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Curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at FIT, Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color explores the changing significance of the color pink over the past three centuries. Share using #HistoryofPink on Twitter and Facebook.

Toggle the tabs below to listen to Dr. Valerie Steele give a brief overview of each section.

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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: The feminization of color was a significant development in 19th century western fashion. As Euro-American men increasingly wore dark, sober colors such as black and navy blue, they left bright and pastel shades to women.

Later in the early 20th century, we see the little black dress becoming fashionable. But although Chanel is most associated with the little black dress, she also did little pink dresses and in fact pink was surprisingly popular in the 1920s.

Pink became very popular in the 1950s as part of a movement to push women back in the home, an essentializing idea that women's true femininity had to be expressed in their appearance.

In her important book, As Long as It's Pink, Penny Sparke describes how and why pink became so popular after World War II when it represented "the emphasis on distinctive gendering that underpinned 1950s society."


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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: The idea that pink is for girls and blue is for boys is so ubiquitous today that it comes as a surprise to learn that it's a relatively recent phenomenon. In Louisa May Alcott's Little Women we read that, "Amy put a blue ribbon on the boy and a pink one on the girl. French fashion so you can always tell."

French fashion magazines in the 1860s did indeed have pink ribbons on little girls’ christening clothes and blue ribbons on little boys. But mostly this developed in the later 19th and early 20th century in the U.S. as a marketing ploy to sell more children's clothes.

And indeed as late as 1927 people were still arguing about whether pink was for boys or for girls. So in 1918 one magazine wrote, "the generally accepted rule is that pink is 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."

But in 1927 Time magazine printed a letter from a reader who said, "What?! Pink for a boy?! Why in our family we've been using pink for girls, blue for boys." And in fact American department stores in 1927 were divided pretty much 50/50 about which color went with which gender.


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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: In 1936, the Italian born fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli launched the color Shocking Pink. In her memoir she recalled, "the color flashed in front of my eyes. Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life-giving, a color of China and Peru but not of the West. A shocking color, pure and undiluted."

It's very interesting that Schiaparelli associated this bright pink with China and Peru because in fact Asia and Latin America both have long traditions of pink being important colors. There's a reason why Diana Vreeland said, "Pink is the navy blue of India.” Since for centuries pink had been a very popular color in India for both men and women.


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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: Pink has a long and illustrious history in fashion. In the West, it began in the 18th century when pink became the most fashionable color of the French court. In part this was because a new pink dye had been imported from Latin America which enabled a brighter and more long lasting pink.

At this time pink was worn by men as much as by women, by little boys as much as little girls. It was entirely a unisex ultra fashionable color. But in one way pink was already associated with femininity. It was associated with blushing and therefore with the eroticized female body.


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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: Pink has long been a highly eroticized color associated with women's bodies, with blushing, and also with the pink parts of the body, lips, tongues, and genitals. Throughout most of male-dominated history this meant it was associated primarily with women or with gay men.

In recent years, the sexuality associated with pink has been reappropriated. The women's movement, the gay liberation movement have played very important roles in making pink a powerful, androgynous, and still sexy color –– epitomized for example in Janelle Monae's recent single, "Pynk."


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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: In the 1950s the dominant association that pink had was femininity whether docile, childish femininity or highly eroticized, but male dominated, femininity. In addition to the conventional feminine interpretation of pink, there was another deviant youth culture pink associated with rock ‘n’ roll.

And although most white Americans didn't realize it, also associated with African-American culture. So that when Elvis for example wore a pink jacket and drove a pink Cadillac, he was imitating Sugar Ray Robinson. Later the bass guitarist for The Clash said that pink is the only true rock ‘n’ roll color.

Pink in fact became an important punk color. In recent years pink has also become very important in the world of hip hop. Starting in 2002 when Harlem rapper Cam'ron wore pink mink to New York Fashion Week, pink has become an important color for men as well as women.


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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: Yves Saint Laurent used pink throughout his career and particularly used a very vivid shade of pink similar to Schiaparelli's shocking pink. He admired the power of it, the way it seemed to eat up everything in its path. And it's the power and the transgressive quality of pink that have been picked up recently by designers.

Just as the whole trend for millennial pink was moving against the sweetness and conventionality of traditional feminine pink so many modern designers, particularly Comme des Garçons –– but also designers for Valentino, for Gucci, for Céline –– have picked up on the idea that pink was a powerful and punk color. Indeed Valentino has referred to punk pink and we see the idea of transgressive pink that's so sweet and yet not just the sugary sweet traditionally associated with little girls.


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Installation View of Pink.
Transcript: Early reports about millennial pink identified it as being a kind of dusty beige pink sort of the color of an Acne shopping bag. But quickly it assimilated other colors as well –– salmon pink even Barbie pink became one of the many kinds of pink which became acceptable under the new regime whereby pink was no longer just girly.