This point in history represents a significant turning point in how children were viewed. Previously children had been considered “imperfect copies of adults” (3) and regardless of gender would be identically dressed in smocks or dresses until they were of a working age - 5 or 6 - at which point they were dressed in miniature costumes of adult men and women. However, from the mid eighteenth century the idea of children as individuals with personalities and qualities distinct from adults found its footing. This new consideration for the experience of childhood opened up a significant market of specialised goods and services targeted at children.
By the turn of the 20th century we see the emergence of child psychology as a field of research. Intimidated by the significant advances made by modern women and concerned that men could no longer keep pace, psychologists turned to the early childhood experiences of boys for a solution.
Psychologists recommended that distinctly gendering boys from a younger age through dress would give them a head start in learning the codes of masculinity and would eventually lead them to become manlier men and avoid the pitfalls of effeminacy and homosexuality. This distinction started with decorative elements of infant’s clothing, such as the removal of florals and ruffles and the adoption of ‘masculine’ embroidered motifs (cars, trains, sports equipment and cowboys among other things). At this time the significance of pink and blue as gendered colours was mostly influenced by trends, region or religion rather than any ubiquitous traditions of dress. For example, Catholics recognised blue as the colour worn by the Virgin Mary and hence considered it a feminine colour, while pink and red were often considered as passionate colours and better suited to boys (2). It wasn't until the 1940s that we saw the gendered convention of pink for girls and blue for boys start to solidify within children’s commodities, significantly driven by clothing manufacturers. However it took a further 40 years for pink to become an exclusively feminine coded colour, to the point that it was almost absent in the clothes and objects of boys and men by the mid-1980s.
Pink in its association with the feminine has shouldered the divisive opinions of femininity as either “pretty, sweet and romantic” or “vulgar, silly and artificial” (4).
Elements of the feminine are often swept aside by women in their efforts to gain recognition, power or authority. In 2017 Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak, writing about the Women’s March on Washington following the infamous ‘pussy grab’ remarks made by President Donald Trump, urged women to “back away from the pink”. Dvorak saw the Pink Pussy Hat - adopted by the marchers as a symbolic and visually uniting element to their protest - as undermining the “serious stuff” that women were facing under the Trump administration (4). However, it is clear how loudly symbolic, subversive and powerful the feminised sea of pink hats was to the 2017 March. Distinctly feminine clothing has a conflicted relationship with the movements throughout history to emancipate and empower women. Often women have opted for androgynous or masculine modes of dress in an effort to both desexualise their bodies and give their positions gravitas. (I recommend a re-watch of Legally Blonde for a great discussion starter of how pink symbolically amplifies the perceived frivolity and incompetency of femininity).
In the early 20th century, while Chanel was designing the modern women’s wardrobes from a palette of menswear - adopting anything from tailoring to underwear - to suit their increasingly active and independent lifestyle, Schiaparelli had fallen down the rabbit hole of surreal, feminised, fashion fantasy. Schiaparelli designed beautiful dresses with delicate fabrics and a sense of humour. Her designs often subverted notions of the feminine by pairing them with the grotesque (the skeleton dress, the tear dress - that depicted the wearers flesh being torn off in strips), the lewd (a lobster dress - symbolic of a phallus) or the surreal (the shoe hat).
Schiaparelli also famously invented the hue Shocking Pink, a colour that she revisited often throughout her career and that inspired other significant fashion moments such as the iconic pink dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and the carnivalistic red and pink colour combinations in the work of designer Christian Lacroix (1).
There are a few different accounts of where she got her inspiration for the colour. One suggests it was her button maker who added a dash of magenta to the resin he was mixing for her buttons (5), while another suggests that it was a pink diamond Cartier necklace worn by eccentric Parisian socialite Daisy Fellowes that inspired the designer. However she came across it, the designer was entranced. She later wrote in her diary; “The colour flashed in front of my eyes, bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life giving, like all the lights and the birds and the fish in the world together, a colour of China and Peru but not of the West - a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.” (1)
Words by The Stitchery Collective
Video: @calliemarshall / @_swop
Motion by @jackbirtles
Creative Direction @notoriousbrig
Research / Blog @thestitcherycollective
Soundtrack Redneph In B Minor by The Midnight Hour
St Clair, Kassia. 2016. The Secret Lives of Colour. John Murry (Publishers) London.
Barraclough Paoletti, Jo. 2016. “Clothes Make the boy”, in Vestoj: On Masculinities, Issue no. 7. Pg 13-26.|
Rose, Clare. 1989. Children’s Clothes. B.T. Batsford Ltd London.
Steele, Valerie. 2018. Pink: the history of a punk, pretty, powerful colour. Thames & Hudson, London.
Baxter-Wright, Emma. 2012. The Little Book of Schiaparelli. Carlton Books Ltd, London