How to Wear Pink, Like a Man

Out of one of the drawers he lifted a finely woven broadcloth shirt, carefully cut, and very pink.

“What’s that thing?”

“This is a tablecloth,” he said out of the side of his mouth.

“No, cut it out. What is it?”

“This,” he then answered with some pride, “is going to be my emblem. Ma sent it up last week. Did you ever see stuff like this, and a color like this? It doesn’t even button all the way down. You have to pull it over your head, like this.” A Separate Peace John Knowles Best Price: $0.25 Buy New $3.27 (as of 05:40 EST - Details)

“Over your head? Pink! It makes you look like a fairy!”

In this scene featuring one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite books — A Separate Peace — Phineas, a student at an elite prep school, dons a pink polo shirt in preparation for attending a formal tea hosted by the headmaster. His conservative-minded, rule-abiding best friend, Gene, looks on aghast, worried that Phineas’ peers will think him gay, and that he’ll be punished for breaking the dress code.

The more carefree, self-assured Finny isn’t worried what others think though; secure in his sexuality, the idea of others finding him fruity merely amuses him. And he has his reasons for donning the pink shirt; having heard that the Allies bombed Central Europe (the story is set at the beginning of WWII), Finny wishes to celebrate. As he doesn’t have a flag to fly, he decides his pink shirt will serve as an emblem of his patriotism.

While Gene still has misgivings about his friend’s sartorial choice, true to form, Phineas manages to charm the headmaster, and his peers, with his delightfully illogical yet quintessentially genuine reasons for bending the rules. Gene envies his friend’s confidence; “No one else in the school,” he muses, could have worn such a shirt, “without some risk of having it torn from his back.”

The potential shock of seeing a young man in a pink shirt was due not only to the particular rules of the school’s traditional dress code, but the fact that it was quite out of the ordinary in any setting at the time. When Brooks Brothers introduced the country’s first pink polo (which is almost assuredly the shirt Phineas dons in A Separate Peace) in the early 1940s, it caused such a stir that it made the cover of Vogue magazine.

A pink shirt for men was newsworthy at the time because of the color’s associations with femininity. But this connection between ladies and the color pink is of rather recent origin. Today we’ll explain how pink became thought of as a ladies-only color, and why you should consider ignoring the rule and donning pink from time to time yourself.

The History of Pink-Is-For-Girls/Blue-Is-For-Boys

brothers

Brothers John B. Trevor and Bronson Trevor, 1912

“Pink or blue? Which is intended for boys and which for girls? This question comes from one of our readers this month, and the discussion may be of interest to others. There has been a great diversity of opinion on this subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” –Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department (a trade publication), 1918

While the pink-for-girls/blue-for-boys color code now seems to be an irrevocable and timeless law, it’s actually a rather modern concept.

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