19 October 2017





In fall of 2016, the London Science Museum was under fire for their latest neuro-science exhibition called, What Sex is Your Brain?, an interactive game that would determine if your brain was more PINK (female) or BLUE (male).

As the public raged against the museum in what social activists and neuro-scientists were calling “junk science”, I wonder – why are boys blue and girls pink? I wasn’t the only one pondering the deeper meanings of pink. In 2014, the Boston Museum of Fine Art had hosted the exhibition Think Pink, exploring, “the changing meaning of pink in art and fashion.”

Gendering colours wasn’t of much importance until the late 19th century, when ready-made-clothes became all the rage, and mail order clothing companies were growing. Marking campaigns were trying to find new ways of targeting audiences by creating new fashion styles to sell more products.

In a 1918 Earnshaw's Infants' Department catalogue, it was specified that,
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. 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.” Source
Mamie Eisenhower, 1953. Source
In Jo B. Paoletti’s new book Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, she details how a 1927 Times Magazine fashion article claimed blues looked best on blue-eyed blonds, and pink was better on brunettes.

Pink only became associated with girls after World War Two. After the war ended, there was a power struggle in North America between men and women. Men wanted to return to work, but women didn’t want to give up their jobs. In an effort to move women back into the home, campaigns dedicated to redefining “femininity” were launched. Fashion and beauty were the most popular media methods, and with a powerful political voice was an unofficial leading figure.

Dwight Eisenhower, the general who won the war for America, became president in 1953. At his inauguration, first lady Mamie Eisenhower appeared in this enormous, rhinestone studded, bright pink ballgown. The luxury of such an impression dress, rarely seen during the war effort, made an impression upon America.

Maimi Eisenhower loved pink, and was known for it. News articles from that period would often reference pink in their tag lines about Mamie, and her favourite shade of pink was dubbed Mamie Pink. During Eisenhower’s presidential term, pink was used all over the White House, and came to be known as the “Pink Palace”.

Funny Face, "Think Pink," 1957. Source

There is a song in the movie Funny Face, produced in 1957, called Think Pink. One of the movie characters portrays a female fashion magazine editor, who is deeply based off Diana Vreeland, a New York fashion magazine editor in the 1950's. The movie fashion editor sings about who women need to “think pink”, and pointedly says, “Banish the black. Burn the blue,” which are two colours woman would have worn quite often during the war effort while working in the factories.

Donna Mae Mims, 1950s's. Source
Jayne Mansfield latched onto the idea of pink being the colour embodiment of femininity. Much like Mamie, Jayne incorporated pink into every aspect of her life, like pink car, a pink wedding gown, a pink mansion, and even dyed her pets’ fur pink. Jayne’s opinion that women should “wear pink,” and be delicate, coupled with Mamie’s opinion that women’s place was in the home, supported with statements like, “Ike runs the country, I turn the pork chops,” established a very different female role model than Rosie the Riveter had only a decade before.

Sales marketing used pink in every way they could to promote this ideal image of a dainty and delicate homemaker. Pink was seen all over women’s magazines during the 1950’s, colouring fashion, beauty, and interior decorating designs in shades of pink. “Pink as a bridal blush,” was an ad used to promote kitchen interior design, a space predominantly considered a “woman’s domain”.

Vanity Fair Cigarettes, 1950's. Source
Women embraced this change in social positioning. Working long hours in factories had to have been hard work, and many took up the opportunity to become the delicate house wives they were encouraged to be. Soon, both real and fictional women began appearing in pink, including women who didn’t fit the hyper-feminized female model. Champion race care driver, Donna Mae Mims, was known for her powder pink race car, racing helmet, and racing suit.

Now, women own pink. There are countless female icons in pop-culture who have appeared in pink, such as the Pink Ladies in their powder pink bowling jackets in the cult classic Grease. Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles. And who could forget the Plastics from Mean Girls who wear pink on Wednesdays.

Pink is still found in contemporary politics, such as Kate Middleton at Queen Elizabeth II’s most recent birthday this past September. Hillary Clinton has appeared publicly multiple times, during both of her campaigns, in various vibrant shades of pink, including the cover of People Magazine. However, quite opposite to Mamie, Hillary makes statements like “We need to break the highest, hardest glass ceiling [for women].”

Mamie Pink vs. Millennial Pink

Mamie Pink, 1956. Source                            Millennial Pink, 2016. Source
The new generation of Millenials have embraced Mamie Pink, re-branding it as Millennial Pink, and it has taken over our homes just as much as it did in the 1950's. The popularity of millennial pink has given women the permission many needed to feel strong, and feminine, at the same time.

Jagmeet Singh, 2017. Source
The new trend in gender bending fashion means pink isn’t just for girls anymore. Pink has been prominently worn by music icons like DrakeLondon gender neutral fashion designer Lover Boy, and Canada’s latest political heartthrob and NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh.

Pink's pop-culture curated values for communicating femininity have been reshaped by contemporary have been reshaped by contemporary social media and activist campaigns challenging gender identity.

Hillary uses pink to say, “I’m just a girl like you,” and Singh uses his bright pink turbans to stand out in a political crowd with striking fashion choices. How will you use pink to shape the world around you?

Additional Reading:

Devlin, H. (2016, September 14). Science Museum under fire over Exhibit asking if brains are pink or blue. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/14/science-museum-under-fire-exhibit-brains-pink-blue-gender-stereotypes#img-1

Donen, S. (2012, June 06). Funny Face. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ygy3-uWbfg

Maglaty, J. (2011, April 07). When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? Retrieved October 13, 2017, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/

Vox.com. (2016, August 03). Why women’s clothing sizes don’t make sense/. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QwlT5f7H1c&index=43&list=PLMPT1ea2-YxBGXosZtkRC9OhkF5AoUkrn

Vox.com. (2015, April 14). How did pink become a girly color? Retrieved October 13, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaGSYGhUkvM&index=44&list=PLMPT1ea2-YxBGXosZtkRC9OhkF5AoUkrn

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