The Real Reason No One Can Shut Up About Millennial Pink

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

One of the most exciting (and most alarming) things about the internet is the speed with which information travels, and the speed with which ideas catch fire, achieve full saturation, and then become passé, often within a matter of weeks. Case in point: the strange phenomenon known as millennial pink. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, or perhaps you’re already tired of it. I know I am.

And yet, here I am. Chris Phillips, our Vice President of Sales Development, was the first person to alert me to this particular movement. “You should write a post about millennial pink,” he said. “What,” I asked, “is millennial pink?”

(Image credit: Amazon)

How little I knew, how ignorant I was, those few weeks ago. To begin my education, Chris linked me to the article from New York Magazine that first introduced the world to millennial pink, and to their followup piece on the trend eight months later, only the first ebb of a massive tide of millennial pink articles that were soon to inundate the internet. I know a little bit about color, and so my first reaction to all this was: millennial pink is not a color.

(Image credit: Damaris Film Blog)

A few examples of things that are allegedly millennial pink: Thinx ads. Glossier packaging. Acne shopping bags. The cover of Sophia Amoruso’s #Girlboss. This T-shirt from Everlane. The top half of the Grand Budapest Hotel. This jacket that Drake wore one time. Anyone who has ever thought a little bit about color, or anyone who has not but can still identify the difference between Tennessee Orange and Texas Orange, should see that these are not the same color.

(Image credit: Glossier)

I would’ve called this article ‘Millennial Pink is Not a Color’ and left it at that, but Heather Schwedel at Slate already wrote that article, pointing out, rightfully, that the wildly different shades of pink being lumped together under the banner of millennial pink are wildly different shades of pink. You can’t say that you’ve identified a new color and then provide examples of things ranging from pale, pale pastel pink to a robust salmon. That is just not how colors work.

(Image credit: This is Glamorous)

So what, exactly, is going on here? What makes writers of trend pieces so eager to seize upon a color and call it millennial pink? When did writers outside the design space care so much about colors anyway? The answer, I think, is that millennial pink isn’t so much a color as it is an idea — hence the great difficulty in pinning it down to a single shade. Millennial pink, whether pale or desaturated or salmon-y, is a kind of non-pink pink, an aesthetic distillation of the ideals of contemporary feminism: unabashedly female, but removed from the constraining associations of the past. It is, in a lot of ways, defined more by what it isn’t than what it is: not Barbie. Not bubble gum. Not princessy.

(Image credit: Youtube)

Of course, there’s nothing inherently feminine about the color pink at all. As recently as 1918, a catalog of children’s clothing recommended pink for boys’ clothing, “because it’s a stronger and more passionate color, and because it’s actually derived from red.” It was in the 1950s, during a period of nationwide obsession with domesticity, that pink accrued its current girly associations. For this we can thank first lady Mamie Eisenhower (famous for saying: “I have a career, and his name is Ike.”). Pink was her favorite color, and thanks to her influence, pink became associated with femininity, and what’s more, with a certain kind of femininity: a demure, traditional, stay-at-home kind. There’s a reason second-wave feminists never adopted it as a rallying color.

(Image credit: Need Supply)

But now, well into the third wave of feminism, pink is experiencing a kind of renaissance. Second-wave feminists sought to break free from what they saw as the prison of traditional femininity, expanding the roles and life choices available to women. Contemporary feminists are embracing femininity, while also challenging traditional assumptions about what it means to be feminine. Veronica del Rosario, the director of brand for Thinx, speaking to Racked about the brand’s now-iconic subway ads, said: “This is a different kind of pink. We’re changing the way people think about the female experience. It’s a time to embrace femininity while redefining it.”

The unpinkness of millennial pink is pretty, yes, but also a little bit political — the color of a new kind of womanliness that defies expectations.