From Schiaparelli to Barbie: The Power of Pink

Posted by Amy Phillips

September 28, 2023

I’ve always been a pink girl.  From the little pink corduroy overalls I donned as five-year-old to the pink diamonds that I currently covet. 


But the color pink is not without its controversy. Does it represent the old-fashioned notion of girls being made of sugar and spice and everything nice? Or is it the power pink of Nancy Pelosi’s suit that she wore for the 2023 State of the Union address? Or somewhere in between? 

Why are expectant parents still using baby pink or baby blue to reveal the gender of their unborn child? Why is that color automatically assigned to humans born with female anatomy?  And is that tradition now insensitive to our LGBTQ+ communities? Some might argue that gender reveal parties only reinforce gender stereotypes, precluding and minimizing transgender identity. An interesting side note is that pink was actually a color worn by boys more than girls in its very early days and it became a “girl color” in the 1940s.  Since conversations regarding gender identity and transgender issues are becoming more common, is it time to retire this quaint color tradition? 

I don’t have all the answers. But in light of the pop of Barbie pink that has infiltrated our screens large and small recently, I did a little exploration into the evolution of this headline-making color.  The only thing I know for sure is that pink is in a very gray area.  

According to the website for color authority Pantone, “Pink is a color that creates great excitement and commotion…. While historically you might have looked at pinks as very feminine or girly, today we think of pinks as modern…. The emotional aspects of pink and its attributes are quite diverse. While soft and gentle lighter pink tones display a delicate and tender touch, floral pinks promote wellbeing.  Sweet candy pinks are imbued with a more playful nature and high-spirited hot pink hues energize and uplift.” 

Pink first became fashionable in the 18th century in the French court. There was a new source of dye that imparted a more vivid, long-lasting color in fabrics, according to the book “Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color.”  

But the popularity of the color has ebbed and flowed through the decades. In its peak moments we can include the head-to-toe vibrant pink courtroom outfit in 2001’s “Legally Blonde,” the wardrobe and set design color palette featured throughout the six seasons of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and the activism-fueled Pink Pussy Hat of 2017. 

But you can’t discuss pink without touching on 2023’s “it” girl, Barbie! The vividly hot “Barbie Pink” is inescapable.  


Los Angeles resident, Ruth Handler, created the perfectly proportioned plastic icon when she felt that girls needed more than just baby dolls.  They needed to aspire to more than roles than just a mother.  And Ms. Handler thought that her Barbara, or more commonly known as Barbie, was just the gal for the job.  She was launched in 1959 at the New Yok Toy Fair.  But Mattel actually didn’t start featuring predominantly pink packaging for the brand until the 1970s.  Now it’s so iconic, Pantone has its own “Barbie Pink” color. It’s a symbolism of empowerment with Mattel’s Barbie being the original girl empowerment brand.   


Brands can shape the consumer’s perception of colorAnd this is not an idea that began with BarbieThink of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s use of a hot pink known as “Shocking pink”. In 1937, Schiaparelli made Shocking Pink her signature color. With this bold shade, her designs stood out against the restrained palettes that overtook fashion during World War II. Her aesthetic was liberally seasoned with surrealism and daring. Such exuberance needed a signature color to match, and Schiaparelli found it in that pink. She also created a whole line of Shocking Pink fragrance and related beauty productsThe figural bottle was the top half of a woman’s body At the time, it was a very controversial and scandalous designSchiaparelli even smoked cigarettes with dyed hot pink tips!  


In Los Angeles, the women of the Ebell certainly followed along with the pink trends throughout the decades.  The Costume Committee, which maintains and preserves a collection of fashions, theatrical costumes and accessories donated from our members, has a number of stellar pink pieces. Pictured are dresses from 1910s, and the 1950s.

L-R: Dennee Frey, Carolann Bennett, Suzi Click, Julie Heifetz, Judy Reidel
L-R: Dennee Frey, Carolann Bennett, Suzi Click, Julie Heifetz, Judy Reidel

And at a recent Wednesday Confab, our members dressed in their best pinks and some even brought Barbie dolls to celebrate the summer of Barbie and Barbie Pink in true Ebell style! 

Whether or not you are a fan of pink, the color certainly has generated a lot of differing opinions and conversation.  How about you? Are you a pink gal or a never-pinker?