Pink emerges as 2020's colour of political protest

Priya Elan
·3 min read

“Political pink” has become the colour of activism in the US, as a pivotal election approaches next month.

This week, celebrities including Kerry Washington, Amy Schumer and Zoe Saldana posted selfies on Instagram of themselves wearing pink pantsuits. The outfits are part of a collection which benefits Supermajority, an advocacy group set up by members of Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter and the National Domestic Workers alliance, which encourages women into political action.

“In 2020 pink has become the ‘colour disruptor’ – the colour of change for so many around the world,” explains Andrew Burnstine, associate professor at Lynn University. “To the millions of people who are demanding change in our political system, and to American democracy, the colour pink is the new battle-cry.”

Hillary Clinton, whose own pantsuit became a sartorial trademark, shared photos of the founders of Supermajority on her Instagram with the caption: “Love these pantsuits, and the powerful women wearing them.” The pink pantsuit is a visual nod to the January 2017 women’s march, where many wore a pink pussy hat to express their solidarity with the cause.

“The hotter pinks are more closely related to the ‘mother colour’ of red and hold much the same feeling of empowerment and dynamism that red elicits,” explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

Speaker Pelosi in pink for a ceremonial swearing-in, 2019
Nancy Pelosi in pink for a ceremonial swearing-in. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last year, Nancy Pelosi, the Congressional speaker of the House, wore a political pink dress for her swearing-in ceremony. “Ms Pelosi chose this colour because it would not only make her standout in a room full of dark suits, but because this has now become a colour associated with a seat of power,” says Burnstine.

Just as “Vote” has become the fashion slogan of the season, pink continues to be reframed as political this year. Last month it was announced that a statue honouring LGBTQ activist Marsha P Johnson would be erected posthumously in her hometown of New Jersey, after a petition was signed by 166,000 people.

The online petition, which called for Johnson’s statue to replace the town’s existing statue of Christopher Columbus (“Many believe celebrating Columbus is glorifying European colonialism”) featured a photograph of Johnson in a bright fuchsia-shaded dress and a flower garland.

While in May, British designer A Sai Ta announced that he would be reproducing a pink tie-dye dress he custom-made for Rihanna in order to benefit three charities. The so-called Hot Wok dress was put on sale with profits split between Black Lives Matter, Solace Women’s Aid and The Voice of Domestic Workers.

Pink has been associated with the political for nearly a century. “The first use of pink as a political statement occurred in about 1925 when Time magazine coined the term ‘pinko’ for anyone thought to have communist, socialist or ultra liberal-leanings,” explains Eiseman. The colour has for 30 years been synonymous with breast cancer awareness and Susan B Komen’s Race for The Cure foundation.

Political pink lies in direct contrast to the apolitical “Millennial pink”, which came to define the beginnings of the Instagram age around five years ago. It was known as “Tumblr Pink” and Pantone named the shade, also known as “rose quartz” their colour of the year in 2016. It became popular as the Rose Gold iPhone in 2015, but also with fashion labels such as Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga and with the director Wes Anderson.