It is hard to imagine a color that has had such different attitudes over the centuries. Once considered the color of luxury, pink has become vulgar and cheap. In some periods, he was considered more masculine, and in others – more feminine. The color of femininity, sophistication, glamour, strength, feminism – it’s all about pink. We understand how ideas about pink have changed and what we have come to today.

The color of noble people

A few centuries ago, pink had no gender. This color was unusual: it was rare in nature and was found mainly in exotic plants or animals.

In Europe, pink gained popularity in the 18th century, when Rococo became the leading style in art. Then pink began to be actively used in painting, interior items and outfits from the 18th century. Clothing of a pale pink, powdery shade was an indicator of social status. The materials needed for dyeing the fabric were brought from expeditions from Central Asia and South America, so they were expensive. Only the nobility could afford pink things, and both women and men wore them.

Especially pale pink was loved by the Marquise de Pompadour, the main favorite of the French king Louis XV. In 1757, the chemist Jacques Ello, who worked in the Sevres porcelain manufactory, created a paint of a special shade – “pink pompadour”.

At the end of the 19th century, cheap dyes for fabrics were already invented in France and Great Britain. Now not only representatives of the nobility, but also ordinary workers could wear clothes of various shades of this color: from delicate pastel to bright fuchsia. Because of this, among the representatives of the elites, the color has lost its significance. Things in such colors began to be considered tasteless and even vulgar. There are even examples of this in the literature. For example, Nick Carraway, a character in the novel The Great Gatsby, which takes place in the United States in the 1920s, criticizes the protagonist’s pink suit.

“His pink suit—stupid tulle rags—stands out like a colorful stain on the white marble of the steps, and I recalled that evening, three months ago, when I was a guest in his family castle for the first time.”

Quote from Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Shot from the film “The Great Gatsby”

The color of “little men”

Children of both sexes in Europe have long been dressed in white dresses because it was practical. Linen and cotton white children’s clothes were easier to wash. Then, in the middle of the 17th century, a fashion for pastel colors for babies arose, because in art and culture they became a symbol of youth and innocence. At the same time, a non-strict gender separation of colors began. Only it was the exact opposite of what we know today.

Pink was considered more suitable for little boys because it was perceived as a paler shade of red. Red has been considered masculine for centuries, symbolizing strength, courage, rage, so it was often present in military uniforms. Pink was perceived as diluted red, which means it was the color of “little men”. But the blue color is more suitable for girls. And here the religious context was important: the Virgin Mary is often depicted in blue robes, so this color is associated with purity.

Until the 1920s, such a color division persisted. This was written in women’s magazines and clothing catalogs, cradles and children’s rooms could be decorated in these colors, depending on the sex of the baby. However, the trend of gender separation of colors was not as categorical as in the modern world. Everything changed after World War II.

The color of girls and real ladies

There are several versions why after, in the 50s of the last century, pink became the color “for girls”. Historians, sociologists and journalists cite various reasons that could have led to this.

Firstly, after the Second World War, men’s uniforms began to be mass-produced from blue fabrics in Europe and the United States. Secondly, a new context due to wartime events appeared in pink. In Nazi Germany, homosexual men were persecuted, they were required to wear a pink triangle patch on their clothes. So in the public mind, this color began to be associated with a discriminated and despised group, and also began to be considered more feminine, to denote, according to the Nazis, “fake” men.

The third important reason that could lead to the popularity of pink among women is influencers. More specifically, one particular woman is US First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. In 1953, she appeared at the inauguration of her husband in a pink dress, which surprised the public. Women of this status rarely wore pink, because since the beginning of the century, representatives of the elite considered it a sign of bad taste. But Mrs. Eisenhower did not pay attention to public opinion: she loved pink so much that she regularly appeared in outfits of this color at public events, and also used it to decorate interiors. Because of this, the presidential residence was even nicknamed the “Pink House”. The First Lady broke prejudices about color and made it popular again among middle-class and elite women.

