Exhibit of the week
Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color
The Museum at FIT, New York City, through Jan. 5
Perhaps no two people see pink exactly the same way, said Laura Jacobs in The Wall Street Journal. A “uniquely polymorphous” color, pink can be “as pure as a petal” or as rude as sex itself. It has been a color of the aristocracy and of rebels in the streets, and, as a gender-coding signifier, it has done somersaults even in the past century: As late as 1918, you could pick up a fashion-trade magazine declaring that baby girls should wear light blue and baby boys pink because it’s “a decided and stronger color.” An “ebullient” new museum exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City explores pink’s chameleon power. The 80 garments and ensembles on display stretch from the 1700s to today and prove, as if any proof were needed, that if colors and their meanings are essentially social constructs, pink is “the most ‘constructed’ color of them all.”
Pink’s current wideband potency “has been long in the making,” said Ruth La Ferla in The New York Times. Embraced by Western nobility at least since the 14th century, it was initially a unisex color: One male mannequin at FIT wears a silk coat and breeches whose pale salmon damask “contrasts smartly with a creamy embroidered waistcoat.” But men ceded pink to women by the 1800s, when, if it wasn’t playfully high-spirited, it “suggested a second skin”—clothing that was no clothing at all. By the end of that century, “pink was as common as ragweed,” and the aniline dyes that made its spread possible also produced “ultrabright, garish” variations that “rendered it vulgar”—a color for shopgirls and prostitutes, not the elite. Its recovery was slow, but by the mid 20th century, pink had regained currency, becoming “sophisticated enough for Jackie Kennedy” and “sexy enough for Marilyn Monroe.”
Of course, “pink can also be punk—a violent riposte to tasteful restraint,” said Hettie Judah in Vogue.co.uk. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Ramones all splashed ultrapink on 1970s album covers, and women have frequently turned pink into a tool of gender pride and protest. The Women’s March of January 2017 wouldn’t have been the same without its knitted “pussy hats.” In India, members of a vigilante group called the Gulabi Gang don magenta saris when they descend en masse on accused rapists the police have left untouched. And among the many “downright gorgeous” garments in the FIT show is a pair of the silk “vagina pants” that Janelle Monáe made instantly iconic when she wore them in a video this spring for her hit single “Pynk.” Created by Dutch designer Duran Lantink, the pants celebrate a connection between the feminine and pink that’s eternal. “The color of cute” should not be underestimated.