Saturday, March 3, 2012


In yesterday’s advice column in the Paris Review Daily, to which I turn each Friday with considerable pleasure, a reader raised the question of pink, and I was inspired to add the following comment:

The whole question of pink in eighteenth-century culture is to be the subject of exhaustive treatment in an exhibition currently being organized by my excellent colleague Cassandra Albinson here at the Yale Center for British Art, and my suspicion is that even then that color enjoyed a particular association with the betrothal of young ladies. Nor are modern concerns arising from the terminology of pink restricted to men only. For example, when in the mid-1950s Lady Churchill wore the mantle of Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, it was widely reported as being “petunia” in hue, and not pink. Assuming that the representatives of Fleet Street were not wearing sunglasses, there appears to have been some widespread need on this occasion to avoid the term “pink,” though undeniably pink is synonymous with petunia. Perhaps “pink” was felt to lean too heavily toward the sort of wild gestures captured by Kay Thompson soon afterwards in the famous “Think Pink” sequence from Funny Face (1957). I agree with Sadie, though, that orange is an entirely different kettle of salmon than pink.

Tossing and turning overnight (because of my owl), I further reflected that there is one area in which pink has been an acceptably masculine color—that of racing colors. Yet I was also reminded of an unguarded remark in her playful For My Grandchildren (London: Evans Brothers, 1966, p. 286), in which Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, recalled a vignette during the coronation in 1953: “Before our turn came to leave Buckingham Palace in the procession we watched the rulers of states under Her Majesty’s protection, including sultans from Malaya and Zanzibar resplendent in their national costumes. But it was the statuesque figure of Queen Salote of Tonga, swathed in the voluminous pink mantle of the Order of the British Empire, who stole the limelight and caught the public eye” [my italics].)

I wonder if it was simply carelessness that led Princess Alice to draw careful attention to the petunia mantle which Queen Sālote was entitled to wear on account of her G.B.E.—in other words technically petunia, and not “pink.” Although at this date the Queen of Tonga shared that honor with Lady Churchill, nevertheless Princess Alice knew better than most how many finely chiseled notches separated it from the more senior Orders of the Thistle, and the Garter, which most definitely have nothing to do with pink.

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