Here’s Why We Think of Pink as a Color for Girls

published Feb 29, 2016
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(Image credit: National Archives)

We have strong associations with the color pink: most people think of it as a ‘girly’ color. But have you ever stopped to think about why that is? It might surprise you to learn that this strange association of color with gender can be traced to just one person: 1950s First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.

The post – World War II era, in America, was a period of unprecedented prosperity. It also marked a certain fascination with domesticity: after experiencing the horrors of war, American GIs were eager to return to the safety and comforts of home. There was a baby boom, and everyone settled down to a sort of nationwide nesting.

(Image credit: White House Museum)

Enter Mamie Eisenhower, wife of 34th president Dwight Eisenhower. Mamie was very traditionally feminine (sample quote: “Ike runs the country. I turn the pork chops!”), and she loved pink. But not because it had any particular associations at the time: apparently she just really liked the color. Before her White House stint, in her life as a military wife, Mamie moved 28 times. She had a strategy for decorating a new place: she carried around swatches of her favorite colors, green, pink, and cream, and would use them again and again in each new house. The White House was no exception — Mamie decorated it with so much pink that the press corps began calling it “The Pink Palace”.

Mamie preferred pink in her fashion, too — the dress she wore for Ike’s 1953 inauguration captured the public imagination and began to establish pink as a color associated with a certain kind of femininity. The particular shade of pale pink known as ‘Mamie pink’ became an enormously popular color for kitchens and bathrooms (the same pink bathrooms we either love or love to hate today). Movie star Jayne Mansfield had an entire house painted pink, including a bathroom covered floor to ceiling in pink shag carpet.

So the association of pink with girliness was pretty much cemented, and 60 years later, pink is still the color of Barbie and breast cancer awareness and Disney princesses. Imagine if Mamie’s favorite color had been say, cobalt blue or bright orange. We could be living in a whole different world.

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