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The Class Connotations of the Color Pink

• August 26, 2013 • 4:00 PM

(PHOTO: O. GUUERO/SHUTTERSTOCK)

What can you tell, if anything, about a man who wears a color that has been linked to femininity here in the United States?

Pink, as we all know, is all about gender—it’s for girls. And sissies.

The University of Iowa … for decades has painted the locker room used by opponents pink to put them “in a passive mood” with a “sissy color,” in the words of a former head football coach, Hayden Fry.

That’s from Frank Bruni’s New York Times op-ed last week. But not all cultures link pink to femininity. The Palermo soccer team wears pink uniforms as do other European teams. In the U.S., it was only in the 1950s that pink took on its “boys keep out” message, and even then, a charcoal gray suit was often matched with a pink shirt or necktie. In The Great Gatsby, set in 1922, Nick writes of Gatsby:

His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before.

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In the previous chapter, Tom Buchanan says that he has been “making a small investigation” of Gatsby’s past.

“And you found he was an Oxford man,” said Jordan helpfully.

“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”

Gatsby’s choice of suit colors reveals not his sexuality but his class origins. An educated, upper-class gentleman—an Oxford man—would not wear a pink suit. Anna Broadway cites this passage in her Atlantic article and adds: “According to an interview with the costume designer for Baz Luhrmann’s recent film, the color had working-class connotations.”

Today, that class connotation is reversed. It’s the preppie type men at the country club who are wearing pink shirts or even, on the golf course, pants. That trend may be reinforced by something entirely fortuitous—a name. The upscale fashion designer Thomas Pink, perhaps because of his name, does not shy away from pink as a color for men’s clothes.

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Do you agree that pink still has class connotations? And how do they intersect with the color’s gendered meaning today?


This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Jay Livingston
Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.

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