Pink. The Power Of A Simple Color.

Why is there an irrational fear of pink?  Why, more than any color, is pink something that has the ability to so directly feminize and so completely immasculate?

When I was growing up in my rather small town (at least at the time it was), I remember when Victoria Secret moved into town.  Now there was no controversy about the store itself – a purveyor of traditionally small lingerie aptly displayed in front windows for all those who passed by to see…. But you see, they had painted their store front using the traditional Victoria’s Secret Signature Pink.  Oh how this pink enraged.  How it put people up in arms.  It was too bright.  Too in your face.  It could cause people to stare and maybe even get into car accidents.  Really?  The color pink is going to do this.  Completely disregard the mannequins with the equivalent of dental floss running up their backsides…. It has to be the pink.  The “rage” against Victoria’s Secret was so great that people organized petitions… which ended in the store ultimately repainting their façade.  All because of… pink.

In my twenties, I bought a pink dress shirt and my fashion forward roommate told me that it was nice… but that pink wasn’t really a “manly” color and I should consider that when trying to wearing this around… particularly with my suit.  The insinuated conclusion being that no one in the business world would respect a man wearing a pink shirt… because, well, that pink shirt makes him somehow less manly.  I maintained that I had read somewhere that pink is a good color because it brings out skin tone.  Nonetheless… she would not budge on her opinion nor her recommendation.  After all, she was only thinking about my career – my future.  And all of this could come crumbling down… all because of… pink.

I left Chicago sometime ago, but I recently read that back in 2006 they expanded the transit system with a new line.  The Pink Line.  The city line was named through a contest that they ran for local school children to name it by giving it a color related name. and explaining why that color was appropriate.  Why that color had meaning.  The fact that we got a Pink Line based on the recommendation of a 12-year-old girl should right there make you smile… but that wasn’t the case it appears.  According to what I have read, the city papers and local blogs lit up with outrage over the decision -- much of it tongue-in-cheek, granted, but all of it expressing the same message: A pink train would be humiliating to the good people of Chicago.  I mean this is Chicago afterall – a city of hardworking, meat-eating, bar-brawling, sports-loving, dirty-politicking people.  This is a city of men, except for the slightly more than half of the citizens who are women… but they fit the bill of the previous line even if they don’t fit the gender so they too must be insulted by the color pink.  And if you drill this all down, what respectable person would pay good money to ride on something called the "Pink Line?” Why not just put a tutu on the Sears Tower, or fill Soldier Field with tampons, or change the Cubs mascot from the cute little cubby bear to something more like a Care Bear?

A recent slide show by Jude Stewart calls pink "the most politicized color of our age." Today, "when we think pink, we think Disney Princess, Barbie and Fifi the poodle," but according to Jo B. Paoletti, author of the forthcoming "Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America," this is not “a tale as old as time” as we seem to believe.  This is something new.  Something that we have really pushed into existence.  Something that started from a rational place but has since become completely irrational.

Quick history less… get ready… prior to the second half of the 20th century, babies were dressed in all sorts of light colors ("so clothing could withstand frequent hot washings," according to Stewart and I am going to go with that), and when a pink-blue gender divide emerged, it didn't automatically go the way we'd expect it to. In France, pink was considered feminine and blue masculine, but in Germany’s catholic community, little girls were dressed in blue in honor of the Virgin Mary, while little boys wore pink, considered a watered-down shade of the most masculine of colors – red, the color of blood.  Here in the states, it appears we had both camps.  But then a choice was made – probably one that would make even Anna Wintour of Vogue fame tip her hat – in 1918  Ladies' Home Journal decreed, "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. 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."  Wait.  Did I get this right?  The answer is yes.  This is not a typo but a true declarative decision on fashion and, arguably, gender identity.

Let’s take a minute together, shall we?  Let’s step back and let that quote marinate.  Less than 100 years ago, blue was thought to be manifestly the girly color. Now think about the fact that today, we have scientists telling us that girls and women are hard-wired to prefer pink. Because it reminds us of lady bits (and not those we see in National Geographic).

How did this happen?  There's certainly no way that marketers shifted the whole culture away from seeing pink as a gender-neutral color because it was more profitable, or that the people making up the rules were originally divided on which color should go with which gender, as though it wasn't obvious at all. Oh, wait….

“Merchandisers liked how color-coding babies' clothes bolstered sales -- after all, whatever rule you were following, color-coding meant you couldn't dress little Johnny in Sally's hand-me-downs. Department stores began competing to establish a color-coding rule: In 1927, Wanamaker's in Philadelphia, Marshall Field's in Chicago, and Maison Blanche in New Orleans all pushed pink for girls, but other stores -- Macy's and Franklin Simon of Manhattan and Bullock's of Los Angeles -- positioned pink as a boy's color.”

Stewart also explains that Pink is "also the provenance of powerful men, both gay and straight" -- the wealthy, exquisitely dressed ones, anyway -- and has appeared on battleships and bombers; basically, it's no more inherently feminine (or masculine) than any other color. And yet, we seem to think it does.  Returning to my roommate Kate’s strong feelings – my pink shirt was even elicited one of my favorite responses from her, “Are you sure you’re not gay?”

