Here’s a challenge: Would you ditch your drab outfits, and wear pink for a solid week straight? Shari Goldhagen accepted this Crushable dare. Read on to see if she transformed into Elle Woods.
Pink & Pretty Barbie came with cotton candy-colored pants, top, skirt, and several odd fur-trimmed accessories that could be fashioned into endless dreamy ballerina concoctions. When I was just a wee writer, I took a black Sharpee and performed a dye job on her pants, top, skirt and all her furry extras. After Mamma Goldhagen stopped yelling—around the same time we learned a little liquid bleach goes a long way in removing marker stains from carpeting—she asked why I’d defiled the doll. I shrugged, said, “I don’t like pink.”
Flash-forward 20-odd years and an editor asks if I’d like write a piece about wearing pink for an entire week. Two decades really haven’t done much to change my response. “Pink is the color of love, it’s very pure, it’s the color you were born until the world put its sticky hands on you,” image expert Judith Ann Graham explains. “In spirituality it represents perfection. In every woman’s closet, there’s a place for a little pink.” Apparently this isn’t true of my closet, which, to be fair, is very, very small. As a resident of Manhattan, it is mandated by city ordinance that at least 85% of my wardrobe be black, but I do wear colors—blues, purples, browns; basically the day-old bruise palate—so I am sort of surprised that after a thorough scour, the only pink thing I appear to own is a Powerpuff Girls t-shirt that had been a Toy Fair give away. I wear Blossom and crew to the gym and to run some errands. The difference is negligible, my hour on the elliptical is still stunningly boring and the teenage cashier Duane Reade still doesn’t make eye contact while I buy tampons.
Committing to the pink gig is going to require more dramatic action, so in the spirit of girl power (isn’t that a pink thing?), I call a friend. Mandy arrives with three overflowing bags of pink clothing. “This is all yours?” I ask, as she pulls out babydoll dresses, camisoles, winter hat and glove sets, cardigan after cardigan, a coat, even a furry boa. “I actually had more, but I only brought over stuff I thought you might wear.” Picking up the boa, I cock my head. I’ve known her for seven years and while we always joked that she looks like Charlotte from Sex and the City, I didn’t realize she is Charlotte. Mandy holds up a v-neck cashmere sweater and an argyle pleated skirt with strands of the same tea rose running through the fabric. “Just add boots and this is my go-to date outfit,” she says. “It’s sexy, but in a fun, girly way.” It is, and I have vague memories of Mandy rocking this outfit, but . . . I throw the boa around her shoulders; she’s now a life-size Pink & Pretty Barbie.
While the hue may be new to my wardrobe, it’s been around for a while, and color expert Leatrice Eiseman provides a crash course in pink fashion history. “The lighter pinks have been a part of fashion for hundreds of years going back to the French Court and Marie Antoinette,” she says. “Back then the colors were more happenstance—when clothes were washed they lost their red hue and became lighter.” The more vibrant shades—hot pink, fuchsia “shocking pink”—Eiseman says, were thrust into the spotlight in the 1930s by Italian designer Elsa Schiaparellini, who famously paired with artists like Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali to blur the lines of fashion and art. “I gave to a pink, the nerve of a red; a neon pink, an unreal pink — shocking pink,” Schiaparellini once said of her color contribution. In the 40s, World War II rained on the pink parade, according to Eiseman, but it was back full throttle the next decade. “A lot of pink happened in the 50s—you even had pink cars then, it was everywhere,” she says. “But you have fluctuations, in the 70s, everything was avocado and there was very little pink, but then in the 80s you had the Santa Fe influence and Miami Vice, which brought new hues into popularity.”
