Home » The History of Pink, and how ‘Millennial Pink’ Stole our Hearts
According to the fashion gods, pink is having a moment – though here at FFD, we’re big fans of pink all year, every year, so we’re left wondering if it really ever left. Here, we track the fashion highs and lows of the ever-divisive shade.
The 18th Century: Pink hair, pink clothes, pink walls…
Marie Antoinette was the original pink hair trailblazer. She used to wash her hair with a blend of saffron, turmeric, sandalwood and rhubarb in order to give her ‘do a slightly rose-tined hue.
Antoinette was far from being the only pink-lover in the 18th Century, though, as it was completely normal for men to wear pink. It was also a popular decor choice; French author Xavier de Maistre wrote in A Journey Around My Room that he recommended men paint their rooms pink and white, in order to improve their mood.
Early 1900s: Pink for boys; blue for girls
In 1918, the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department declared that "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls." Expanding, the journal decreed, "The reason [for this] is that pink, being a more decided an stronger color, is more suitable for the boy." Blue, according to Earnshaw’s, was a more "delicate and dainty" hue, thus "prettier" for girls. On top of this came research printed in a 1927 issue of Time magazine, which displayed a chart noting which colours leading US stores deemed as gender-appropriate. The overall consensus? You guessed it: pink for little boys, and blue for little girls.
1956: Cinema tells us to think pink
The film Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn and Kay Thompson, hits cinemas. In one memorable musical number, Thompson’s character, fierce fashion editor Maggie Prescot, declares that we all need to "think pink" when it comes to our wardrobes.
1964: Shirley Maclaine brings pink hair to the silver screen
If you love pink, it’s imperative that you watch 60s masterpiece What a Way to Go, if only for the costume and set designs. Some of the film’s best scenes involve Louisa May Foster’s (played by Shirley Maclaine) enduring love of pink; you need to see the moment she arrives at a premiere in a pink car, dressed head-to-toe in pink. Note also the film’s opening scene, set in Foster’s pink mansion. Perfection.
The 1970s: Cinema’s love affair with pink endures
The 1974 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby saw Robert Redford don a pastel pink, custom-made Ralph Lauren suit. It was sublime and perfectly encapsulated Jay Gatsby’s louche lifestyle. Then, in 1978, Grease hit the screens, featuring the larger-than-life character Frenchy, whose exuberance was demonstrated through her bubblegum pink ‘Easter egg’ wig.
The 1980s: Attitudes towards pink clothing begin to change
Gender-neutral dressing was popular long before 2017; it first reared its head between the 60s and 70s, as women’s liberation movement meant that some feminists believed that wearing typically ‘feminine’ garb (think anything frilly, flowy or pink) alluded to the idea of women having subservient roles in society. Many forward-thinking women, then, chose to dress themselves – and their children – in more neutrally hued and simplistically cut clothing. However, this was met with a backlash in the 1980s, as young mothers who grew up deprived of a gendered look wanted differently for their own daughters, and so there came a rise in popularity of girls’s clothing in pink, and boys’s in blue.
1994: Hillary Clinton’s ‘pink press conference’
Hillary Clinton was inevitably going to make history with her first press conference as First Lady in April ’94 – and history she made, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Clinton sat in the White House’s State Dining Room while wearing a rose pink knitted set. So, long before Legs-it, the world went into meltdown over a woman’s decision to wear something controversial for the press. Fashion writer Robin Givhan said of Clinton’s choice: "That wasn’t a pink sweater set; it was a public relations ploy."
2001: Elle Woods schools us on the importance of pink
The early noughties were a terrific time for pink! Just look at the popularity of shows like The Simple Life – in which Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie waltzed around in tiny pink outfits, carrying tiny dogs who also wore tiny pink outfits – and 2004’s Mean Girls, which decreed that, on Wednesdays, we should be wearing pink. But nobody loved pink more than Legally Blonde‘s Elle Woods, who will forever be known for the line, "Whoever said orange was the new pink was seriously disturbed." Word.
2006: Christopher Kane turns us on to garish fluro pink
In September 2006, a fresh-faced Christopher Kane presented his SS07 London Fashion Week début. It offered a fresh take on colours often perceived by Fashion People as being garish and in bad taste, and suddenly we all wanted to wear fluro pink.
2014: A big year for pink
Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel hit the box office in March 2014, and aesthetes everywhere queued up to see it and go on to blog about it. Elsewhere, Sketch London was redecorated in plush pink, with David Shrigley artwork all over the walls. It remains one of London’s most-Instagrammed eateries. 2014 was also the year of peak popularity for ‘Tumblr pink’, which tapped into the microblogging site community’s affinity with kawaii and ‘pastel goth’ subcultures. We shouldn’t forget the launch of Glossier in 2014, either, which built a whole community on social media with its laid-back poster-girls and ‘millennial pink’ packaging.
2016: Rose quartz named of Pantone’s Colours of the Year
In December 2015, Pantone announced that, for 2016, there would be more than one Colour of the Year. Rose Quartz was one of them. It was a good choice from Pantone, because, at this point, baby pink (or ‘millennial pink’) was everywhere – even Drake adopted it on his Hotline Bling cover art.
Rose gold, which is a more metallic take on rose quartz (are you keeping up?!) also saw a boom in popularity; think of all those rose gold Michael Kors watches, bits of tech, interior decor and, well, everything else. If you didn’t have some rose gold in your life in 2016, who even were you?
2017: Pink is still going strong
Millennial pink is everywhere, from Kanye West to Rihanna to our phones to our walls (Kendall Jenner painted hers Baker Miller pink in December 2016, which allegedly helps to reduce appetite). The biggest change we’ve seen for pink over the last few years is that its public perception has changed; it’s no longer ‘girly’, it’s genderless. In line with our increased interest in wellness, we’re also interested in the benefits of bringing crystals in our favourite hue into our homes – having a Himalayan rock salt lamp, for example, is supposed to bring more positive energy into our lives and improve air quality. Let’s be honest, though: we’re only really buying them because they look pretty.