” act, think, dress, or be.
Recently, I came across mention of a new exhibit at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City titled “Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color.” The temporary exhibition , curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, “looks at 300 years of pink in fashion” and examines the ever-changing cultural and historical significance behind the controversial color. I was surprised to find that the color binary of blue for boys and pink for girls was not always the societal norm, especially in the realm of fashion. As it turns out, pink and its cultural connotations have had quite the journey throughout time— transitioning from a color rigidly associated with 19th century femininity and frailty toward a symbol of inclusion and the many brave, badass women of the 21st century.
In fact, pink for girls is only a relatively new concept. Looking back at 17th and 18th century Western culture, the gender-color “rules” we know today were actually reversed, due in part to the fact that pink was acknowledged as a symbol of regality and wealth. This meant that men frequented the color when partaking in business affairs, in order to flaunt their affluence.Yet at the dawn of the 19th century, when blue became the popular color for sailor and school uniforms, boys in the Western World began to gravitate towards darker colors to blend in with the educated, ready-for-war image of the “idealized” 19th century man. It was only then, because of changing 19th century color symbolism, that the color pink consequently adopted its association with more womanly adjectives like “pure,” “sweet,” and “feminine.”
So, what’s the big problem with all things pink being characterized as feminine? Well, once society makes the jump to equate “feminine” with other generally “less-than” adjectives, the color pink, the word “feminine,” and what it means to be a woman all together become demeaningly intertwined. Suddenly, with a marker as simple as a color, girls are socialized into acting in a pre-destined way, be it more meek or subservient to men.
The coding of pink dangerously perpetuates that there is an ideal to which all women — regardless of age, race, or body type — must strive for. It can weaken their self-esteem, undermine their capability, and reinforce the outdated, unjustifiable gender stereotypes that continue to bombard women daily. Because the color pink is almost exclusively presented within a gendered sphere, a woman’s association with pink forces her to adjust her behavior and actions to fit underneath the patriarchal hierarchies that control her day to day.
However frustrating and disheartening, a change in these pre-established cultural connotations cannot possibly happen overnight. Pink can only begin to reclaim its symbolism of passion, power, and inclusion with a more collective awareness towards the harmful messages too commonly associated with pink and a couple determined societal movements at the forefront.
One such instance of this realization came in the mid-1980s, when pink became the official color of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and pink ribbons the universal symbol of its many courageous, tenacious survivors. Moreover, masculine versus feminine rules in fashion are in the midst of becoming outdated and androgynous, with women experimenting with structured menswear and men taking the makeup world by storm, for instance. And even as recently as last year, seas of pink attire and beanies comprised some of the most remarkable images from women’s marches nationwide.
While society so often attributes meaning to a color to try and create limitations, restrictions, or a sense of hierarchy — pink is starting to defy all odds. No longer is the color pink used just to code gender and seperate groups from one another, but instead — in the 21st century — it is finally being used to unite women, promote inclusion, and show that pink is indeed powerful.