5:48 PM

Think Pink from Funny Face (1957)

The color pink has come to represent all that is quintessentially girly. Barbie, the most famous of girl's dolls, frequently wears pink, drives a pink convertable, and lives in a pink house.* In the movie Legally Blonde (2001), Elle Woods, the stereotypical ditzy sorority girl, is often dressed in her signature color- pink. Disney princesses including Cinderella, Ariel, and Aurora, all appear in pink gowns. The logo for breast cancer awareness, a disease associated with women (although men can get breast cancer as well), is a pink ribbon.

Images from Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and The Little Mermaid (1989).

I know some women who love pink because it's girly, and some who hate it for the same reason. For some, pink represents the negative gender stereotype of a shallow and stupid girl. For others, pink represents a vibrant celebration of femininity. I myself like the color pink, not for any gender connotations but because I think it is a pretty color. However, I know my fondness for pink clothes, accessories, and objects to decorate my house with sends a certain message to people, be it positive or negative. I have sometimes been criticized for my fondness of pink, and told that it makes me seem immature, unintelligent, and "girly" (that is, I'm like a little girl, not an adult woman). Strong Independent Modern Women don't wear pink! I think Strong Independent Modern Women can wear whatever they like but that is besides the point. Pink is a highly politicized color. But it hasn't always been that way.

Man's pink suit from the 1780s. At the Swiss National Museum.

The designations of pink and blue as gendered colors that we know today did not come about until the twentieth century, when childrens clothing became gender specific. In previous centuries, young boys and girls wore dresses and skirts (because it was easier to change diapers that way) for the first years of their life. But this began to change in the twentieth century, and with gendered clothing came gendered colors.

Virgin and Child by the Master of Guillaume Lambert, c. 1485. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It may surprise you to know that pink has traditionally been a masculine color. Pink, as a lighter version of red, had associations with blood and fighting, symbols of masculinity. Blue, today the color designated as masculine, has traditionally been the feminine color. In Christian tradition, blue is the iconographic color code of the Virgin Mary, and what is more feminine than the symbol of purity herself, the virgin mother of the son of God. In June 1918, the Infants' Department wrote: "There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl, The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl."

A feminine pink kitchen advertised in McCalls, April 1951.

So when did the colors switch, with pink becoming feminine? It was during the 1950s that pink became strongly feminized. This was not a sudden change, but the result of a gradual evolution. The designation of pink as feminine was the result of several factors, one of which was changes in the clothing industry. By the 1950s, most families bought clothing from stores, and clothing manufacturers helped to shape the idea of gendered clothing. In her book about the history of gendered childrens clothing, Pink and Blue, Jo Paoletti writes: "The more baby clothing could be designed for an individual child-- and sex was the easiest and most obvious way to distinguish babies-- the harder it would be for parents to hand down clothing from one child to the next, and the more clothing they would have to buy as their families grew."

In recent years, men have somewhat reclaimed the color pink. In conjunction with the release of Baz Luhrmann's new adaptation of The Great Gatsby, Brooks Brothers sold a design based on Jay Gatsby's famous pink suit. Famous hip hop artists such as Jay Z and Kanye West have been pictured wearing pink. And preppy polo shirts and shorts for men come in a variety of shades of pink. So is the pink stigma being lifted? Only time will tell.

*While looking for images of Barbie, I learned that Barbie's Dream House is now a reality. You can visit a life sized version in Berlin, Germany and Florida, USA. I saw some pictures, and everything in the house is, of course, pink.

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