When photos of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling surfaced last month of the pair on the the set of “Barbie” in matching hot pink Spandex and neon rollerblades, the Internet gave a collective round of applause. There was no denying the indulgence of the moment, an ‘80s toy tableaux of nostalgia come to real life on two perfectly cast actors.
Nearly at the same time, Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly showed up to the musician’s “Life In Pink” Hulu documentary premiere sporting matching pink hair, a veritable 2022 version of Barbie and Ken; she in a rosy cutout minidress, he in a popcorn crop top and pearl necklace.
And over in Rome, Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli dressed a handful of celeb friends in eye-popping looks from the brand’s fall ‘22 “Pink PP” collection (a Paris Fashion Week runway show that offered up only hot pink or all-black looks). Anne Hathaway walked the Spanish Steps in an embellished mini dress and the highest hot pink platforms for her biggest fashion moment since “Devil Wears Prada” 16 years ago.
So began the official “Barbiecore” movement, a fashion trend that already seems to have swept other summer trends this year (here’s looking at you, Coastal Grandma).
But the hot pink hues of “Barbiecore” aren’t entirely new. In fact, the color has a years-long trend arc that has been percolating within fashion since 2017.
Why 2017? Because on January 21, the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as U.S. President, more than 470,000 participants attended the Women’s March on Washington in the nation’s capital, a congregation that sparked an estimated nearly 5 million participants in the U.S. and 7 million worldwide.
Many of them were wearing a hot pink knitted hat with the ends pointed up. The homemade pink pussyhat became a calling card of Trump-era feminists, a call and response to the president’s cringing “Grab her by the pussy,” videotape.
The pink pussyhat may be a rare sight now, as many have since debated how the hat’s symbolism might leave out transgender women, gender non-binary people and women of color in its messaging. But the color has remained — and subtly but steadily, designers, stylists, celebrities and influencers alike have turned to the hue to convey a variety of messages, from ditzy fun to feminist rebellion — and even those messages simultaneously.
After glancing back at all the ways the color has prevailed, from the decade-long pink hair trend to Lady Gaga’s hot pink arrival on the Met Gala pink carpet in 2019, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the “Barbie” reveal is captivating everyone.
And though it may be coincidence, the timing of the “Barbie” photos just days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1973 precedent of Roe v. Wade was ripe for interpretation. Robbie and Gosling as Barbie and Ken read like a Rorschach test for today’s feminist — or opponent.
One might have found relief or comfort in the return of a totem of a traditional feminine aesthetics, while others may have felt it as salt in the wounds of a progressive vision of women’s equality, dashed visions of power pantsuits being replaced by a “Stepford Wife” sensibility, aesthetically and ethically.
For others, it’s a chance to subvert the color pink and all that it stands for, reclaiming the hue and breaking the dual monoliths of the ditzy girly-girl and the brash, think-like-a-man feminists.
Pink has now become an equal-opportunity color, a choose-your-own-adventure hue that might just help to break down the stereotypes of women along the way and serve as sartorial armor for fight for women’s equality and a new era of feminism.
A Pink Evolution
Pink wasn’t always designated as the feminine color. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, parents dressed little boys in pink (and in dresses, as the garment was considered gender neutral up until the ages of 6 or 7) and little girls wore blue.
According to a 1918 article from Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, a trade publication, “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.”
Some historians, such as Jo Paoletti, author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America,” attribute the shift to pink for girls as a marketing play by manufacturers starting the in 1940s. Others look to First Lady Mamie Eisenhower’s 1953 Presidential Inauguration gown, a gigantic pale pink tulle and rhinestone studded ballgown with matching opera gloves and handbag, as a turning point for the color pink. In 1957, the film “Funny Face” starring Audrey Hepburn included a song called “Think Pink,” in which a fictional magazine staff markets the bubblegum hue as the ultimate symbol of womanhood, motherhood, elegance and taste. It further cementing the ultra-feminine connotations that have followed the color for the past six decades.
The original Barbie didn’t wear pink; instead, she donned a black-and-white-striped swimsuit and white sunglasses. While select Barbies through the ‘60s showed the doll in the color (and a lot of red), it wasn’t until the late ‘70s that Barbie’s hot pink hue became her signature, with “Superstar Barbie” wearing a dramatic hot pink evening gown, her eyes blue, hair done in a platinum blonde and body proportions set to anatomically impossible, a look that would come to define beauty ideals and aspirations for the next few decades.
In the 2000s and 2010s, Mattel made concerted efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive Barbie world. In 2005, Destiny’s Child Barbies included a Beyoncé Barbie, and in 2015, the brand introduced Barbie’s “Sheroes,” a collection of real-life women such as Zendaya, Eva Chen and Ava DuVernay.
In 2016, Barbie got a body makeover, with Mattel debuting three new realistic body types for the doll. Mattel also has its ongoing Barbie Inspiring Women series, which has taken real life women such as Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart and turned them into dolls; earlier this month, they debuted a Jane Goodall doll.
The toy brand may have done the legwork in redefining some of Barbie’s beauty stereotypes — and Barbie commentary has always been filled with a wink and heavy doses of satire, from Aqua’s 1997 hit song “Barbie Girl” to Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods in the “Legally Blonde” film franchise.
But much of recent redefining the doll’s signature hue has come from marginalized groups outside of the world of children’s toys. Women of color, trans people, drag queens and other groups have since taken on the notion of hot pink as a beauty standard, claiming the color for themselves. Prominent male celebrities have also helped to dispel the notion of pink as a cisgender white woman’s color, with everyone from Jason Momoa and Sebastian Stan to Jake Gyllenhaal sporting the hue on the red carpet.
Cisgender women have also joined the cause to subvert the hue that once tried to define them. TikTok’s #Bimbotok has become a channel for people to critique feminism and redefine it, poking fun at the stereotype of the hyperfeminine “bimbo” while also providing social and political commentary on the rigid boxes into which women are often placed.
In front of an audience of some 4.6 million, TikTok star and comedian Chrissy Chlapecka uses sarcasm to portray a ditzy persona of a blonde bimbo clad in mini skirt, bra top and thigh-high boots while simultaneously sprinkling in bits about sex positivity and protecting women’s bodily autonomy. The sardonic commentary — and its satirical but perhaps serious aesthetic — runs parallel to the hyper-femininity of more conservative circles, a clever inversion that just might sidestep echo chambers and algorithms to get more groups thinking about how feminism might be redefined.
“I honestly think it’s very brave of me that every single day I wake up and I’m determined to look like a slut,” says Chlapecka with a Valley Girl accent, pink hair and matching outfit in one of her most recent videos. “This mini skirt? My battle uniform. This top? That’s my armor, ok? Who am I protecting? The girlies, the gays, all of my babes. The United States of this pussy,” she concludes.
im here to protect the girlies! #slay
A look at the Barbiecore fashion resonating elsewhere on social media proves that today’s pink ensembles are anything but subservient, erring on the side of sharp, aggressive and perhaps a little punk. The Y2K resurgence has encouraged a cosplay of sorts a là Paris Hilton. Mini dresses, short skirts, crop tops, platforms and stilettos all done up in pink point to fashion and sexuality as weapons.
As a new era of battle for women’s rights to their bodies kicks into overdrive in the post-Roe world, hyper-femininity is set to become a tool of empowerment for those who embody it, instead of a means of oppression. “Think pink” means something else now.