How Millennial Pink Became the Gender-Neutral Hue of the 2010s

The most influential color of the 2010s has a long history in the spotlight. Learn more about the rise of millennial pink and why its influence continues today.

Sometime around the mid-2010s, everything seemed to be tinged pink. A certain rosy shade was plastered across advertisements for makeup and fashion brands; entire restaurants and retail stores were swathed in the color. It graced the covers of buzzy new books like #Girlboss and Sweetbitter, decorated the album artwork of Top 40 artists including Drake and Harry Styles, and filled wine glasses in the form of the season's trendiest beverage: sparkling rosé. Even the iPhones we used to Instagram our pink-tinted escapades sported a blush hue.

millennial pink wall with sofa, coffee table and pink themed decor and wall hangings
Marty Baldwin

But this was not the ultra-feminine hot pink championed by Legally Blonde's Elle Woods and real-life stars like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in the 2000s. This iteration was something different entirely, about as far from Barbie's favorite fuchsia as you could get without changing color families.

It came to be known as millennial pink, named for the generation of then-twenty- and thirty-somethings who gladly gobbled it up. Although the exact origins of the color are hazy, we can largely thank social media for the proliferation of this dulled-down pink. During the first half of the 2010s, images of minimalist interiors swathed in "Scandinavian Pink" exploded on Pinterest, while #palepink Tumblr posts were shared so often the shade was nicknamed "Tumblr Pink."

Pantone solidified the trend with its choice for the 2016 color of the year: a soft pink hue called Rose Quartz, which appeared alongside a dusty blue called Serenity. Then, in an August 2016 essay for The Cut, writer Véronique Hyland became the first to add the "millennial" modifier while commenting on the sudden deluge of pink in consumer marketing and pop culture.

pink room with rack of clothes
Josh Grubbs

A somewhat ambiguous color that ranges from pale blush to muted salmon, millennial pink's defining characteristic is its non-commitment. Whereas the bright, bubblegum pinks of the Y2K era were unapologetic in their femininity, this muted, desaturated version resists categorization. It particularly appealed to a generation of young people unconcerned with adhering to the norms established by their parents.

"When it comes to design choices, millennials are known for turning away from traditional neutral colors like beiges, creams, and whites," says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. Millennial pink entered the scene as a non-neutral neutral, a modern conceptualization of beige that was quickly commandeered by the beauty, fashion, home furnishings, and technology industries. "It fits in anywhere, allowing it to be everywhere," Wadden says.

At the same time, the faded shade offered a soothing respite from the garish, high-energy pinks that dominated toys and clothing marketed toward girls in the '80s and '90s. Millennial pink democratized the color, repackaging it in non-gender-specific form.

corner of bedroom with vintage dresser and pink walls
Annie Schlechter

Pink's ties to femininity are relatively new. As a lightened-up form of red, pink was considered an empowering color befitting of young boys until the mid-1900s, notes Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. 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," reads a 1918 article in a trade publication called Earnshaw's Infants' Department.

After World War II, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. Perhaps some of pink's feminine associations can be attributed to Mamie Eisenhower, First Lady to the 34th president, Dwight Eisenhower, who was in office from 1953 to 1961. Famously fanatical about pink, she helped establish the color's ties to femininity through her wardrobe and liberal use of the pastel throughout the White House, where it was so prolific the press began calling the place "the Pink Palace."

Advertisers took note and began marketing pink appliances, clothing, and other household products to housewives in the 1950s. Then came the 1957 film adaption of the musical Funny Face, which proclaimed, "Banish the black, burn the blue, and bury the beige. From now on, girls, think pink!"

muted earth tones small master bedroom mauve pink gray walls
John Bessler

But by the 21st century, the "pink is for girls" mantra had gone stale, its exclusivity called into question by a generation who increasingly sees color as a mode of self-expression, rather than self-identification. "Millennials became a powerful force, not only because of sheer numbers but also because of the growth of social media, voicing their opinions and reversing 'conventional wisdom' about gender-specific colors," Eiseman says.

As progress blurred the lines that historically separated gendered products, millennial pink emerged to bridge the gap. Although the pink craze has cooled off in recent years, this much remains true: We are, as Eiseman points out, "far from the time when it was considered appropriate only for little girls' rooms."

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