The History of Pink, From Antiquity to Barbie

Unlock the mesmerizing tale of the history of pink! From ancient berry crushes to luxurious “Shiraz pink” in Persia, this color has strutted through history, flaunting its divine charm. It partied with royals, evolved through gender twists, and even hitched a ride in Barbie’s pink Corvette! Embrace the allure and discover the captivating journey that led pink to become the ultimate symbol of femininity. Are you ready to dive into the pink revolution?

The color pink, in both delicate and vibrant hues, has a fascinating history dating back thousands of years. From ancient civilizations to the modern era, pink has symbolized various emotions, ideologies, and cultural influences.

Ancient Beginnings 

Pink’s story begins in ancient times when natural pigments were crafted from crushed berries and insects. Artisans achieved pink by combining red ochre and white calcite, often associating it with femininity and using it to depict women in art. 

Mummy Portrait 161 -192 AD.
Kunsthistorisches Museum, via Wikimedia Commons.

Persian Pink

During the 5th century BC, pink gained popularity in ancient Persia (modern-day Iran). The city of Shiraz became renowned for its production of a particular shade of pink dye called “Shiraz pink.” This dye, derived from a plant called “rubia,” produced a soft and luxurious pink color, which was widely used in textiles and decorative arts.

Nasir ol Molk Mosque, Shiraz Iran
Photo by Matt Biddulph via Wikicommons

The Middle Ages and The Renaissance 

With the spread of Christianity in Europe during the Middle Ages, the color pink gained religious significance. Pink became associated with the veneration of the Virgin Mary, as she became an influential figure in the Christian faith, representing virtues like compassion, purity, and love.

In religious art, pink represented the divine love of Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary.  The color’s association with motherhood and the spiritual world solidified its significance in Christian iconography.

As Europe entered the Renaissance period, pink continued to be a sought-after color, but it was reserved for the elites due to its rarity and expense. The discovery of new pigments, such as carmine derived from the cochineal insect, expanded the range of pink shades, making them more desirable to artists and the upper class.

Mary and Child, 15th century, Honolulu Musuem of Art via Wikicommons

The 16th Century – It’s All About The Boys

Interestingly, the perception of colors and their gender associations has not remained consistent throughout history. In the 16th century, people considered pink to be a more suitable color for men, while they associated blue with femininity This belief was partly influenced by religious symbolism, where pink was seen as a diluted or lighter shade of red, which was traditionally linked to masculine qualities like strength and power. Blue, on the other hand, was associated with the Virgin Mary and femininity.

Allegorical Portrait of Dante, Unknown Master, Florence, 16th century

King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour Go For Baroque With Pink

During the 18th century, the color pink found its way into the royal courts of Europe, and France’s King Louis XV played a notable role in popularizing its use. The monarch and his influential mistress, Madame de Pompadour, were known for their love of lavish parties and opulent aesthetics. Pink became a prominent color at their court, with both of them using it extensively in their clothing and interior decor.

Madame de Pompadour, a woman of immense cultural influence, was particularly fond of pink. As the king’s chief mistress, she patronized the arts and played a significant role in shaping French cultural tastes. Her fondness for pink elevated the color’s status as a symbol of luxury and elegance.

PInk bedroom at Versailles
A whole lotta pink at Versailles
From Madge's Collection

Oh Those Victorians

The Victorian era of the 19th century witnessed a resurgence of religious symbolism, and people often linked pink to Christian ideals of innocence and purity.  It was a popular choice for baptisms and other religious ceremonies, especially for baby girls.

Merrick Thread Co. advertising card circa 1887
Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections, via Wikimedia Commons

The 20th Century and Beyond – It’s All About The Girls and Barbie

In the 20th century pink underwent a profound transformation, and it became increasingly associated with femininity. Marketing and advertising drove this shift, influencing color preferences for gender-specific products.  From bedrooms to dresses, pink became the preferred color for little girls.

The introduction of the iconic Barbie doll by Mattel in the late 1950s played a pivotal role in solidifying pink as the quintessential color associated with girls. Barbie’s glamorous style plus the packaging, merchandise, and accessories prominently featured shades of pink, shaping cultural perceptions, and reinforcing both good and bad gender stereotypes.  Who can forget her pink Corvette?

The original Barbie logo from the 1959 launch
Mattel, Inc. via Wikicommons

In Praise of Pink

The history of Pink is a captivating tale of evolution, intertwining art, religion, royalty, and changing gender perceptions. From its ancient roots in art and its religious symbolism in Christianity to its prominent role in France’s royal court and unexpected association with masculinity in the 16th century, pink has undergone diverse interpretations throughout history. In the 20th century, the feminization of pink reached new heights with the rise of Barbie, a cultural icon that left an indelible impact on the color’s gender associations.

Today, people spend billions of dollars annually on clothes, dolls, accessories, and even hair color for the young and not-so-young. Pink continues to evoke emotions, inspire creativity, and reflect cultural norms, making it a timeless color that will forever be a part of our shared human experience.  So go out and get yourself some pink (preferably vintage from MadgesHatbox), there’s a hue waiting for you!

Photos copyright © 2023  MadgesHatbox Vintage.  We are a proud member of Got VintageCheck out their website.

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Debbie F
Debbie F
1 month ago

Really enjoyed learning about the history of pink. My husband had questions about the history of pink. I was able to answer his questions because of your blog. Thank you Madge!

Virginia Duncan
1 month ago

Good job, Madge! I enjoyed learning all about pink and even wore it yesterday in honor of you and Barbie!
GingerD

Bill L
Bill L
1 month ago

Fascinating history lesson. From 5th century BC to Barbie. Madge continues to amaze with her knowledge of fashion.

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