Ed Mayo, former chief executive of the British National Consumer Council, talks about another reason for the gender separation of blue and pink. According to him, marketing is to blame. After the war, the market for children’s goods appeared in the United States, and then in European countries, and with it the need to separate goods for boys and girls. This allowed manufacturers to earn more money. For example, if there were several children of both sexes in one family, then parents needed to buy different toys for them. Previously, things in neutral colors from an older child could be passed on to a younger one, regardless of their gender. And according to the new marketing laws, if a child of the opposite sex was born, the parents were forced to completely update the wardrobe.

Shot from the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”

So, pink gradually became a fashionable female color. In the 50s, Hollywood movie stars began to appear in pink outfits. In the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Marilyn Monroe appeared in a bright pink dress. And in 1957, in the comedy Funny Face, in one of the scenes in the editorial office of a women’s magazine, the editor-in-chief proclaimed that you need to “expel the blue and burn the black” and “think about pink.” Moreover, in this scene it is shown that not only clothes should be pink. All things used by women should be of this color. In the future, this happened: marketers began to use this color in the production of all kinds of goods. Because of this, the so-called pink tax arose.

glamorous blonde color

In the 70s and 80s, pink became the color for girls in many Western countries. However, among the feminists of this period, pink began to be perceived as a stereotypical color. They believed that by dressing girls in pink dresses, people impose a certain model of behavior on them. Feminists insisted on neutral colors in clothing.

At the turn of the century, the color experienced a new wave of popularity. Madonna, Paris Hilton and the heroines of the film “Mean Girls” appeared in pink outfits. The color has become strongly associated with stereotypes of the “stupid blonde”. In an article in The Guardian, stylist Angela Weyers advised women not to wear pink to job interviews. According to her, in the corporate world, this color is associated with a lack of intellectual abilities. Because of this, colleagues may not take a woman seriously.

Frame from the film “Mean Girls”

In 2008, British women Emma and Abi Moore launched the Pinkstinks campaign. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that pink is not just a color: it broadcasts a gender stereotype and is associated with a certain model of female behavior. The Moore sisters believed that if from an early age a girl is surrounded only by pink things and toys, then this negatively affects her gender socialization. “This is a signpost telling girls that beauty is valued more than intelligence; it limits their ambitions,” said Abi Moore.

Color for feminists and men

Associated with gender stereotypes, pink has long been considered anti-feminist. For a woman who defends her rights, strives for equal opportunities with men and does not want to depend on social standards, the love of pink was something shameful. American writer and feminist Roxanne Gay wrote about this in 2014.

“I’m a bad feminist because I’m… a woman who loves the color pink. <...> I used to say that my favorite color is black to be cool. But it’s really pink—all shades of pink.”

An excerpt from Roxanne Gay’s book of essays, The Bad Feminist.

In the last decade, attitudes towards pink have changed again. Women no longer want to be shy about loving this color. They try to change the associative array associated with it. Now it is not only the color of the first ladies and housewives, but also scientists, athletes, activists. Femininity and femininity, with which pink is associated, cease to be a cause for shame.

“As a child, I wanted to appear strong and thought that if I wore pink, I would look weak and girly. <...> I don’t know about others, but I no longer want to be considered the color of weakness.”

From the blog of feminist and influencer Annabelle Schmitt

Today, members of the femdom movement use pink as a symbol of women’s empowerment. Pink knitted hats – pussyhat – became a symbol at the 2017 Women’s March in the USA. Then more than 2 million people took to the streets in response to the sexist statements of President Donald Trump. Activists often come out with pink posters to pickets against the ban on abortion. In India, in 2006, the Gulabi Gang, or the Pink Gang, appeared. This is an association of women who fight against social injustice and protect themselves from violence. As a uniform, they chose bright pink saris, symbolizing femininity and strength. And the pink ribbon around the world is a symbol of the fight against breast cancer.

Kathy Hutchins / shutterstock

In the 21st century, pink has ceased to be associated with the sexual orientation of men and has again entered their wardrobe. Today, designers use all shades of pink, despite the gender stereotypes of the last century. The Valentino brand even released a special “pink” collection for men. On the red carpet, you can increasingly see men in pink outfits. Actor Jason Momoa and rapper A$AP Rocky go for calmer, pastel hues, while Sebastian Stan and Colman Domingo go for bright, even acidic pinks.