Every day we hear a lot of people talking about gender stereotypes. And even more often we are ourselves victims of these specific stereotypes, which follow men and women in a very different way since they are born.
Just imagine this extremely common situation: you are walking into a shop to buy baby clothes and you find yourself in what looks like a universe with two different worlds in it. On one side, you see a full section painted in blue, green and brown; on the other, everything is mostly pink. So, if you have a daughter, you will probably go to the latter.
But pink hasn’t always been a girly colour.
Quite the opposite, actually.
For most of history, pink was just one of many colours and it was worn equally by men and women, until approximately 60 years ago.
Does it sound surprising? Wait to read the full story.
Pink was not a popular colour until the 18th century because it faded so fast. The discovery of Brazil by explorers of the New World, allowed artisans to create more vibrant and longer-lasting dyes, and the French court went mad for pink.
Back then, noblemen and women were equally decorative: they were both dressed in all manner of ruffles, lace and floral designs, with plenty of pink – and blue, for that matter.
How come? Red was considered the boldest and brave colour, but too strong for children. So boys got the watered-down version of red: pink. While blue, considered a more delicate and dainty nuance, was better suited for girls.
But somewhere, along the way, that changed.
Fashion researchers, such as Valerie Steele, the museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology, tried to track down the exact moment when pink became one of the largely used gender stereotypes. The result is still unclear.
What is certain is that this change happened in France, in the late 1800s. The first “genderfication” of the colour dates back to 1868 and the book Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott, in which a pink ribbon is used to identify the female and a blue one the male. However, Alcott defined this choice as a “French fashion idea”, as if to say that it was not yet a rule recognised everywhere, but rather, it was a kind of exotic habit.
Around the same time, though, men all over Europe began to dress in more suit-like coats and trousers in shades of black and navy blue, pushing off all the other colours and decorations to women.
Between the 1930s and 1940s things started to change: men began to dress in increasingly darker colours, associated with the business world, and boys’ and girls’ clothes began to be differentiated at an increasingly younger age, also due to the growing diffusion of Freud’s theories related to sexuality and gender distinction.
But the real turning point is most commonly placed around World War II. It is not clear how, in the 1950s, a precise assignment of colours took place, in what seemed to be a completely arbitrary choice. Advertising companies took over and the colours were switched because advertising was leaning towards women, and so pink seemed to be more prominent. Magazines took the lead and colours were stamped into the national psyche, because department stores knew that assigning a colour to each gender made people buy a lot more children’s clothes.
Pink ended up being identified with women and became omnipresent not only in clothing but also in consumer goods, such as house appliances, cars, toys and so on.
Moreover, a few episodes consolidated the feminisation of pink: the Barbie doll was introduced to the market in those years, and in the 1957 film Funny Face, a character inspired by the famous fashion journalist Diana Vreeland, dedicates an internal issue of her magazine to the colour pink.
But now? How is pink seen today?
Pink’s associations to femininity were strongly criticised towards the end of the 19th century when feminist movements became more and more common and traditional gender roles were put in question.
Nowadays pink is not just a girly colour, but it is also the representation of a gender battle. Pink is the colour through which women all over the world express sisterhood and support towards each other. A colour associated with girl power. A colour that stands not just for femininity but also for feminism.
A color that now means revolution.