The History Of Pink

  • by Ian Thackeray

Refined, rebellious and not just for girls: A cultural history of pink!

Elvis Presley's iconic 1955 Cadillac, Marilyn Monroe in a figure-hugging dress in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes".

These iconic images all share a common thread: the color pink.
Throughout the centuries, pink has assumed a range of guises, from Barbie's dresses to the saris of the Indian vigilante group, the Gulabi Gang. The way it is perceived by society has also changed over the years, at various times being considered feminine, erotic, kitsch, sophisticated and transgressive.
In the West, pink first became fashionable in the mid-1700s, when European aristocrats -- both men and women -- wore faint, powdery variants as a symbol of luxury and class. Madame de Pompadour, the chief mistress of Louis XV, loved the colour so much that, in 1757, French porcelain manufacturer Sèvres named its exquisite new shade of pink, Rose Pompadour, after her.
Pink was not then considered a "girls" color -- infants of both sexes were dressed in white. The tint was, in fact, often considered more appropriate for little boys because it was seen as a paler shade or red, which had "masculine," military undertones.
By the turn of century, pink had entered the mainstream -- and its status shifted in the process. The advent of industrialization and mass-production led to the growing cheap dyes like magenta, which resulted in bright, garish versions of the color. Pink went from luxury to working-class and, as a color often worn by prostitutes at the time, from sophisticated to vulgar.
Its guises continued changing through the 1900s. In the first two decades of the 20th century, French couturier Paul Poiret created dresses in pale and pastel pinks, as well as bolder cherry, coral and fuchsia, propelling the shade back into the realm of high fashion. By the 1950s, pink had become more gender-coded than ever, thanks to branding and marketing in postwar America that used it as a symbol of hyper-femininity, cementing a pervasive "pink for girls, blue for boys" stereotype.
Pink regained some its allure around the 1960s, when public figures such as Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe adopted it as mark of luxury. Punk bands like The Ramones and The Clash made it edgier in the 1980s, while in more recent decades, pop, celebrity and hip-hop cultures have embraced the color in different ways -- from Madonna performing in a Jean Paul Gaultier soft pink cone-cupped bustier in 1990, to rapper Cam'ron attending New York Fashion Week in a pink mink coat and matching hat in 2002, helping to show that pink could again be considered a men's colour.
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