Today, Eiseman says, the spectrum of wearable pink runs the gamut—which is now evident all over my living room floor. “I guess I had more pink than I thought,” says Mandy, as I frown at the bubblegum explosion. Samara D’Auria, Senior Fashion Editor at Life & Style Weekly, suggests I forgo the Legally Blonde pink-out and ease into the color. “Head-to-toe pink, matching pink shoes and bags are all bad,” says D’Auria. “A good way to wear it is with accents—blush pinks with blacks, navys or browns. Hot pinks work the same way, and, if you trust your fashion sense, hotter pinks are a nice risk.” D’Auria cites Diane Kruger, Sienna Miller, and Reese Witherspoon as pink positive examples. “Celebrities known for being well dressed know how to wear pink in a sophisticated way that’s not cloying or tacky,” she says. “It’s about comfort, anyone who knows how to dress can incorporate pink her wardrobe as long as it compliments her personal style. A color shouldn’t intimidate anyone.”
I’m still intimidated, but I like this easing-in idea. I’ve already got the blacks, Navys, and brown, so I pair one of Mandy’s dusty-rose sweaters with a black skirt, and black boots and head out to a casual dinner with friends. At the restaurant I don’t tell the girls about my Elle Woods experiment, and no one seems shocked when I take off my black coat. Two of my friends do tell me I look “Pretty.” While it’s industry standard for gaggles of girls to compliment each other, I’m thinking that when I’m dressed in my usual bruise wear, my ladies usually call my look, “sexy” or “great;” “pretty” seems a definite deviation. Some sort of coded color speak? Pretty in pink; sexy in black? Three of the eight girls are also wearing pink tops, and they explain this is actually not unusual. “I wear pink a lot,” says Jennifer, whose dark hair and eyes contrast beautifully with a French rose cashmere sweater. “It’s feminine and I like that.”
In the ladies room, I notice a visible chocolate stain by my left boob. Jennifer whips out a Tide To-Go Stain Stick, shows me how to use it. “I always carry one,” she says. That right there might explain my predilection for dark clothes; girls who wear black don’t need to fight stains on the go. The next day I try something more hardcore (or would it be soft-core?), donning one of Mandy’s light pink sweater sets that walks a dangerous line between soft and furry. And I feel the difference, even under my coat—this is not something I would normally wear. “That’s not something you would normally wear,” says a co-worker who probably couldn’t tell you my eye color if I was standing next to him with a color wheel. Co-worker and I are usually good with the back-and-forth banter, but I duck my head, mumble I’m trying something different for a story, which confuses co-worker even more.
Sarcasm and I are longtime BFFs, but it just seems impossible to snark while looking like a Peep bunny. L.A.-based psychologist Yvonne Thomas, PhD, explains this response is actually typical. “Wearing different colors can change the way the wearer acts, not just the way she’s perceived by others,” says Thomas. “But it’s like the chicken or the egg, it’s hard to say if you gravitate toward a certain color because of the way you’re feeling, of it you’re feeling a certain way because of what you’re wearing.” Dr. T. notes that pink actually has a bit of split personality. “Wearing soft pink, a woman feels more girly, more feminine—she might be more giggly, perhaps a little more demure, a bit passive,” she says, but adds that a woman wearing the brighter shades—neon, hot pink, magenta, should be prepared for attention. “Someone who wears the bright shades wants to be noticed—at least subconsciously,” she says. “A woman might wear a bright pink suit if she were feeling confident and wanted to draw attention at work. If she wore a bright pink top out at night, she’d definitely stand out from all the girls wearing black tops and jeans. The mindset is brazen and maybe even a little feisty.”
One woman who’s comfortable commanding that attention is Dallas-based fashion designer Abi Ferrin, who not only had an original pink design featured in last year’s Susan G. Komen for the Cure Dress Collection, but who just revamped her company logo to a fierce fuchsia. “Pink represents a feminine energy and my company has always been about empowering women,” says Ferrin, who helps women rescued from the sex trade in Nepal by using their buttons in her designs, then repaying them at 600% their asking price. “We didn’t want to blend in, so we went for the bright pink because it makes a strong statement.” Her collections—mainly high-end silk shirts and dresses that have won the hearts of stars like Molly Sims—regularly use the vibrant shades. “A lot of people favor black because it’s safe,” she says. “In retail lines they almost always tell designers to include several black pieces because they’ll always sell, and we do that. But the bright pinks really work with any skin tone, but you won’t blend into the background like you will in a black.”
