For decades, pink reinforced archaic gender norms and femininity. Now, things couldn’t be more different.
Via The Cut.
Colour as a means of self expression have been used since the beginning of time. Think royal purple for the ancient Phoenicians, white for purity, the mesmerising blue of Yves Klein for high fashion. But in the late 20th century, one colour in particular was used to reinforce gender norms. You guessed it—pink. As in, back in the 40s, seeing a guy wearing pink was about as likely as seeing a unicorn. But it wasn’t always like that. To explain why, let’s start with a little history lesson.
Way back in the days, children weren’t accustomed to wearing colourful clothing at all. Instead, everyone wore practical white dresses, basically because they were way easier to bleach after you’d stain them. Then in the 19th century, pink began to be recommended as a colour for boys while blue was recommended for girls—advice people didn’t really follow until 1927. That’s the year that Times Magazine included a chart which mapped out which colours suited each gender. Pink was designated as a man’s colour and blue as a woman’s, and the information was made free for everyone to obtain at the largest stores in the US.
For about two decades, parents dressed their boys in rose hues while their girls work eggshell blue dresses—but shortly after, that all changed. In the 1940s, a sort of role reversal happened: pink became a girls’ colour and blue was positioned as a boys’ colour, thanks to manufacturers and retailers who for ‘reasons unknown’ started pumping out products fitting into those specific gender norms. This newly prescribed colour-coding of gender went in tandem with things like gender reveal parties and the idea of raising kids to adhere to certain genders. As a result, the choices of children were limited; “girls believe that they must stick to interests like cooking, baking, and other stereotypically feminine activities,’’ notes the Huffington Post. Basically, baby boomers grew up adhering to strict regimens around what’s appropriate for a man and what’s fine for a woman—so strict that pretty much any progress away from those ideals was a big step towards gender fluidity.
Enter the 60s and the feminist revolution, when women began embracing unisex clothing as a specific rebellion against restrictive gender norms and sexist stereotypes. As a result, gender-neutral clothing remained popular until about 1985—but once the activist feminist discussion died down for a bit at the end of the 80s, pink was again reintroduced as a colour for women. Especially prominent in this newfound representation was the pink ribbon symbolising breast cancer awareness. Pinned to your chest, it was solidified as a statement for years to come: the subconscious message was “breasts = pink”—which helped reinforce gender norms right up until the 2000s.
In the 2000s, men actually started to wear pink—but in a very specific way. Brands like Uniqlo, Polo Ralph Lauren and Lacoste all provided guys with trendy blushed polos that would go hand in hand with gelled hair and dark tans. For the first time in years, men were actually embracing pink as a symbol of their masculinity—which ultimately helped start the movement of breaking free from gender-based rules institutionalised in society.
Fast forward to 2007 and Swedish luxury brand Acne introduced pink packaging as a permanent addition to their brand image. Although the initial idea wasn’t to make a statement about gender fluidity, it definitely helped spark the conversation. Since Acne is a luxury fashion house creating apparel for both genders, walking around with a pink bag was and still is almost like a fashion statement in itself. If Acne said pink was cool for dudes, then, well, pink was cool for dudes.
And almost a decade later, we’re back to thinking about rose coloured hues and what they represent thanks to the advent of ‘millennial pink’. In contrast to the bright pink trend of the 2000s mostly adopted by males, millennial pink has found its way everywhere—fashion, furniture, design and lifestyle in general, disregarding gender bias. Millennial pink has been the staple colour of 2016 and 2017, even making its entrance into PANTONE’s colour of the year hall of fame and sharing the stage with Serenity, otherwise widely known as baby blue. According to consumers and researchers, millennial pink is perceived as genderless and a signifier of progressive politics around equality, gender fluidity and LGBTQ+ rights. As perfectly summed up in Mindthis magazine, “it’s an ironic tone of softness without the sugary prettiness. The reason why so many millennials are obsessing with this colour is that for us, this soft shade represents genderless fluidity, a place where there’s equality between both men and women, a place where we don’t care who’s who. It’s the colour of our freedom and free spirited mindset where judgement is almost non-existent.”
But this specific shade of pink could actually have a deeper meaning than just being the ‘it’ colour of the past two years—a symbolism specifically related to mental health. An annual Stress in America study found that millennials and Gen Xers are significantly more stressed than the “average” stress level, while older generations struggle less with anxiety. As a result, we’re now situated in a culture where conversations around mental health are growing increasingly prevalent—so it makes sense that millennial pink is positioned as an extension of that. According to Artitudes Design, the colour is calming and “alleviates feelings of anger, aggression, resentment, abandonment and neglect. Studies have confirmed that exposure to large amounts [of it] can have a calming effect on the nerves and create physical weakness in people.’’
But most of all, people argue that millennial pink holds an important role in various movements. ”In these Instagram-filtered times, it doesn’t hurt that the color happens to be both flattering and generally pleasing to the eye, but it also speaks to an era in which trans models walk the runway, gender-neutral clothing lines are the thing, and man-buns abound,” writes The Cut. “It’s been reported that at least 50 percent of millennials believe that gender runs on a spectrum — this pink is their genderless mascot.”
So whether you think millennial pink is a meaningful symbol or simply think it looks good on Insta, you can’t deny the cultural impact has left on our minds, lives—and who knows, perhaps even the future!