Pink’s second life



Pink’s meaning is changing, but some people still think of it as a frivolous color. Photo: Tamara Saade.

Centuries separate them, but punk bassist Paul Simonon, fashiong designer Elsa Shiaparelli, and Madame de Pompadour share a love of the color pink. The Fashion Institute of Technology pays tribute to this color with the exhibition “Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color” which runs through January 5, 2019.

The exhibition took two years to organize, according to Valerie Steele, director of the FIT museum and curator of the exhibition. It includes pink outfits dating back to the 18th century as well as contemporary pieces, like pop star Janelle Monae’s pink ruffled pants shaped like female genitals.

On October 19, FIT will host a free symposium on the history of pink. Speakers who range from business history professors to costume designers will discuss the evolution of the color, as well as its role in film, music, and politics.

The exhibition shows how pink is breaking out of its traditional role in the U.S., as a color associated with feminity. Although pink is an accepted part of Eastern men’s wardrobe, as with traditional Indian clothing in fuchsia, the West only recently started to accept pink for men.

“For African American men it was around 2002,” said Steele, which is when rapper Cam’ron wore a pink sweater at New York Fashion Week. When rap, often associated with hyper- masculinity, adopted the color pink, its popularity grew among the male audience, according to a 2004 interview with Cam’ron in The New York Times.

With her pink barrette, eye shadow, pants, and nail polish, Leni Silva, a sales associate at Urban Outfitters, admits that as a young girl, “I didn’t like pink. I didn’t like anything that had to do with being girly.

“As I got a little bit older,” she said. “I stopped caring about whether the color pink was girly or not.”

The origin of gendered colors goes back to the 18th century, when French aristocracy “obtained a new pink dye from Latin America” said Steele. “Pink was associated with parts of the human body, the tongue, the cheeks, the genitals, as well as blushing, which contributed to the idea that pink was a sexual color, and therefore, in patriarchal society, a female and gay color.”

To this day, pink is rarely seen in men’s fashion. In the men’s department at Barney’s, in Chelsea, only a few statement pieces are pink, such as studded suede Christian Louboutin sneakers. “Fashionistas, men who are into fashion will be the ones who tend to use more pink,” said Irving Fuentes, a supervisor and assistant manager.

“No matter the color, if they like an item they will go for it. But because we’re in downtown, everyone is relaxed, they go to work. It’s just street style so they tend to go towards soberer colors, such as navy blue, black.”

Pink for girls and blue for boys is a 20th century invention in the U.S., according to Steele. Before that, pink was a boy’s color, because “pink being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for boys,” according to a 1918 magazine on display at the exhibit. But after World War II, shops divided their merchandise for boys and girls based on color.

“Originally, babies’ garments were white and parents could wash the clothes and pass them from one generation to the other,” said Steele. As French fashion reached the US, “the gendered division of colors made it that parents had to buy different garments for each child: pink for girls and blue for boys.”

On the 8th floor of Macy’s, the kids’ department is divided into boys and girls’ sections. While there are girls’ clothes in all colors, a majority are in pink. The boys’ section is mainly comprised of dark colors, a sea of blue, brown and green with classic button-down shirts and polos the only item in pink.

Fern McDonald, a sales representative in the boys’ section at Polo Ralph Lauren, explained the lack of pink items. “During the fall/winter collections, we don’t have that many pink items, besides maybe a classic pink shirt,” she said. “Pink, as well as brighter colors, are part of the spring/summer collections. They’re more tropical. . . . Little boys still see pink as a girl’s color.”

Retailers benefit from the color binary by selling girls’ items at a higher price. According to a study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs published in 2015, girls’ bike helmets and protective pads cost 13 percent more than boys’. The main difference between both items is the color: pink for girls. According to the same study, women’s pink razor and razor cartridges cost 11 percent more than men’s.

The color pink is also controversial amongst feminists. “Some critics would say ‘Pink isn’t serious; this is a serious matter,’ but others say it’s time to reclaim the color,” said Steele.

In 2017, prior to the women’s march, Washington Post journalist Petula Dvorak wrote “Please, sisters, back away from the pink” in response to the pink pussy hats. “We need to be remembered for our passion and purpose, not our pink pussycat hats,” wrote Dvorak in her column, claiming “The woman’s march needs grit, not gimmicks.”

Parents like Magdalene Perez, a mother of two young boys and digital news editor at MSN, resist color assignment as well. “Having a pink version of toys is like saying this toy is for you and you can’t have the other one,” she said, while her children ran around in the playground at Hudson River Park. “My older kid really liked the color pink. I never told him pink is for girls, because I don’t want to send him that kind of messages about gender.”

Mario Cancel, a PhD student in ethnomusicology, is the father of four-year-old pink fan Gabriela. “She likes pink, but she wears green stuff too, as well as blue, it doesn’t matter for me,” he said.

“I joke around, I put some of her pink tutus on my head, to pretend that I’m a princess but she says I can’t be a princess. She says that because I’m a boy, I can only be a prince!”