Ferrin sends me one of her gorgeous tops in fuchsia, and there is something exhilarating about slipping it on. Though it’s not particularly revealing, the vivacious color makes it seem too something for work. I give it a test drive at a swanky hotel bar in my hood. When a woman goes out alone, she’s pretty much guaranteed a lot of second glances, even if she’s in jeans and a flannel, but this is different. In the room’s moody blue lighting, my tunic actually pops, drawing all eyes, even mine when I catch flashes of pink in the mirrored shelves of alcohol behind the bar. And yet I’m not approached, at first, in the way a woman out alone almost always is.
The bartender sets a second dirty martini in front of me, though I’m not halfway through my first. “From the gentlemen in the corner,” she says, and nods to guys in suits standing around a table. I nod at them, and raise the glass, but it takes an actual smile before they finally come over, and I wonder if they’re really intimidated by the pink or if they’re just out of towners. Turns out it’s a little of both. After they finally make it over and I thank them, one of them actually says. “We couldn’t help noticing your top.”
Ferrin also lends me one of her Cambodia Clutches in fuchsia, which in addition to being adorable, is hand-sewn by the rescued women from the sex trade as a way to help them gain financial footing. Image expert Graham had suggested I try a “pocket of pink,” with an accessory, so I go back to black—a wrap dress and boots—but carry the purse in lieu of my usual (you guessed it) black bag. While it’s nowhere near as dramatic a shift, the purse becomes a focal point. No less than half dozen people, including two total strangers give it a shout-out. And I can’t help but smile every time I glance at it on my desk.
Friday night I have date, which presents an interesting conundrum. It’s Date Four, so the guy and I are enjoying hanging out, but don’t know each other that well, haven’t really shared our weird proclivities yet. There’s no guarantee he won’t bolt if I show up dipped in Pepto Bismal. Luckily Ian Kerner, sex expert and the author of She Comes First: the Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, offers insight into pink and the male mind. “The color has been exploited by marketing and mass media so it now represents this cutesy kind of sexuality,” he says. “Because of that bombardment of images, it creates an association in the male brain that forges a neural pathway and can cause a mental and physical reaction because men are more visually aroused that women.” Calling it the “fetishism of girlhood innocence,” Kerner says pink has a clear place in contemporary “raunch” culture. “When I talk to couples who are into role play, one of the biggest fantasies is of a young girl and that usually means a school girl skirt and pink panties,” he says. “And in graphic pornography labia are air-brushed to appear as pink as possible—” Thaaaaat’s good, that’s enough—getting a little ahead of ourselves for Date Four, we can stop now.
With trepidation I might be mauled upon entering the restaurant if I over-pink it, I put on a salmon shirt and brown skirt. The guy doesn’t say anything about my lack of black, so after a glass of wine, I ask if he notices anything different about me. “You changed your hair color.” “Nope.” “Your hair is shorter?” “No.” “Your hair is . . . longer?” “It’s not my hair, I’m wearing pink.” “Oh,” he offers a blank stare. “It looks nice.” Apparently the neural pathway thingy doesn’t affect all men. By the last day of pink week, I feel I should give Mandy’s go-to outfit a try. Like a warrior going into battle, I zip the pleated skirt and the sweater, pull on boots. But the power of pink compels me to take it farther. I change out my winter gear for one of Mandy’s pink hat and glove sets, even switch from my sangria lipstick to something glossy and carnation. It’s like the end of Fourth of July fireworks and I’m just throwing everything up there in a last hurrah. For lunch I’m meeting one of my oldest friends—the kind who’s seen me through bad choices and bad breakups. He takes one look at me and laughs, “Were you attacked by a Barbie on your way over?” “Yes,” I say, “it was Pink & Pretty’s revenge.”
Back in black, I pack away the pink with what can mostly be described as a sense of relief. I’m not saying I’d never pink out again, just you know, I’ll make sure to invest in a stain stick.
Shari Goldhagen is the author of the novel Family and Other Accidents.