The exhibition is divided into two sections. The introductory gallery focuses primarily
on the theme “Pretty in Pink” with approximately 35 examples of traditionally “feminine”
pink clothes organized chronologically from the mid-19th century through the 20th
century. It begins by juxtaposing an 1857 bright pink crinoline dress with a black
1860 man’s suit, illustrating the feminization of color in the 19th century.
Subsequent dresses demonstrate how different shades of pink came in and out of fashion,
evoking different ideas about femininity. Around 1900, for example, pale pinks implied
delicate, aristocratic femininity, while by 1912 a vibrant cherry pink indicated a
more exotic image. The 1920s, famous for the Little Black Dress, actually saw a rise
in popularity for a range of pinks, crowned by Schiaparelli’s aptly named Shocking
Pink of the late 1930s.
Charles James, dress, 1937, USA, gift of Mrs. John Hammond. 77.89.3
Christian Dior, dress, 1960, France, museum purchase. 2017.80.1
The 1950s are notorious as the era of the “feminine mystique” when gender stereotyping
was reinforced throughout society and the pink-for-girls, blue-for-boys gender coding
took off. Naturally, there are many 1950s feminine pink dresses for girls and women,
although Brooks Brothers also sold pink shirts for men. The 1960s continued to witness
the popularity of many “pretty in pink” dresses, such as a 1960 cocktail dress by
Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior. The 1970s saw a decline in pink fashion, although
fluorescent pink appeared. By the 1980s, pink was back in fashion, although often,
as with a 1980 hot pink “power suit” by Claude Montana, it also served to acknowledge
women’s growing social authority.
In addition to the clothing and accessories on display, there is a fascinating diorama
of pink toys and dress-up clothes for girls, dating from the 1950s to the present,
including dolls, “princess” costumes, My Little Pony, and other highly gendered commodities.
Zandra Rhodes, ensemble, 1978, England, museum purchase. 2017.7.1
Gucci, dress, spring 2016, Italy, gift of Gucci. 2016.93.1
In contrast to the chronological layout of the introductory gallery, the main gallery
is organized thematically to highlight key concepts in the history of pink. The first
section, “Pompadour Pink,” features several 18th-century ensembles, including a woman’s
pink robe à la française, a man’s pink habit à la française, and a man’s pink banyan. These objects show how pink was a new and highly fashionable
unisex color in 18th-century Europe — in contrast to the 19th and 20th centuries when
pink was coded as a “feminine” color. In the 18th century, pink was also important
in painting and interior design.
Nearby, on the left side of the gallery, there is a small section on the pink-versus-blue
gender coding in children’s wear, a binary that was still in flux in the late 1920s,
when opinion was divided as to whether pink was for boys or for girls. The final decision
seems to have been influenced by publicity surrounding a millionaire’s purchase of
the paintings Blue Boy and Pinkie. Reproductions of these are featured along with that of another 18th-century painting,
Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, ensemble,
2009, Japan, museum purchase. 2010.50.2
The exhibition places pink in a global context, exploring how the color has been used
in non-Western cultures. In India, for example, pink has long been worn by both men
and women, while in Mexico the color Rosa Mexicano is associated with national identity.
Western designers have drawn on these associations; as Diana Vreeland once said, “Pink
is the navy blue of India.” Schiaparelli’s Shocking Pink was explicitly associated,
in her mind, with Asia and Latin America.
In the center of the gallery is a grouping of platforms, “Rose/Eros” and “Pink: The
Exposed Color,” exploring the erotic connotations of pink, which are both significant
and overdetermined. Among the reasons why pink is widely regarded as an erotic color
are the pinky-beige of Caucasian skin, which has led to the idea that pink is associated
with nudity. Added to this are the fact that certain eroticized zones of the body
such as the mouth, genitals, and nipples are known as “pink parts”; the fact that
flowers, long associated with feminine beauty, are the sex organs of plants; and that
pink-colored cosmetics are used to simulate blushing. Lingerie, corsets, and evening
gowns, often produced in shades of pink, are featured in this section.
Pink has played a notable role in both political protests and popular music associated
with rebellious youth. The transgressive role of pink is emphasized across several
platforms featuring both men’s and women’s clothes, ranging from vernacular garments
to avant-garde high fashion. Featured items include pink pussy hats, and looks associated
with music genres ranging from punk to hip-hop.
The second gallery expands audience perspectives on pink and shows how contemporary
designers are increasingly challenging traditional ideas about sweet, pink femininity.
Rei Kawakubo, the radical designer behind Comme des Garçons, has been especially influential
with collections ranging from “Biker/Ballerina” to “18th-Century Punk.” Even the house
of Valentino has produced T-shirts asserting that “Pink Is Punk.”
Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color will be accompanied by a multi-author book of the same title, published by Thames
& Hudson. Valerie Steele authored the title essay and edited the book, which also
includes essays by Deborah Nadoolman Landis (“Panavision Pink: Deceptively Demure”),
Cassandra Albinson (“Feminine Desire and Fragility: Pink in Eighteenth-Century Portraiture”),
Regina Lee Blaszczyk (“Pink Predictions”), Dominique Grisard (“In the Pink of Things:
Gender, Sexuality, and Color”), Tanya Melendez (“Mexican Rose”), and Masafumi Monden
(“The Color of the Day: Many Shades of Pink in Japan”).
In conjunction with the exhibition Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color, The Museum at FIT will hold a symposium on October 19, 2018. Confirmed symposium
speakers include all of the contributors to the catalogue:
Dr. Valerie Steele, director, MFIT, “Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful
Dr. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, chair of Film Costume, University of California at Los
Angeles, “Panavision Pink: Deceptively Demure”
Dr. A. Cassandra Albinson, curator, Harvard University Museums, “Feminine Desire and
Fragility: Pink in Eighteenth-Century Portraiture”
Dr. Regina Lee Blaszczyk, professor of Business History, University of Leeds, UK.
Dr. Dominique Grisard, professor of Gender Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland.
“In the Pink of Things: Gender, Sexuality, and Color”
Tanya Melendez, curator of Education, MFIT, “Mexican Rose”
Dr. Masafumi Monden, research associate, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.
“The Color of the Day: Many Shades of Pink in Japan”
Barbara Nemitz, artist and professor of Fine Arts, Bauhaus University, Weimar, Germany,
and editor of Pink: The Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture, will also speak, along with fashion designers and stylists.
Registration for the Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color symposium will open August 2018.
Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color is supported by the Couture Council.