To each, its own color. But not as a matter of individual taste – it’s science. For instance, red is a stimulating color that builds up appetite, which is why we often see it in fast food restaurants and diners: think about furniture, chairs, trays, logos. Blue is used by brands that want to be perceived as reassuring and trustworthy. And green is for those who want to be associated with relax, eco-friendly behavior and health. Have you noticed the change in McDonald’s color identity, to name but one? It switched its dominant hue from red to green, not as an aesthetic choice, but as part of a well-conceived rebranding operation aimed at changing the customer perception from ‘having a meal at a fast food place’ into ‘dining in a healthy, high-quality restaurant’. Likewise, it becomes easy to think of pink as a delicate, placid color, justifiably connected to the ‘gentle female world’ by tradition. Psychological studies on the matter, in fact, proved that certain shades of the color do reduce aggressiveness in the viewer. It appears obvious, thus, to associate a color connected to weakness with the ‘fair sex’.
However, pink became the ultimate female color only after WW2. In the Western society, it started being en vogue in the mid-eighteenth century, but not as a color for girls only; on the contrary, it was seen as especially fitting for boys as it was considered a lighter version of red, traditionally associated with masculinity and authority. The female half of children population, instead, used to wear clothes in shades of turquoise, inspired by the Virgin Mary’s candid robes. Perfectly logical, if we think of how religious the society of that time was. So how did this change in thinking take place? It didn’t happen as an instant transition nor for a single cause, of course. It was more like a process, started in the first half of the twentieth century and still ongoing today.
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During WW2, Hitler had the homosexual population sorted into two categories. Those that were deemed treatable were interned in concentration camps and badged with a pink triangle. More than 50,000 homosexuals were imprisoned under the Nazis. The survivors reported the horrors of the camps, where they were considered as the lowest of the low even among the internees. Only in 2002 did the German government apologize to the gay community for the events of the Nazi era, after decades of struggles and tragic accounts. And it was in the 1970s that the pink triangle, a symbol of repression, was embraced as an emblem for gay pride, through an inversion of meaning. Technically it can’t be said that the Nazis created the association between pink and the female gender’s stereotypical characters, but they definitely contributed to its establishment.
Even from a more popular perspective, war had a huge influence on the color trends of the 50s. As a reaction to the dark, neutral, military colors of the uniforms, a new range of ‘pop’ brighter hues emerged: aqua blue, baby pink, lemon yellow… And if the First Lady person, Mamie Eisenhower, wore a pink dress for the installation ceremony of President Eisenhower in 1953, it’s easy to figure out how, in no time, pink earned its place as ‘female’ color in collective imagination. Mamie, in fact – the ‘real’ First Lady – was looked up to as an example for all American women.
During the 60s and the 70s, thanks to the feminist liberation movement, this binary conception of the world was broken by the growing popularity of the unisex trend. Repression also came with clothes: frilly and cumbersome for girls, practical and comfortable for boys. To break this pattern, mothers increasingly tended to look for neutral color clothes and accessories. Pink and baby blue’s big comeback happened no sooner than the early 80s, with prenatal diagnosis allowing parents to answer the age-old question: will our baby be a boy or a girl? Hence, the nursery decor and layette frenzy for the unborn babies. Company marketing experts quickly spotted an opportunity to boost their sales and created gender-specific lines. Your second-born will be a boy? Using his sister’s pink layettes doesn’t sound that good, so waste more money and buy the same exact products, but blue. Which can be especially convincing if you’re a mother raised in the 80s, whose childhood suffered from lack of lacy baby pink dresses.
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Another key-factor to consider is children’s increasingly early development in relation to consumerism. As experts say, our kids now develop a stronger and earlier consciousness of their gender compared to the past, and this is mostly due to persuasive advertising that, while boosting the sales, reinforces social conventions as a side effect. Pink, thus, has become a cage that not only confines the wearer in a limited space of something called “femininity”, but the entire society in a series of mental enclosures. By which we are imprisoned, regardless of our taste and choices, since we are in our mother’s womb. This fact has huge implications and adds dark shades to something apparently harmless like the color pink. Because pink is no longer just a color. It has become a story, an instrument, a weapon, an emblem of rights claim and struggle. What will it become tomorrow?