Perhaps this little essay is not about the color itself.  If Macy's had pushed a little harder in the '20s, we might be having this conversation about blue.  But the fact that pink has so much power to illicit such responses has to make you wonder. This is nothing more than the color red cut with white.  The color itself should have no intrinsic meaning, but anything "girly" is still automatically identified as frivolous, delicate, dainty, weak and downright embarrassing – and most of all pink.

And with all this… I would like to close with a key author’s note, if you will.  About 6 months after I brought home the infamous pink shirt, I came in from work and was heading up the stairs to my room.  As I passed Kate’s room along the way, I was greeted with a rather timid, “Jake?  Is that you?”  I stopped in her doorway to catch her glance and toss a friendly “hello” of a smile her way.  My greeting was quickly chased down by an unsolicited response from her, “I think I owe you an apology.  I was reading GQ this morning and they had a whole article on why GQ “endorses” the pink shirt.  So I have been doing some thinking and, well, GQ is the go-to for men’s style.  I guess I was wrong.”

I guess I still wonder if GQ will push a bit harder than Macy’s.  Its been over five years since Kate and I went to war over the pink shirt and the color still seems to “push buttons.”

Pink.  It is, well, controversial.  I wonder which side you fall upon.

EPjake EPjake
26-30, M
29 Responses Feb 23, 2010

I will admit that the catalog item I saw today of a train set that physically represented a real railroad's train made me feel like "this has gone too far." The train was pink, The real train was never pink. Any girl who receives this train will be set off on a wrong track. Pink is nice but making something pink just to get girls to buy it is ... too much.The poor girl will never be able to expand her train set with matching pink stuff and the realistic stuff will clash. I can live with pink engineer hats, even for guys, but PRR GG-1's in pink. Come on!

I love business men in pink -- not just the pink dress shirt (especially the ones with a white collar and cuffs), but the pink ties some men wear, too. Very, very sexy.<br />
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As a Dominatrix, I must admit that I'm rather grateful that some of the submissive men in My life have bought into the gender bias that wearing pink is feminine, "gay" or sissy. It makes it very easy to give them the humiliation they desire by putting them in pink, making them wear pink bows, etc.<br />
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Very interesting piece -- thank you so much for taking the time to write and post this.

I have no problems with pink shirts for men, but haven't had one to wear since the 70's

Very interesting I had no idea the whole pink thing got started that recently. But than old photographs are black and white so if men and boys were wearing pink, who would know?<br />
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I think a worse problem here is not only is this crap gender segregating our society BUT it should be a huge red flag that any thing associated with women is some how embarrassing. If this doesn't show how women are denigrated in our society what does?

Gender stereotypes have for far too long restricted the flow of ex<x>pression. Thank you for getting the message out here EPJake. I respect you for this. As long as men are taunted for something as simple as wearing pink, women will continue to suffer wage gaps and gender segregation in the workplace.<br />
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All of this anger stems from a color?<br />
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They painted the Victoria's Secret Store, but minorities cannot simply change their skin to gain employment. The problem is much deeper. I'm glad you found a good place to start in pointing out discrimination, prejudice, stereotypes and social inequalities. Great job!

Glad you liked the story! If you're a color nut like me, you might also enjoy my blog at PRINT:<br />
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http://www.printmag.com/Author/Jude%20Stewart<br />
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Best, Jude Stewart<br />
www.judestewart.com<br />
@joodstew

The Power of Pink is phenomenal!! For me pink has always represented good things... sweetness...love...and it goes with almost everything, How can you not love PInk!! <br />
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Ummm not going to wear pink M101? Umm me thinks I can change your mind :)

Hey Jake:<br />
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Neat story. I confess to also having certain misgivings about pink as a color up until the point that my GF began to introduce her love for it into my life. <br />
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I admit that I am turned around on that color mostly due to my supporting her love for it, but it is at least a part of my palate somewhat in that I can at least tolerate it. I used to go out of my way to avoid it.<br />
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So with that change, I am hardly going to start wearing pink shirts, but one has to start somewhere. ;)<br />
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-m101

It just struck me as interesting: All this talk about the color pink and not a single word about pink as a symbol of the fight against breast cancer. Guys, wear a pink "for the cure" ribbon on your jacket, or a pink wristband, and I guarantee that any attention you get from women won't be because they're making fun of you. I have a very dear friend who is by now a ten-year survivor, and if it would show my solidarity with her, I'd bring my lunch to work in a "Hello Kitty" bag and restrain my longish hair with a pink barrette.

I'm not sure if it's a quote by Confucious or not, but it could have come from an ancienct sage:<br />
"Never take fashion advice from friends in their twenties." Pink is a staple color for men's dress shirts --but perhaps not at a frat party or a jock banquet.

