How did the color pink come to be associated with women in a historical context?

2023 Jul 27

The color pink’s association with gender is a fascinating example of cultural evolution and change over time.

In a historical context, until the early 20th century, babies of both sexes were typically dressed in white. This was primarily a practical choice, as white clothes could be bleached. When pastel colors started being used for babies in the early 1900s, there were no established norms about which colors were ‘appropriate’ for boys or girls. In fact, a Ladies’ Home Journal article from 1918 stated, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. 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.”

The shift towards pink being a ‘girl’s color’ happened around the 1940s, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Some suggest it’s because U.S. retailers decided on this color norm and marketed accordingly. There was a pushback in the 1960s and 1970s from the feminist movement against enforcing strict gender norms, and the trend died down for a while. However, it came back with a vengeance in the 1980s, with the advent of prenatal testing. Once parents could know the sex of their baby before birth, there was a surge in the sales of gender-specific clothing and toys.

Now, let’s shift our lens to a more storytelling perspective, as if we’re drafting a chapter in a bestseller book.

Imagine an era when pink was a color as innocent and undesignated as a blank canvas. A time when pink and blue held no power over the wardrobes of the youngest members of society. When white was the color of choice for all babies, practicality reigned supreme.

Then, in the early years of the 20th century, this pastel palette began to bleed into nurseries. Retailers, ever the opportunists, saw a chance to capitalize. They sowed the seeds of differentiation, insisting that pink was for boys, robust and strong; and blue, delicate and dainty, was for girls.

Yet by the 1940s, the color tables had turned, and pink was marketed unrelentingly towards girls. The reasons remain shrouded in a fog of history, perhaps lost in a salesman’s ledger or buried in a forgotten boardroom.

Then came the 1960s and 70s, a time of challenge and change. The societal shackles of color began to loosen under the weight of a feminist wave, pushing back against the tides of tradition. But a reprieve was short-lived. The 1980s brought technology into the fray: prenatal tests, a window into the womb, and pink and blue came roaring back, marking territories before babies even took their first breath.

Through it all, the color pink has journeyed from being ‘just a color’ to becoming a cultural symbol, intertwined with our understandings of gender, consumerism, and societal norms. It’s an enduring reminder of how our collective culture can be painted and repainted, time and again, by the brushstrokes of history.