Design Uncategorized

Pink versus Light Blue: A Modern History

The colours pink and light blue displaying gender roles throughout history.

When did pink start to be seen as a feminine colour versus blue, preferably light blue in contrast? In modern times, pink is often used as a colour to advertise towards girls. If it’s bubblegum pink, flesh-coloured pink or pink ooze, the context of use matters. The Same thing can be said about sky blue, navy blue or cornflower blue, context matters. So, when did this happen?

History of use

Before people thought about using these two colours for gender differentiation, these colours had different meanings in art and society. Red is a vivid colour that is associated with passion, war, blood and sex. It’s a colour has a personality that radiates strength. Pink is the lighter version of red that men used to convey strength and masculinity. Blue has been seen as a royal and holy colour for the rich and higher classes to use. It was a colour to emphasis being delicate and soft. This was a colour that woman wore to convey their femininity.

Darker and more vivid colours were reserved for adults because of the strength and visual emotion those colours create. This was a theme that was continued into the ages when the use of light colours was reserved for children.

In advertising, around the French Revolution, the use of light blues and other bright colours were used for feminine products like makeup and combs when dark earthen colours were used for masculine products. The two colours have a personality of their own with the vividness, saturation and brightness. Light blue was seen to be adverted for girl products more because light blue was seen as a soft delicate colour comparatively to the colour pink.

Pink was also a colour that was seen as a rustic colour too. The “outdoorsy” tone was only seen in the wild associated with things like farming, wartime and alchemy. It was a colour connected to nature like hunter green, sand and sepia tones. In many ways, pink was seen as an outdoorsman colour.

When did the views of blue and pink happen?

There were multiple times when the views of pink and blue were seen as colours associated with specified genders. This can be thanked the First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at the 1950s at Dwight Eisenhower inauguration. She wore this large pink bell dress with a lot of rhinestones. The pink in question is called Mamie pink.

Mamie pink
Colour swatch of Mamie pink (HEX code #EED8D2)

She thought that the pink not only brought out her eyes but was very ladylike. Modern views of gender roles were changing and Mamie Eisenhower was like the spokeswoman of femininity at the time. Advertisers, housewives, merchandiser, haberdashers and countless others in the 1950s started this modern “rebellion” of what pink was, a grimy outdoor colour into a fashion colour fit for a First Lady.

Pink gown from Mamie Eisenhower
First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in a pink gown

This colour pink was one of the colours part of the 1950’s American Dream ideals in merchandising and marketing. The American Dream is the idea that all people can have happiness and success in life if they worked hard enough. This means the concentration of the family dynamic, the rise of housewives and the beginning of marketing to teenagers. After the wartime efforts were over at that time, a lot of Americans wanted to go back to social norms before the war happened. This colour connects the ideals of the American Dream and what Mamie Eisenhower was dainty femininity.

This was when pink started to be known as the feminine colour that it is today. It was used on anywhere seen has feminine. This was especially true in North American culture and for young girls, young adults and elderly women. From the 1950’s to modern times, pink is now seen as the dainty soft colour like how light blue was seen throughout the ages.

Market Segmentation and Gender Identity

Pink hues and blue hues are used to categorize girl products and boy products for consumers. Most retailers have two separate aisles for the two genders separating products that are geared towards that audience. Blue was for boys and pink was now for girls. Colour coding is used to divide products for merchandising and advertising to help appeal, market and sell consumer products easier. This is what’s called market segmentation. This makes it easier to market certain items to a group or segments of a common goal or need and will respond similarly towards the market. Market segmentation comes from researching products and brands that will be appealing to a large group of people. This was developed to minimize risk for a company launching a product.

Some people feel that this type of marketing plays a role in gender identity. Like the advertisements added notions of stereotypes about what people think of how a man acts or how a woman acts. Gender identity is the defined by perceptions of your own body, your own identity and expression. In advertising, especially when marketers and designers are using colours, gender expression of using pink and light blue on certain products can enforce current gender roles within a society. Children are taught stereotypical viewpoints of gender from an early age that persists throughout their lives.

The future of pink and light blue

The reason why pink and blue are used the way they have been still being because someone else used it that exact same way. Designers are people too who grew up with the same type of messages and most never really knew the history of the colours use and associations. Most don’t or can’t really venture out to try different colours in fear of it looking confusing or terrible. Colour choice is really important to convey a message. These colours are used way too often for either gender for products.

Social expectations of these colours will change over time. The expectations to live up to gender roles will always be apart of society regardless of colour association. Our social connection of pink has changed in modern times but other changes in society could change it into something else.

Resources: 
When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? – Smithsonian
How did pink become a girly color? – Vox
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