1. PINK: A shockingly butch cultural
history of the world's prissiest colour
Growing up in Toronto, George Pink, now 56-year-old Professor George Pink, suffered
the conventional schoolyard taunts triggered by children's love of rhymes.
As in: Ink Pink You Stink, in which the sharply assertive "Pink You Stink" collapses into
doggerel with the addition of "Ink."
Professor Pink reports no psychological scarring.
"Kids, of course, will always find ways to tease you unless your last name is Smith or
Jones," says Pink, now a professor of health-care finance at the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Jones/bones comes to mind, but no matter.)
He additionally recalls this tease: "Do you have pink underwear?"
The inference, of course, is that pink underwear was girly, and thus a boy embarrassment,
an indication that sometime before the professor's 1960-and-on schoolyard days, pink had
been affirmed as a girl signifier with the weight of gender that would never be matched
Today, professor Pink wears ties made by Thomas Pink, the Jermyn St. luxury shirtmaker
whose labels subtly display its fashionable London address under the simple big bold
word: PINK. "It's a gimmick," the professor says. "When I wear a nice tie and someone
says, `Nice tie,' I flip it over and it says Pink on the back. So it's a conversation starter."
2. (The ties run about £55. A Thomas Pink 200s cotton double-cuff shirt in, yes, pink is
priced at £175.)
Pink's most obvious association in modern times has been with girls, overtly exemplified
by the marketing push of toy manufacturers (Barbie play-sets, Easy-Bake ovens, thongs)
and what passes for culture in some circles (Paris Hilton and small handbags that serve as
travelling valises for flyspeck, pink-beribboned dogs).
And then there's the pink-illuminated globe available from the U.K.'s Early Learning
Centre (ELC). The globe spins on a pink plastic stand. Each and every country is prettily
It drives Abi Moore more than a little bit mad.
Moore, along with her twin sister, Emma, created Pinkstinks in 2008, a web-based social
enterprise aimed at combating what they call the "culture of pink" by actively promoting
healthy role models for girls. Last month, Pinkstinks targeted ELC by launching a
Christmas toy-buying boycott of ELC stores. The "pinkification" of girls' toys, and the
prettification of gender roles for girls (princess dresses etc.) had burrowed under the
twin's skins. "We're not attacking pink as a colour," says Abi Moore from her home in
southeast London. "We've been hideously misrepresented in the British press saying that
we want to ban pink and all this kind of nonsense."
Instead Moore poses this question: "Why is it so powerful this pink? ... How has it
become so ingrained within us that we think it's natural and that it personifies everything
about us as women and girls?"
Well, just how "natural" is that association?
The etymology of pink traces the colour to varieties of the genus Dianthus called "Pinks."
An English phrases website makes a suggestion: that the name of the winking flower is
derived from the Dutch "pinck-ooghen," which translates as "little eye." Thus the colour
is named after the flower. Merriam-Webster sources "pink" to the Middle Dutch pinke.
There may be a connection to pinking, as in the crimped edges of the flowers.
Professor Pink engaged in one of those professorial exchanges with a colleague over the
origin of the phrase "In the Pink," which Pink the clothier claims dates to Thomas Pink,
an 18th century London tailor. Thomas Pink would tailor much-in-demand scarlet
hunting jackets, or so the story goes. "If you were lucky enough to own one," says the
modern-day clothier that named itself after Tom the tailor, "you were said to be `in the
Not so fast. Professor Pink was swiftly informed of numerous references dating back to
the 16th century in which "pink" or "pinke" was meant to connote being at one's zenith,
be it health or accomplishment. No surprise, when Dickens got a hold of pink he made it
the apogee of unpleasantness, writing to Count Alfred D'Orsay on a Tuesday night in
3. Rome in 1845 that he disliked the Italian town of Fondi very much. "It is the very pink of
hideousness and squalid misery." (Dickens didn't care for Naples either.)
Stay with me here.
It would seem that nowhere in its early usage did pink signal domesticity or pretty or
On the contrary.
In Semiotics: The Basics (this book may not be on every nightstand), David Chandler
cites an excerpt from a trade journal called The Infants' Department: A Monthly
Magazine of Merchandising Helps for the Infants' Wear Buyer. In June, 1918, the journal
pondered pink – and blue – as symbols of girlhood and boyhood. "Pink or blue? Which is
intended for boys and which for girls? ... There has been a great diversity of opinion on
this subject, but 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."
So then what happened? Smocked pink Polly Flinders baby dresses were popular for girls
in the 1940s, as little boy blue sailor suits were for boys. So there's that. In the 1950s the
pinkification of the female gender got a big boost from the post-war consumption boom
and the birth of an aspirational middle class. I cite here the 1955 launch of the Dodge La
Femme, a two-tone pink and white car for the ladies. ("By appointment to her majesty –
the American woman.") On the other hand, Life magazine declared 1955 "The Peak Year
for Pink," referring to a spread of male fashions. Barbie, introduced in 1959, initially had
a discerning and sophisticated fashion sense and took her time becoming pinkified in her
pink tricot peignoir.
Feminism? "It's weird," says Abi Moore. "My mother is 60 years old. She was a feminist
fighting for women's rights. About five years ago she bought my niece an enormous pink
Moore, the mother of two boys, decries the retailer's "pink alleys" of such toys and girl
gear and the tens of billions of dollars poured into the marketing of pink stuff. "Why do
we have to signpost and genderize everything for our children from the day they were
born?" she asks. Why? Because it's easier for marketers, that's why.
Paris Hilton – she of the pink Bentley – was a particular spur in the launch of Pinkstinks,
as Moore noted the heiress's disturbingly high popularity rankings among British
schoolgirls, 32 per cent of whom named Hilton as a role model in 2008. In celebration of
her 28th birthday last year Hilton requested that her guests wear something pink and had
servers in pink wigs pass around the pink cotton candy.
No wonder Moore equates pink with the "celebration of fluffy and cute and thin and
rich." I'll add vacuous.
4. It's all quite unfortunate, really, given both the colour's hale and hearty history and its
modern-day appeal when worn by those men who appreciate how handsome they look
when they sport a pink shirt.
Maybe that's the ticket. Maybe it's time to turn back the clock. Men, take back the pink.