From the blush pink of royal mistresses to the hot pink of tabloid party girls, pink has gained a reputation for being a provocative colour for those who dare to wear it.
Despite its various shades and the complexities of its cultural significance, it is a colour that is often branded with the same connotations of feminine frivolity and excess – whether girlish and innocent or womanly and erotic.
So much so that worshippers at a North London church were ordered to remove pink chairs after an ecclesiastical judge claimed that the choice of colour scheme could “cause puzzlement”.
This pink panic invites the question: why is pink so controversial?
A brief glimpse at its rather colourful history in the Western world reveals associations that both shape and challenge what pink means.
According to historian Valerie Steele, the birth of pink in modern fashion began in the 18th century. By this period, pink had become the colour of choice among courtly elites of the Western world, including royalty and aristocrats.
Developments in dye making and the French court’s penchant for cutting-edge garments provided the perfect pairing to begin pink’s success as an emerging fashion staple.
Perhaps the most instrumental influence on pink’s power was Madame de Pompadour – the mistress of King Louis XV. She was often portrayed by the painter François Boucher sporting her signature pink gowns and shoes, most notably in his 1759 piece Madame de Pompadour.
In his 1758 painting, Madame de Pompadour at Her Toilette, she is shown applying rouge from a box of cosmetics – the blushed cheeks implying female sexuality. For Steele, the colour pink in this period becomes attached to both the frivolity of French high fashion and the eroticising of white femininity.