Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Think Pink! (1955)


The Peak Year for Pink! 1955! This article says it, and I believe it. In the above two page photo spread shot by Gordon Parks (yes, THAT Gordon Parks), Life magazines implores the male amongst its legions of midcentury readers to take the pink flag and run with it. Though Brooks Brothers had been manufacturing rosy hued shirts 'n sleeves since the turn of the century, 1955 saw the color at the height of its manly popularity. Sports coats! Ties! Irreverent saddle shoes! I can't say that I don't cast a wistful eye on the dandy pink that seems to have resurfaced and just as quickly died down in this, our twenty-first century. Why can't more of us, simply, and in a lasting fashion, Think Pink?

I may be a liberated, modern woman, but I'm not going to lie to you-- I love pink. L-o-v-e pink.

Specifically, like a lot of you mid century maniacs out there, I'm a sucker for any kind of knickknack in that pale, pastel pink of the early to mid 1950's. I first read about the provenance of this cultural fad in Karal Ann Marling's indispensible text As Seen on Tv: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950's-- the very first chapter, entitled "Mamie's New Look", goes in depth into First Lady Eisenhower's passion for pink and its overspill into the America her husband helped shape. Take a look, for example, at her crucial choice of inaugural gown:

Get it, Mamie! Though fifty-seven at the time of DWE's 1953 swearing-in, ME's poodle-cut, and wouldn't-Barbie-herself-be-jealous pink princess gown belied a much more "youthful" attitude towards dress and personal appearance. Inagural gowns are kind of a big deal-- an exhibit just opened in November at the Smithsonian featuring a number of them, and I'll have to say, Mamie's is among the twentieth century's best. A far less Pepto color in real life than the painting would have you believe, hers is one of the only gowns showing more than a clavicle or a wrist's worth of skin. Even Jackie Kennedy's dress, of whom you would expect haute couture fireworks, is a little safe. This number though? Sheer "I Don't Care, This is How I Want You To Think of Me". What a way to introduce yourself to the nation! I'd wear it. See the Smithsonian's take on it HERE.

I grew up in the late 80's and early nineties, in which pink-for-girls had taken a turn for the worse in the form of a fuschia tone, à la mode de my beloved childhood role model, Jem:

Who, I'm not going to lie to you, looks totally awesome in the above ensemble. As do her rock and roll friends. I didn't remember ANY of her band until I googled the above results, which teaches you the same hard lesson the members of the Bangles who were NOT Susanna Hoffs, or members of Culture Club who were NOT Boy George, no doubt had to learn the hard way... if you're going to be in a band, you should probably be the lead singer. See, even the redhead on the left with the KEYTAR didn't warrant a little five second memory in my four year old brain. But I digress.

THIS kind of pink-- a full-on fuchsia-- reminds me of the roots of my 80's color pink aversion, which I've almost overcome in my adult years (almost!). In a rare and never to be repeated act of good faith on my parents' part, in 1989, I was allowed to choose the color my room would be painted. I was four, so naturally, I chose the sickmaking Jem pink of the above photo... a pink no surface larger than a foot square should probably be painted. I don't know if I could live with a DESK that color, much less an entire room.

What makes it worse? Up until this point, the room, which now functioned as a bedroom but had earlier been a den/office space, had remained the original, knotty pine panelled wood of many fifties' construction den/office space-ish rooms. My mom hated the look of the plain wood and had already painted the knotty-pine kitchen cabinets a clean dad, who liked the vintage look but was loath to argue, set about the business of painting over the hardwood with two gallons of vom-bomb fuchsia. After a week of pink-overdose induced eyestrain and much handwringing as to the trouble and expense, my dad was forced to paint the whole room AGAIN, this time a more soothing blue it was to remain for the rest of our time in the house. When I moved back in, I painted the room a candy apple green, which is nice, but... I can't help but be a little wistful for the knotty pine we left behind.

(Above: The actual color, and the actual image I had of what I was going to look like when I grow up. Uh, still the image of what I want to look like when I grow up? Or what I want to look like this weekend, for example?)

