The Complicated History of Pink

Everyone has an opinion about pink. However, what many do not know is this contentious color has a storied past, which likely and unknowingly influenced our opinions on it. The details of pink’s history are many, but a few highlights help us understand what this color went through over the centuries, to bring it to where it is today.

1.      Pink was not a social or gender norm before the 1920s and 30s.

Today pink is the go-to color for women and girls of almost every age, but this was not always the case. For many centuries pink went without assignment to either gender. In the 1700s it was fashionable for men’s jackets to be purple and pink satin.

In Japan, the color pink has a masculine association. The annual blooming of the cherry trees, with its pink blossoms (the Sakura) each spring is said to represent the young Japanese warriors (Samurais) who fell in battle in the prime of life.

As late as the early part of the 20th century, pink was considered a masculine hue, a pastel version of the color red. Blue, associated with the Virgin Mary, was thought to be dainty.

As per the Smithsonian website:

Ladies' Home Journal article in June 1918 said, "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." Other sources said blue was flattering for blonds, pink for brunettes; or blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for brown-eyed babies, according to Paoletti.

In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene's told parents to dress boys in pink. So did Best & Co. in New York City, Halle's in Cleveland and Marshall Field in Chicago.

2.      Pink Made its Debut in Art

The origin of pink is thought to be from an 18th century engraving of a pink and white carnation. Interesting to note, carnations at one time were referred to as “pinks,” and it is from this flower the color got its name.

In 1947, fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced the color hot pink into western fashion. She dubbed the shade "Shocking Pink", though today the color is more associated as magenta.

In the early 60’s, a London based band called “Tea Set” hastily changed its name when billed with a band with the same name to “The Pink Floyd Sound.”  The band later abridged its name to Pink Floyd and went on to sell over 200 million albums in 40 years.

3.      After a Certain Age Some Historical Figures Refused to Wear It

Marie Antoniette wouldn’t wear pink after the age of 30. She lived to 38.

4.      Pink Was Not Associated with Love until the Late 1800s

Pink became the color of love after the publication of the late 1800s book “Language of Flowers.” It was said different types of carnations delivered different messages to those who received them. One pink carnation symbolized “pure love,” whereas a variegated pink carnation, subtly or not so subtly, presented a message of “refusal.”

5.      The Pink Effect

Physically and mentally, the pastel hue can stimulate energy, increase the blood pressure, respiration, heartbeat, pulse rate and encourage action and confidence.

Pink is sometimes used in prison cells to reduce erratic behavior.

6.      My First Job Out of College and The History of Pink Intersected

My first job out of college was as the Department Assistant in the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). While there, I learned all the ins and outs of how a curatorial department worked within a major museum. I also had access to original drawings, photographs and prints that were not on-view to the public, amongst other special privileges and experiences.

I had lost track of many friends from MFA until a buyer for the museum shop came into my booth at a recent New York trade show. She was looking for items to sell in the museum store to support their upcoming “Think Pink” exhibition, a temporary exhibit on the history and influence of pink, on view October1, 2013- May 26, 2014.  To my delight, she selected PHD clutches – in silver and, of course, in pink.


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