Studying art, sooner or later you end up studying colors, their history, and cultural meaning. From this point of view, pink is an outstanding case: throughout the 400 years of its history pink has changed its meanings plenty of times, becoming a cultural and even anthropological phenomenon. Here I want to show you just a few highlights of its range of interpretations.

Even if pink was known and used from antiquity, it has never been very popular or fashionable until the XVIII century, when Mary Antoinette made pink color a dominant trend in fashion and interiors not only at the court but all around aristocracy. Pink started being associated with wealth, hedonism, and luxury, the same as carelessness and bliss. It was an exotic color, rarely seen in nature comparing to green or brown for example. Back then, pink was gender-less, often used in male costumes.

In fact, for a long period pink was considered a color for boys. Since red, associated with war and determination, was the color of adult men, pink (diluted red) had become the color of boys. At the same time, it represented youth and innocence together with other pastel colors. Young ladies during the Victorian era would wear blue dresses as well as pink, which wasn’t an exclusively ‘girlish’ color.

However, it’s still all about pale pink and delicate shades of flowers and skies. The new era of pink starts in the 1930s with Elsa Schiaparelli introducing her signature color – shocking pink/ dark fuchsia, which immediately becomes a color standing for independence, progress, seduction – all the opposite of previous meanings. Schiaparelli’s atelier produced evening and day women dresses, accessories and even a lipstick in this new, shocking tint. Through that certain shade of pink, Elsa transferred her emancipated attitude to life to her clients.

The ’50s brought back a strong connection between pink color and gender. The first lady in The USA, Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower, used to adore it, and would show up in public wearing pink outfits so often, that it soon became a trend in women’s fashion and the color of happy housewives, charming weakness, fragility, and light-mindedness. Partly, this can be explained by an urge for a new life style in the first decade after the war, together with a search for another role model for women who had gone through hard times together with men. There was literally an explosion of pink in clothes, interior, adverts, cinema («Gentlemen Prefer Blondes», «Funny Face») which led to a glut and ultimately to the following indulgent attitude to pink as a synonym of lack of intelligence.

The 60’s changed again the attitude to pink head over heels, making it the color of youth, and playful sexuality. It stayed in fashion, but put next to bright green, blue, or orange in an outfit with extra mini skirt, it didn’t seem that exaggeratedly feminine anymore. In the next decade, it continued moving away from “girlish” connotations, turning it into a statement color of power, free sexuality and self-determination. The ’80s and the ’90s established the reputation of pink as the color of boldness and strong femininity, thought without much intellectual component, as in mass culture.

From the years 2010’s the gender equality movement and feminism turned pink into one of the colors of female pride, of a femininity which is no longer associated with weakness and dependence. The attitude to pink as a “silly” color has become a sign of narrow-mindedness, the same as labeling people wearing pink. Men wearing pink shouldn’t be causing any unnecessary attention or lead to any conclusions about their sexuality, women in pink don’t lose points of IQ level.

In 2020 pink is still a statement color, but at the same time, it is finally free from any stereotypes and can be used without double meaning as any other color.

… Just because you like it. (and it suits you)

Photo credits: pinterest, christies, smallbay, funkyforty


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