NOT FOR GIRLS: Are Women Ditching Pink?

The underlying gender inequality issues that may be leading women away from pink clothes are not going to magically vanish by putting on a blue blazer in the morning.
Publish date:
February 8, 2013
careers, history, pink, why is everything pink, pink for girls

Ladies, throw out your pink, because the “Daily Mail” has decreed that women are officially totally overthe color pink, and your woman card will be revoked if you’re caught setting foot outside the house with so much as a pink barette. You see, “British women are shunning the traditional feminine colour as they embrace strong masculine shades that are more in keeping with their increasingly high powered lifestyles,” and going with blue.

Now, I happen to favor blue. It looks good with my eyes and skin tone. I have a lot of blue things, as well as things in the dark teal and dark purple range. And while I would like to say that wearing blue or other sober colors isn’t a conscious choice beyond which colors flatter you, it’s obvious that I, along with other people, am also thinking of how the clothes I wear gender me.

Women who wear pink, light purple, yellow, salmon, and other “froofy” colors aren’t taken as seriously, and it’s not surprising to see some professional women shunning pink in an attempt to fit in better. In fact, advice for professional women often includes words of warning about color choices, particularly for interviews, where first impressions count and you don’t want to come across as “girly,” because everyone knows that girls are the worst.

Which is a pity, because on some women, pink can look really fantastic, because it’s actually a really great color.


What intrigues me about this alleged trend (I’m a little shy of relying on the “Daily Mail” as a source of accurate information about anything other than nipple slips) is that it provides a great opportunity for me to wax on about the history of the color pink, because I find it totally fascinating (if you want to know more about it, check out “Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America” by Jo Paoletti). And some of y’all are as nerdy as me so you might already know this, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway: pink hasn’t actually been a “color for girls” for very long, and historically...was associated with masculinity.

That’s right. There was a time when manly men wore pink1, as evidenced by the fact that it was used to paint battleships and was claimed as an official color by men’s rowing teams. Let’s not forget that little boys used to wear dresses well through the 19th century, and looked rather femme until around age six or seven, when their parents started gendering their children through their garments more definitively.

White was the historical color for all baby clothes, for one simple reason: it can be bleached. Let’s face it, babies and kids get messy. As manufacturers began producing clothes in other shades, pastels like pale blue, pink, and yellow were added to the lineup and often worn interchangeably, but many stores promoted pink for boys and blue for girls.

Pink was evidently deemed more masculine, while blue was associated with purity and daintiness (gag). Up until the 1940s, there was much more parity in terms of colors of infant clothing, though; a fair amount of baby girls wore pink, and lots of baby boys wore blue, although many people leaned toward the trends suggested by department stores.

But something really interesting started to happen: colors started to get a lot more gendered, and a flip occurred, with manufacturers pushing pink on girls and blue on boys. Pink became a soft, feminine color, while blue became strong and masculine. Even then, the extreme explosion of pink and blue we see today wasn’t present; it wasn’t until the 1980s, and the widespread advent of prenatal testing, that manufacturers suddenly realized they had a goldmine on their hands.

By gendering clothing and making it definitively for children of one gender or another, manufacturers could pressure parents into buying more clothing (along with toys, accessories, and so on). Reuse wasn’t an option if your child was a different gender, and of course you’d want gendered clothes to differentiate your baby. And pre-shopping for baby became an important ritual.

The pushing of pink, pink, pink, in other words, was the result of a capitalist desire to come up with more ways to make money from parents.


If women are rejecting pink now, it could speak to any number of things. There’s been more of a push in recent years to make gender neutral clothing, toys, and games accessible, and clearly that’s coming from somewhere. Women may also be turning away from pink because they’re concerned about its professional implications, or simply because they don’t think it looks flattering. As women achieve more parity in the workplace, they may also want to differentiate themselves from highly stereotyped visions of femininity, which typically involve pink somewhere along the line.

At the same time, we're also fighting to see pink returning to acceptability for men and boys, who shouldn't feel like they can't wear a color because it's supposedly inappropriate for their gender. I'm not entirely sure that shunning pink is the best way to go about destigmatizing it, personally.

It would be a pity to see pink fade away altogether, because some people look absolutely fabulous in it, especially when it’s a carefully chosen shade and a well-executed garment. And, of course, when the underlying gender inequality issues that may be leading women away from pink clothes are not going to magically vanish by putting on a blue blazer in the morning.

1. Other things that used to be for dudes: high heels. Return