Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink

18 May 2020 - 07:12 BY Jeni Fraser

Pretty in pink  ....                           by Jeni Fraser

For years, we’ve all lived and operated in a world where pink is traditionally seen as a feminine colour, while blue is reserved for boys. We see this rigid dichotomy everywhere, from greetings cards to children’s clothes. But what about the idea that a century ago little boys were dressed in pink and pink for girls is only a recent fashion?

In the age of the Enlightenment, pink was not at all reserved for girls’ clothing.  Many boys wore it and would continue to do so until the end of the 19th century.  In Romney’s painting, only his style of clothing (from the 1640s) distinguishes the boy from his sisters here.  Not only is he dressed entirely in pink, his hair is longer than the girls!

The shift toward a gendered association came about after WWII when femininity got wrapped in pink, and so did products—from shampoos to fancy fashion.

In the 1940s manufacturers settled on pink for girls and blue for boys, so Baby Boomers were raised with wearing the two colours.

With the development of pre-natal testing in the 1980s, once parents could find out whether they were having a boy or a girl, they could outfit their nursery in the "appropriate" colour. Manufacturers pushed the fad after realising affluent parents would buy a whole new set of baby products once they found out Junior was expecting a little sister.

Beginning in the 1970s, the famous Barbie doll fully embodied this feminine role and gradually extended its empire to the whole world of little girls’ make-believe – which may be a cause for regret!

The debate about how, exactly, we got to the point where something as impartial as the colour pink seems infused with femininity, will probably rage on in the pages of academic journals. In the meantime, we're left to ponder the bizarre truth that just a century ago, a magazine asserted, "the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl."

(Image: © Image via Shutterstock)
Image:  Studio of George Romney, style of van Dyck, The Woolaston White Children,
c. 1780, oil on canvas, 106.7 x 101.6cm., Ormesby Hall, Yorkshire, National Trust Collections
Image: Barbie®, Mattel, Inc.                                                                                                               
'Pretty in pink' Copyright Jeni Fraser 2020


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