On May 3, when people gathered in front of the Supreme Court in protest of the leaked draft opinion looking to overturn Roe v. Wade, Senator Elizabeth Warren showed up, visibly angry. “I have seen the world where abortion is illegal, and we are not going back!” she shouted. When she spoke in front of the passionate crowd, and later in televised interviews for CNN, she wore a mid-length collared jacket, a familiar silhouette she’s sported countless times throughout her political career.
The jacket is appropriately business casual and typical for the Democratic senator, but what stood out to me this time was the shade she chose to wear that day. Clearly bringing attention to women’s rights, Senator Warren picked bright pink, the color of Planned Parenthood and the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the abortion clinic (also known as “the Pink House”) cited in the Mississippi court case.
This certainly isn’t the first time she wore pink in support of women’s rights. She’s also worn scarves, cardigans, blazers, and other forms of outerwear in varying shapes and shades of it. Only this time, it was a deeply saturated fuschia, the same intense version of pink recently so loved by the likes of Valentino, Jacquemus, Balenciaga, and Chanel, as well as Kim Kardashian, Sebastian Stan, and Justin Beiber.
As a reaction to the Supreme Court draft leak, artist Sho Shibuya covered a copy of The New York Times in the same bold rendition of pink, fading into a gradient of ominous black.
It seems like just yesterday when we were all obsessing over “Millennial pink,” a term coined by Veronique Hyland in a 2016 essay for The Cut, referring to the surge in popularity of the muted, almost-beige hue of Glossier baby pink. Since then, there’s been “Gen Z Yellow” which came and went in 2018, and Daniel Lee’s “Bottega Green” that swept 2021. And while Pantone predicted this year will be all about “Very Peri,” a lavender-like “blue with a violet red undertone,” bright, hot pink seems to be the enthroned color of the moment.
Pink as we know it has always signified peak femininity in pop culture. “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” Karen Smith told Cady Heron in Mean Girls (2004). Elle Woods wore pink every day in Legally Blonde (2001). The cutest, girliest cartoon characters don pink. K-pop group Blackpink define their name as “a denial of pink, ‘the prettiest color,’ meaning that ‘pretty isn’t everything.’”
Kanye West’s College Dropout and Graduation days are remembered by his popped collared pink polos, which, considered by some to be “gay” at the time, made him the subject of ridicule among fellow rappers.
While it’s more normalized now—embraced, even—for men to wear pink (enter Lil Nas X, Timotheé Chamalet), the color is still largely associated with the female gender. In mass consumer marketing, pink is persistently used to target female consumers of all ages. Statistically, women pay a premium for everything from clothing and personal care items to even salon services—all of which technically don’t cost any more than those of male consumers—in a phenomenon known as the Pink Tax.
Despite the proliferation of pink all around us, 2022’s bright, hot version of it feels fundamentally different. With a selfie-taking, pantalegged Kardashian on one hand, it’s a show of confidence and frivolity, visual proof of our generation’s desperate need to stand out. On the other hand, it’s a grave political statement, an assertion of our collective wrath in the fight for women’s rights, a reminder that we need to stand together.
“With color and context so intertwined, there really are reasons why [one] comes into prominence when it does,” Laurie Pressman, Vice President of Pantone, tells Highsnobiety. “For the most part, the popularity of a color is symbolic of the age we live in.”
“The reemergence of hot pink is timely given new fears about the erosion of women’s reproductive rights,” Daniel Benkendorf, Associate Professor of Psychology at the Fashion Institute of Technology, tells Highsnobiety. “I expect hot pink's moment is just beginning.
“Hot pink represents quite a contrast [to Millennial pink] because along with being significantly more intense and bold, it is also often perceived as aggressively feminine,” Benkendorf continues. “Millennial pink, which is muted and soft, was seen as a neutral color that reinvented pink as androgynous. It was calming, unpretentious, and egalitarian. Hot pink demands our attention so that it can invite us to play, or signal something serious.”
Pressman adds: “From a psychological point of view, hot pink celebrates our desire to get back into life after almost two years of feeling shut in due to Covid. It exhibits the joyful exuberance of reclaimed freedom and desire for self-expression without restraint. It expresses a vitality that is provocative, and at times, openly defiant.”
According to geologists, pink also happens to be the world’s oldest pigment. Historically, there were no specific gender connotations associated with it until WWII Germany, when Nazis forced gay men to wear pink badges to shame them for not being “masculine.” Before that, it was widely worn by all genders and ages around the world, and was even accepted as a masculine variation of red, a “warlike” military hue. In this sense, there is no other color in history so signaling, defining, and confining of gender norms, for both men and women alike.
This is precisely what Pierpaolo Piccioli was drawing on when he chose hot pink to take over the venue and collection of Valentino’s recent Paris fashion show. He told Vogue that stripping the clothes of other colors was “to remove distractions and concentrate the viewers’ eyes on distinguishing the silhouette and detail,” but he could have easily accomplished that with more neutral tones; white, beige, or gray would have served that purpose better. Using a dialed up, hyperized pink was a calculated move to poke at our existing notions of gender identity, and then subvert them.
Pink is cute and innocent, presumptuous and vain, and rebellious and empowering, all at once. In its most innocent, unsaturated softness, it defines, redefines, and consequently controls gender norms. Hot pink, more severe and glaring on the eyes, is a rebellious scream against those norms, a definitive attempt to take that control back. In post-Roe v. Wade 2022, pink’s intensity positively correlates to our power and passion. The hotter the pink, the hotter our fury.