As we discovered in A Short History of Pink: From Fragonard to Schiaparelli, pink is a colour replete with stereotypes, carrying a heavy set of cultural associations on its shoulders from centuries past. Although the colour has undergone numerous significant changes throughout its history, altering how it has been viewed and what it has represented, it’s the rapid changes exerted on it in the latter half of the 20th Century that have most impacted perceptions of pink. From the brightest hues visible in Technicolor films of the 1950s, to the more classic tones serving as signature shades for initiatives championing change and minority acceptance, pink became more powerful and influential than it had ever been before.
In her 1985 book, Fashion and Eroticism, Valerie Steele writes of the 1950s: "the decade […] was characterized by an ideological emphasis on conformity, and by fashion images that were sharply age- and gender-specific." The photograph of Lisa Fonssagrives by Richard Rutledge perfectly personifies this statement. Without throwing doubt upon the aesthetic value and creative execution, the image presents an inherently gendered, culturally loaded view of 50s femininity. The image depicts a young, slim woman lounging in a carefree, nonchalant manner, her hair perfectly coiffed and her lips adorned in a striking dark red. Whilst relaxing amongst pillows and flicking through a magazine, the woman is resplendently clothed in a striped silk taffeta ball gown with a dainty teacup perched on the floor beside her, reminiscent of the sort of light-hearted whimsicality attributed to the lives of beautiful, adored princesses in fairy tales.
Looking through magazine archives from this period, it becomes apparent that the colour was also closely tied to the booming consumerist culture during this period, especially in the United States. By assigning a specific gender to pink, the colour became ‘appropriate’ for only a certain type of individual and for certain types of occasions. Reusing, repurposing, and sharing pink-coloured clothes was no longer an easy thing to do – and definitely not as easy as it would be with a simple white t-shirt.
One of the main proponents of pink’s stereotypical associations was the Hollywood film industry. Film costumes had the ability to significantly impact garment sales, resulting in the intertwinement of ‘silver screen’ clothing with the latest fashions, as dictated by glossy magazines and department store catalogues. The pink associated with the 1950s is one of soft, feminine hues and bubble-gum vibrancy, akin to the pink associated with Barbie later in the decade, in 1959. Yet, in reality, the colour wasn’t quite as jarring as it appeared, but was actually the result of the film colouring technology – Technicolor – that caused it to appear so. A costly process, Technicolor required heavy cameras and blazing hot, bright lights that heightened the stylised effect of the studio-filmed movie scenes. Often prominently used in musicals, melodramas or comedies, these films presented the world in a theatrical way. Therefore, the shade of pink audiences saw became connected (often subconsciously) with this imaginative world. From The Wizard of Oz (1939) to Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), we can see examples of this right up until the camera left the film studio and entered the real world – beginning the New Wave movement seen in French cinema of the 1960s.
Change in the production of films was not the only reason for shifts in the perception of pink. The colour shed its stylised image in 1963, when Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy wore a pink Chanel suit of wool bouclé. The outfit – now unfortunately synonymous with the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy that sadly occurred on this day – was nonetheless heralded as the height of chic and rightfully earned a place in the annals of fashion history. Jackie Kennedy, at the time already regarded a leading fashion icon, stood out in her hot pink ensemble among the sombre dark suits of the men that surrounded her. In choosing to remain in her blood-stained outfit for the events that followed the assassination, pink began to be seen in a new light. The until-now delicate, feminine, frivolous colour had been a witness to an incredibly serious, difficult, and emotionally draining event. One could say that the outfit became symbolic of Jackie’s strength – here was a woman that, despite her pink-filled, fashion icon status, also possessed brevity and graciousness – attributes that many men in equally important public roles would do well to acquire.
These days, power of pink can be seen across the globe. In India, for example, it is the colour that identifies the Gulabi Gang, a female-led initiative that aims to put an end to violence against women. Set up by Sampat Pal Devi, the movement uses the power of female unity to stand up against individual cases of domestic abuse in local communities. “It started with just five members in 2006, but today [source from 2013] her gang boasts more than 20,000 women in chapters in villages across India. Over the years, the group has staged marches to police stations and confronted officers who refused to register complaints of abuse against women. In 2011, The Guardian newspaper listed Sampat as one of the top 100 women activists and campaigners in the world.” Pink’s influential presence within the socio-political sphere is undeniable - as women’s voices gain importance so, too, does “their” colour.
As the decades progressed, pink began to make small steps towards seriousness. The androgynous business-wear chosen by women in the 80s signalled female desire to be taken seriously in the workplace, a veritable rejection of pink and society's gendered definitions. In the 90s, women's stance altered and pink - of the hot, almost-neon variety - was embraced once again. Women decided to reclaim the much-maligned colour and use it to illustrate female empowerment (just think back to the girl groups of the late 90s, early 00s!) and then, suddenly, pink was everywhere. The rise of the 'metrosexual male' in the 2000s further blurred the gendered colour lines, re-establishing pink as both a male and female colour. Since then, the colour has become the symbol of breast cancer awareness, of movements championing the rights of women, and of the LGBTQ+ community - in other words, pink finally became recognised as a colour for the masses.
In its new, all-encompassing role, pink is frequently the colour of choice for contemporary fashion designers – for both men and women. Echoing its past – and yet reinterpreting its current meaning – designers present pink clothes that are radically different to their earlier counterparts. In 2016, Rei Kawakubo – who founded the Japanese label Comme des Garçons – presented her fall collection titled ‘Eighteenth-century Punk’. The wide, layered pink cape that constituted one of the looks, makes use of “upholstery and corsetry, (…) abstract armour, (…) bondage straps, (…) [and] shapes reminiscent of pannier skirts”. Simply put, the cape is a concoction of references that are as multifarious as the associations of the colour itself!
Today, stepping out in a pink ensemble should not be reason for worry. A woman in pink is no longer considered only girly and gentle (not that there’s anything wrong with either); she can also (or instead) be measured and strong. It’s a universal shade, worn by many types of women, and actually (surprise, surprise) by men too! Sported by Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Kendall Jenner, pink is the colour of choice both for members of the royal family and reality-TV stars/models alike.
So, whatever your preconceptions about the colour may have been, put them all aside and embrace this wonderfully diverse colour!
Pink will never say more about you, than you will about yourself.
As Yves Saint Laurent said, 'What is important in a dress, is the woman who is wearing it'.