With such pink-induced trauma at an early age, I nevertheless never had a cause to reject the pale pink of Eisenhower-era America. So many girls, gals, ladies, women and (my least favorite word) females disavow themselves of pink ties because of the supposed "disempowerment" of wearing a culturally gender specific color. For example, I read a whole book on midcentury pink and femininity by Lynn Peril (sounds a bit like a front woman from a Jem-esque band, no?) called Pink Think. Great subject, great title...and great disappointment. While her scholarship was top-notch, I couldn't help being crest-fallen at her categorical riot grrl rejection of traditional 1950's female role and values taught to young girls [insert sly witticism about "rose colored glasses" here]. Sure, a lot of the copy in home ec texts, ladies' magazines, advertisements, and romantic-fiction-written-by-men was patronizing to women, and some downright insulting, but a lot was a case of "you could read it like this, or you could read it like that". And me, even with my deep longing for structure and etiquette, pining e're so unrealistically for an Eisenhower America that may or may not have ever even existed, even I can look at something and see both sides of the argument ("Ok, that waaaaas a little women bashing. But still!"). Miss Peril (Lord, I covet her name) refuses to in her book. And that's a bummer.

Down with pink hate! Up with pink acceptance!

In the spirit of my new pet cause, I would welcome any and all of the items below into my home:


Lemme get that pink grill for Bab to grill out, in his pink workshirt and tie from the first magazine spread! Baroque hat rack? Check! Pink and black striped guest towels to match my pink and black tiled bathroom? CHECK CHECK. Just dip everything in that dusty moonlit hue of pale pink and I'm for sure to buy it. FOR SURE! If just in a show of sentimental solidarity. Also, to benefit the kitsch quotient of the house (always looking out for the bottom line).

Here are some other pink supporters I found while looking around for evidence:


Joan Collins takes it to the next level by posing with a pink poodle. This is an alternate shot to the one I used in my Slim Aarons post a million moons ago,and I think the scene is positively MORE pink than the other photograph I saw. As many times as I've seen pink poodles in iconography, be it a skirt or a lamp base or a chalkware wall hanging, it's somehow still disturbing even as a pink supporter to see a living little poodle dyed and fluffed to the color and consistency of cotton candy! Check out this photo of Zsa Zsa Gabor and a poodle, the latter of which is suffering not only the indignity of pink-hued tresses, but also false eyelashes! Doesn't that just beat all?

The thing about looking up photos of Elvis and the famous pink Cadillac he bought for his mother? Most of the photos taken were in black and white. DIS.A.PPOINTING. However, I did find these:

Photobucket Photobucket

I love early Elvis snaps for the same sense of insistent style I noticed in Mamie's inagural dress selection. He's looking at the camera like "THIS. This, FINALLY, is exactly what I want to look like". Tony Curtis pompadour, slim as a bone, five feet ten of dress slacks and attitude. Catch a glimpse of those pink socks he obviously had the intention of showing off in that he kicked his foot up on the bumper for that purpose. He's got the look!

An exquisitely young Shirley MacLaine, as pink as you can get! This is from a 1964 picture called What a Way to Go, but how could I resist?

As to houses, Jayne Mansfield (all-around fifties' sex bomb, my dearly loved Mariska from Law and Order:SVU's mom) was famous for her pink mansion, the pool of which she once filled with pink champagne for a publicity stunt. A paen to pink, this place. However, the shagged out walls of her pink bathroom do make me a little antsy:

Can you imagine trying to sell this house?

Modern day champion of pink, Betsey Johnson, does HER pink house up in the right way:

Ugh! I'm disgusted at how cool this is.

Anyway, I'm running out of my usual supply of zealous steam... what's your thought on the "pink" issue? Do you seek it out/avoid it/not really care one way or the other?

(PS How could I resist? From Funny Face:)

Til next time!


  1. Eeek! I had that Barbie!!! And knotty pine panels! But they were their intended brown all through my childhood. :o)

  2. After a post like that who could hate pink! I myself would only own a poodle if he was a pink one. I wonder if there are any pink cats out there? I imagine it would be harder to convince a feline to take a weekly dip in the dye!

  3. Love this post! I try to act like I don't like pink but in fact, I LOOOOOVE it. That light Mamie pink is such a refreshing, soothing color too. We can blame the glorious pink bathroom trend on her as well. Which I love her for.

  4. This is great! A lovely tribute to poor maligned pink! I own very few pink things as it's been so ingrained into my head as little girl territory, but it's such a happy quintessentially '50s color.
    And oh gosh, borderline animal abuse, but I've always had this evil longing to get a pair of white dogs so I can dye them cotton candy colors...!! (Maybe food coloring...)

  5. poodles aren't proper dogs anyway so who cares if they look pooncey?? Sorry, just my mini-rant! But I'm still divided on the whole issue of pink, perhaps I'm influenced by my friends who all hate it, but I do quite like the 50s pink, wouldn't want a whole room of it though.



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