Last year, the Pantone Color Institute announced Rose Quartz as one of its two colors of the year. The shade of pink is a soft, medium hue — a little cooler than baby pink, more assertive than blush and more serious than carnation. The announcement fueled the resurgence of pink that we saw in fashion last fall, which continues to gain momentum this spring, but it also brought to surface the storied and fractioned, if not warring, relationship that women have with the color.
Pink, in and of itself, is a diluted form of red. And while red has always been considered a color of strength, emotion or passion, the perception of pink has been swinging on a pendulum for more than a century. Men of the Victorian era wore pink silk regularly as it was considered a strong, masculine color. Interestingly, women tended to wear blue as it was considered softer and more passive. By the early 20th century, pervasive Freudian thought concerning child development gained popularity, and parents were encouraged to differentiate the sexes of their children at an earlier age. Cue pink clothes and Barbie.
For a moment in the 1970s when the women’s liberation movement was in full swing, the social and cultural climate became so hostile toward feminine ideas that women purposefully dressed in a way to neutralize the feminine body. It naturally trickled down to a questioning of what women wanted for their female offspring. Between 1976 and 1978, the Sears catalogs carried no pink clothes for babies.
Of course that strident rebellion against pink died down within a decade, but the factions never did. For some women, pink is the absolute voice of a woman: it is nuanced, it is softly animated and inviting and it is always happy. For others, it represents an overt, saccharine and derivative symbol of a woman who is neither modern nor equal to her masculine counterparts.
So the proclamation of pink by Pantone was received with exuberance by some, suspicion by others. But the last few years has brought a different interpretation to pink. While baby and children’s outfitters are still turning up the volume in powder pink and purple cacophony, women’s fashion and beauty have taken a different turn. Shades of Pepto and powder pink have been sidestepped in favor of one dampened by a gray, dusty tone or one hinting toward coral or salmon. The result is a color that is both familiar and ironic, one that the traditionalists and rebels can enjoy, albeit for different reasons. Perhaps Pantone saw Rose Quartz as a zeitgeist of our times.
This spring, pink is present in every fabric and every category. The usual suspects like dresses and tops are included, of course, but pink will spring up in jewelry, denim and shoes too. Pink at Celine and Balenciaga were shocking and punchy. At Gucci, the reflective fabrics and over-the-top ruching felt like a futuristic 1980s prom. Acne Studios interpreted pink in a mostly antithetical way this spring, using androgynous, shapeless silhouettes in stale, orangey tones. The perspective, although a bit tongue-in-cheek, seemed to convey the current paradigm on pink the best: while inextricably tied to the color of breast cancer awareness, Barbie and Mary Kay cosmetics, pink has become something other than. It can convey both warm and cool, be inviting and aloof, traditional and sharply modern. And psychoanalysis and cultural barometers aside, pink is a flattering, generous and enduring color, which deserves another glance, preferably with rose-colored glasses.