Seems familiar, I thought I recognized part of this story, it's from Salon., called "The Power of Pink", by Kate Harding. The stuff about the pink shirt is interesting...I know lots of rich guys who can wear pink dress shirts, but a working man? No way...hahaha

very interesting :) when i was in 2nd grade my fave color was pink...i don't know what i was thinking, but my mom has the worksheet to prove it lol i grew out of it thank goodness! i'm not a pink person i guess...didn't want to be, or wasn't, a 'girly girl'. i ran with the boys most of the time...still do have mostly male friends actually. idk...it's an ok color for some people, but not really for me...even tho i've opened up to it more in the last year or so...in small doses tho lol<br />
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my daughter on the other hand...well she really didn't have a chance. her dad is an only child, so his mom, needless to say, bought all things pink and girly for her...still does....and now my daughter's favorite color is...pink. i wanted to avoid that SO bad! ah well...at least it's a common color to find things in lol

Pink<br />
Can wave a flag of truss

You will never see this man in a pink shirt...........no it doesn't have a thing to do with it being a girly color but that I think pink is just an ugly color............sorry...........Its all subjective....one of my least favs

I actually used to hate the colour pink now I love it, it brightens up anything as long as its the right shade of pink. And pink is not just a girls colour, its been worn alot recently, if anything its quite fashionable for men to wear pink, onbviously not head to toe with matching hankerchief. And woman have been allowed to wear whatever colour they want for too long, give the men choice!

Great post, Jake!!! Personally, pink is not a good color for my skin tone, but I admire men who snub their noses at society and wear it anyway. It shows their confidence in their own masculinity, and a willingness to stand by their principles in the face of large scale disapproval!!! Radical that i am, i soooooooo love that!!!!!!!

I have a pink shirt that I used to wear on stage...used to! And when I worked I sales years ago, my closing avereage actually went up when I wore the pink shirts. It is a very strong color, but not one that I turn to often.

My son is 11 and His favorite colour is pink.I think nothing of it.I personally think He is very hansome when He wears a lite pink shirt.I have tried to get My husband to wear pink.But,unfortunately He is stuck in the''pink is for girls''era.(sigh!!) I dont like wearing pink myself.I love the colour but not how it looks on Me.Be Blessed! Shylo

"I bought a pink dress shirt" I have to admit, that I completely read that wrong 0.o<br />
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I think pink suits men quite well, obviously the more olive you are, the more it'll suit you. But over here, it's not that big a deal for men to wear pink. Come to the UK and wear your pink dress skirt, sorry shirt.

I was at school one day, and this guy walked past me wearing a pink dress shirt and I looked and stared at him like he was nuts. <br />
Then I realised what I had just did. So what? He's wearing a pink shirt? It looks good on him too. <br />
Flashback to when I was dating my ex, he had to wear a pink shirt for work because they were having a "donate for breast cancer" week and when his dad saw him he laughed at him, insulted his look, called him a "pretty girl". <br />
I don't really get why we do that but it's annoying. <br />
It's just a color!

Jake, it's good to read that G&Q are supporting the pale, pink shirt. Yet, they have selected a tame pink,<br />
unlike the bright flamingo, pink the boys are wearing. Thanks for an enriching read, have a peaceful day.

I'm a girl and I don't like the color that much. :P

a man in pink is se xy , dont forget mary kay - she gives her top girls a pink caddie<br />
go pink .thanks jake great blog

It's so very true about Men wearing Pink being judged, It's impressive to me now to see a guy in Pink. I think of Jason Mraz, who has done more for men wearing Pink than anyone. I still cannot bring myself to wear it, which is sad because it would probably compliment my skin tone. It does take a sort of Chutzpah to wear it, but it takes a special set to write about having an affinity for it. Another Great story!

Jake, you must be an amazing person to yak to! Do your words flow like your thoughts? How long did it take you to research and write this? I love your writing style. WG

When I think pink I think breast cancer awareness and I think my pretty pink pony. I also thing about this extremely handsome young man I used to date that I bought a pink shirt for and he was too worried that everyone would think he was a freak and wouldn't wear it. I think darker skinned men look very sexy in pink but I have to agree with June on this and say it is not my favorite color to see on my guy.

The most politicized indeed. A great big deal is made out of men wearing this color.<br />
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Even though it is not my favorite color, I agree that certain shades of it bring out the best of some people's skin tone .

I totally understand, as a child if a male teacher wore pink all of the children would pick on him for reasons society ingrained into our little minds, now pink is a power house on a man, how times change, even though I would not put my youngest son in pink for fear that people would mistake him for a girl, I personally think that a pink shirt on a man, is a strong statement that he's comfortable with who he is and it does bring out the undertones of our complexion! I dedicate Aerosmiths song Pink to you Jake for your brilliant essay!

WOW! Thank you for making me think about something that honestly I have never given a second thought about but you are so right.<br />
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I think I might sometimes think like your old roommate Kate... and yet, Lebron is looking pretty darn good in his pink shirt. And, to your point, I guess it does bring out skin tone. ;)<br />
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Love your thinking here. Thank you for making me think twice.