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    A SHORT HISTORY of PINK: Art, Fashion, and Culture

    Pink is a colour with many faces: its contrasting shades, tones, and intensities have the potential to convey a huge span of moods and emotions. With its long history in culture and fashion, pink has been influential, inspiring, and, occasionally, restrictive. Enjoyed by many for its femininity, the question remains as to whether pink is even necessarily feminine? If so, what makes it so? To know and respect this colour is to appreciate its mystery. At one end of the spectrum, pink is pale, soft, gentle, and nurturing; at the other, it is hot, fiery, and passionate. To dismiss the value of this colour is to overlook its versatility; pink can be subtle – subtler than subtle – but it can also be bolder than bold, and this adaptability is its power. Mixing pink shades with paint demonstrates this beautifully: what is in one moment a soft, peachy blush is impassioned with just a few more drops of red. This changeability gives it life. It’s no wonder we associate it so closely with love, surely one of our most elusive, fickle, yet passionate emotions? In this series entitled A Short History of Pink, we explore its journey through art, history, and pop culture to discover more about its origins, as well as where it is now. 

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'A Brief Introduction to Pink in Art and History'. Source:
    Lil Nas X, singer


    Pink is a colour with a complicated past but our relationship with it is always evolving and, in 2019, the pace of this change seemed faster than ever. In 1940s Europe and the US, pink was fully established as a ‘girls’ colour’. Prior to this, businesses and new parents weren’t sure which colour was more appropriate for either gender, and pink and blue were interchangeably seen as boys’ and girls’ colours. Eighty years later, in times of peak popularity for the controversial pink/blue baby ‘gender reveal’, pink’s position in the gender binary seems to be holding pretty strong… or does it? Recent years have witnessed the LGBTQ+ community embrace pink in all its wonderful hues, wearing it with pride and defining it as a colour of intrinsic power and beauty. Furthermore, menswear has increasingly adopted shades of pink, branching out from the barely-there pinks on formal shirts to hot pink t-shirts, pastel pink shoes, and salmon pink chino shorts.

    Fashion Month in September 2019 set the stage for pinks to receive the popularity and respect they deserve in the summer of 2020. Epitomised by the Jacquemus S/S 2020 show, both men's and womenswear collections featured every shade of pink imaginable, in a variety of masculine, boxy cuts that truly encapsulate the relevance of pink. Running parallel to the return of traditional, genderered colour associations offered by the ‘gender reveal’, these androgynous, urban looks confirm pink’s contemporary relevance. Youthful and vibrant, we only become aware of how starved we’ve been of stylish, sophisticated pinks when we’re given them in fabulous excess. Pink is undergoing a process of reinvention, and this transformation from girly to urbane is set to usher in a whole host of new, colour-led styling possibilities, with pink at the forefront.


    Pink has been on quite a journey in western art. In the eighteenth-century, pastel colours - particularly pink - were loved by the ladies and gents of bourgeois society – queue endless oil-paintings of pale, glassy-eyed aristocrats in baby pink and blue finery. Pale pink tones were everywhere; originally popularised in France, they soon spread to the rest of Europe. These light shades symbolised wealth and sophistication, partly because of the nature of the colours themselves. Light colours are more easily stained and marked: to have crisp, immaculate clothing made from expensive fabrics not only indicated that the wearer was wealthy enough to own the garment, but that they lived a highly refined life. Pale pinks held court until the 1950s, when the fabulous Kay Thompson told us to ‘Think Pink’ in the 1957 musical Funny Face – a catchy expression of the decade’s hyper-femininity and consumer culture. This all changed in the 1960s, when pop art brought vivacious, brighter shades to the fore. Hot pink ruled for the likes of Andy Warhol – his 1967 piece, Marilyn 31, comes to mind – and equally bright, but slightly lighter neon shades also had their moment in the 90s. In 2020, pink seems to have come full circle: pale, pastel tones are key features of the millennial colour palette, so far in that there’s now a shade known as ‘millennial pink’. Pantone named ‘Rose Quartz’ joint colour of the year in 2016, encapsulating the soft, minimal aesthetic of the 2010s – decade of ‘woke’.

    Oscar-Claude Monet
    Vincent van Gogh
    Jenny Andrews-Anderson


    Strong associations with pink are primarily a European phenomenon. Asian countries, particularly China, historically had no strong feelings towards the colour, but influence from Europe led to pink being similarly associated with young girls and soft emotions. Lack of opinion towards pink around the world is thought to come down to it not fully being recognised as a colour in its own right, but rather as a shade of red.

    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'A Brief Introduction to Pink in Art and History'. Source of the image:
    'Olga Anderson'. Article 'A Brief Introduction to Pink in Art and History'. Source of the image:
    One country where pink has a special significance is Japan, where pale pink cherry blossoms are an iconic and integral part of the country’s image, both internally and externally. These flowers are perceived to have a romantic mood, symbolising new life in spring, and it’s traditional to enjoy food and drink beneath them - a practice known as ‘blossom watching’. Japan’s relationship with cherry blossoms is perhaps the most notable example of a national identity where pink has strong significance, and you only have to witness the abundance of trees blossoming with these beautiful blooms to understand why that is. This national obsession with the colour pink has bled into numerous areas of life in Japan, with even football kits sporting tints of pink! Use of pink in Japanese society can be traced all the way back to the 8th Century, where both male and female members of the Heian court were decked in layered 'rose plum' clothing; this tradition of pink being both a male and female colour in Japan is still true today, with its multitudinous shades considered appropriate for any gender.

    In some African countries, pink wedding outfits are a popular choice for both the bride and groom, symbolising unity and partnership. Traditionally, African bridal wear is influenced by the bride's familial and cultural roots - her outfit pays homage to her land and people, with significant colours reflected in her outfit. The pink in the wedding outfits depicted here each have undertones of purple, the colour for royalty in many parts of Africa, and therefore denote the couple's status as King and Queen of their day. In recent years, less vibrant renditions have gained popularity. Some brides opt for blushed, light pink tones as an alternative to white - a trend that is somewhat reminiscent of the ‘rose gold’ craze of the past five years. This trend fits the widespread notion of pink as inherently feminine and representative of love, but the originality of light pink wedding gowns allows us to envision them becoming more popular, along with other elegant, light hues. In some ways, pale pink wedding dresses support traditional, gendered ways of thinking about and styling with pink; in other ways, they break down barriers of expectation by adding passionate, playful red tones to the traditional white. Oh pink, how paradoxical – and playful – you are!

    As a colour, pink has had an illustrious career that has seen it undergo multiple transformations over the centuries. During this time, it has acquired a vast array of connotations – good and bad – yet has emerged better than the sum of all its parts. Modern versions of pink, inspired by a variety of socio-political movements (and the film industry of the 50s), demonstrate that there is more than meets the eye with this colour. Redolent of freedom, power, and individuality, the colour has gone full-circle and is now comfortably and stylishly worn by all genders, in all settings, unleashing inhibitions on the way. The question is, however, how did pink reach this point? To learn more about pink’s journey through the ages, read through our Short History of Pink parts 2 and 3!

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