Pink gender timeline
Many shades of pink
© 2013 by DOMINIQUE GRISARD. All rights reserved.
Gender of colors
Gender of colors
Bourgeois man in black suit; Femme Fatale; Professional Business Woman; Classy: Little Black Dress
Mr. Pink: "Why can't we pick out our own color?"
Joe: "I tried that once, it don't work. You get four guys fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black."
--Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs
The French color historian, Pastoureau, stresses how the Age of Enlightenment was accompanied by an interest in lighter, brighter and mixed colors in the urban and upper levels of French, German and English society. Professional men still dressed in dark hues, but they now turned to gray, brown, blue or dark green instead of black (Pastoureau, 160). For Pastoureau this chromatic change in the 18th century is epitomized by the pig’s transition from black to pink. The common domestic pig’s coat had been black in Europe for centuries. Pig pigment only began to turn pink in the 18th century due to adventurous crossbreeding (Pastoureau, 160-1).
The French Revolution brought black back with a vengeance, the black suit a sort of uniform symbolizing the bourgeois values of “liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Since 1760, the bourgeois gender and colonial order had realligend black and (bourgeois) masculinity while also offering color a way to return to the fashion and artistic arena. The dichotomy between the seeming lightness, happyness and superficiality of bright colors and the deepness and seriosity of black helped construct bourgeois masculinity as visibly different from the world of women and the colonized (Pastoureau, 162). The black suit may thus be seen to establish bourgeois masculinity by distinguishing themselves starkly from the colorfully dressed others: aristocratic men whose extravagant dress now defined them as effeminate fops invested in the showy demonstration of inequality, colonized brown and black men and women whose brightly colored attire made them appear as somehow closer to nature, and bourgeois women and children whose seemingly infantile and instinctual love for color brought them in uneasy proximity to the “savage” other. In the words of 19th century French art critic Charles Blanc:
„Amongst primitive nations who are more natural, younger, and more under the sway of feeling, the man is almost as fond of colour as the woman. The savage, finding himself doubtless too much of one colour, seeks to embellish himself by tattooing; the cacique makes himself a headdress with feathers of brilliant tints; the Moor, the Negro, the Arab, and the Indian deck themselves with staring hues. But wherever civilization becomes intricate, and develops, man abandons colour to woman; he himself becomes colourless and sombre, and in the present day throughout Europe he is dressed in black.“
- Charles Blanc. 1867. Art in Ornament and Dress, London: Frederick Warne and Co, pp. 64.
Indeed, one way that bourgeois men – despite their black uniform look - could affirm social status and rank was through their wives and children’s lavishly colorful and thus expensive dress. In more recent years, black has become a staple of many Euro-American women’s wardrobe, whether it is in the shape of the black business suit, the classy Little Black Dress, or a more daring evening robe which, transforming her into a Femme Fatale.
Pastoureau also notes a new interest in the color of skin in the late 18th century (as part and parcel of colonization and empire – travelling goods and people). Questions about why some people’s skin color was darker than others, had not been posed prior to this time. Whereas medieval and early modern Europeans used the name Moors to refer to the Berbers, North African Arabs, Muslim Iberians and West Africans from Mali and Niger or Ethopians to refer to anyone living south of Egypt, including Sudan and modern Ethiopia, in the 1760s names denoting color such as Negroes or Blacks started to be used much more dominantly (Pastoureau, 162).
Michel Pastoureau (2008): Black: The History of a Color, Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
John Harvey (1995): Men in Black, Chicago, IL: The Univ. of Chicago Press.
[work in progress]
European Bourgeois Evening Dress, c. 1870-1900
Power of color