PINK POWER We wear Barbie’s preferred hue. To work. All week.
It’s become the colour embraced by an entire generation of hard-working young men and women. But does ‘Millennial Pink’ fit into a corporate landscape? Political journalist Radhika Sanghani finds out
It’s like having My Little Pony in the office…
cries a colleague as he catches sight of my outfit. To show me exactly what he means, he then spends the next two minutes frantically searching for an image on his computer to demonstrate his point. Finally, he pulls up an image of a pony wearing three shades of pink.“It’s you!” He stabs his finger at the screen, peals of laughter echoing around the newsroom I work in.
I look at the screen, then down at my oufit. He is correct. The triptych of garments I’m wearing are the exact same colours as My Little Pony. My bell-sleeved jumper, metallic skirt and Adidas Gazelles are all varying shades of what the world has come to call ‘millennial pink.’
This is the first time I’ve worn any colour in over 15 years. Instead, at 27 years of age, my wardrobe is a calm, composed sea of inky navy, corporate grey, lots of black and the odd white T-shirt. At a push I might consider a splash of pastel blue, but that’s as far as it goes. These shades have come to reflect my identity: smart, sensible, ‘grown-up.’ It is a world devoid of colour – and thus one I feel safe in. Pink? On me? You’ve got to be joking…
It all started at my friend Vivi’s 12th birthday party – it was 2002. She was having a disco, the first one I’d ever been to. I’d begged my mother to buy me a new outfit, and we thought we’d found the perfect one: a knee-length denim skirt with an inbuilt studded belt, black sandals, and the pièce de résistance – a vivid pink off-theshoulder top with purple sparkles.
The minute I arrived at the disco, I realised with growing horror that something was very wrong. While I looked like the tweenage girl I was, everyone else looked like the epitome of sophistication. There they were, in tiny black dresses, silver strappy tops and tight black trousers with matching halter-necks. There was no colour in sight. Their outfits screamed grownup glamour, while mine – a pink so intense I couldn’t even retreat into the background – looked woefully childish.
Later that night, I cried in the way that only prepubescent girls can, and vowed that was it: I would never, ever get it so wrong again. From then on, there would be no more awkwardlength skirts, no more shiny lipgloss, and absolutely no more bright colours – especially pink.
I made that vow in the heat of the moment 15 years ago, and I’ve never deviated. I have come up with my own
“I have my own recipe for blending in: monochrome”
recipe for blending into the background: well-fitted monochrome basics and cool, sophisticated denim.
Friends and family have tried to lure me over to the bright side, but their attempts have always failed. I prefer my clothing to be a blank canvas. I work in the newsroom of The Daily
Telegraph – surrounded by men and women in starched shirts and navy trousers – and I fit in just fine.
That is, until now. When I decided that the only way to test the true power of a colour that has come to define my entire generation of hardworking, hustling young women was to immerse myself in it. To wear it head-to-toe for 10 days, at work and at play, and see if the world – in particular the serious corporate world of news journalism – treated me any differently. That colour? Millennial pink, of course. For anyone who is yet to encounter it, it’s a cutesy, almost ediblelooking shade of pink that has bedecked our shops, shelves and sportswear for the past 12 months.
Born out of the growing popularity of K-pop (kitsch, colourful pop music from South Korea), it’s also influenced by the ironic return of ’90s and Noughties fashion (Juicy Couture tracksuits and Clueless). Acne Studios, Gucci and even cookware range Le Creuset have all been key in launching the ‘hibiscus’ hue, and then the high street followed suit. Unicorn everything and that damn flamingo obsession? All part of the trend.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find pink’s popularity among Generation Y could be a subconscious nod to the world we find ourselves battling for a place in.
A plethora of research, from as far back as the ’70s right up to the present day, shows that being surrounded by the colour pink can do everything from calm stress or anger to help you earn more. After a summer of political upheaval and tragic terror attacks, it makes sense that people would be attracted to the tranquillity and instant mood-lifting effects of pink.
Despite my reservations about looking like a life-sized Peppa Pig, millennial pink has managed to transcend gender stereotypes in a way other generations have never seen. Previously a colour used to define femininity, this year, men from Drake to Tom Hiddleston proudly sport the peachy hue, while women like Michelle Obama and Miley Cyrus are helping to diminish the colour’s stereotypically ‘girlie’ connotations.
Unfortunately, none of this lessens the dread I feel at having to wear postironic pink for a whole week. A week in which I was off to Birmingham to report on the general election, among many other things. Would politicians and voters take me seriously when I looked like an Ikea Prinsess cake?
I began to regret my decision as soon as the clothes arrived. I tried them on and barely recognised myself. It took all of my willpower the next day to put on a pink Zara suit, and the only way I managed to leave my hotel was by convincing myself it was more Hillary Clinton than Dame Edna.
I took a deep breath and walked into the media room of Birmingham’s
ICC, where I was covering the election count. I was a pink beacon in a sea of blue and grey. To hide the nerves, I smiled overly brightly at anyone I walked past. It only seemed to make my biggest fear – that people would dismiss me as an airhead – come true.
Wherever I went over the next few days, I got the same look: a slightly amused smile with a hint of derision. Women – particularly those in the stark monochrome I used to sport – appeared at best slightly amused by my get-up, and at worst, subtly sneering. It could have been just a figment of my self-conscious imagination, but their expressions seemed to say that I was a sweet, simple girl that they needn’t bother with.
Men were equally as dismissive, but also seemed to view my rosiness as a sign of availability. When I popped into a bar that first evening to interview locals in Birmingham’s city centre on election n ight, the very first man I spoke to grabbed my arm and then my bum. It was the first time I’d been groped in nearly a decade, but to my shock and disgust, it then happened three more times by three different men. I had been in the bar for less than an hour and been groped four times.
I wondered if it was the pink, the fact that I was a woman alone, a simple case of bad luck, or a combination of the above. But over the 10 days of this experiment, I was catcalled seven times, which is seven times more than I’ve been catcalled in the past three years. I wasn’t wearing anything revealing, and barely had any flesh on show. The only difference to my normal life – where I very rarely receive unwanted sexual attention – was the pink.
I could feel male eyes on me when I walked into a public place, and I was hit on several times during my week in pink (again, far from normal for me). On day six, more than halfway through my experiment, a man approached me on London’s South Bank as I walked away from interviewing Jo Cox’s sister a year after the MP was killed. I thought he was going to ask for directions. Instead, he asked for my number.
The accumulation of this attention made me feel increasingly uncomfortable and I started to desperately miss my rather more discreet wardrobe. I tore the outfits off as soon as I reached home in the evenings, and pulled on the plainest pyjamas I could find. Even positive comments from friends (“You should wear pink more often, it really suits your skintone”) and passive-aggressive compliments from my mum (“It’s about time you wore more colours. You don’t look so dull any more”) failed to change my mood. It felt woefully inappropriate.
The My Little Pony incident on the eighth day was the icing on the cake. Even though my colleague meant no harm, and then tried to cheer me up by saying my look was also “very Ariana Grande”, he showed me what everyone in the workplace must be thinking but was too afraid to say out loud: I looked ridiculous.
I was ready to give up and have a cheat day. But after just one more day of work, it was the weekend and I didn’t have to be my formal office self any more. I could leave the pink blazers, suits and dresses at home and wear retro pink jeans, miniskirts and T-shirts. I put on a more casual outfit – a Levi’s tee with the metallic skirt and trainers – and didn’t turn away from my reflection in the mirror. Bar the glaring colour, it looked like something I would normally wear.
I went to meet friends for brunch feeling more like
“Men viewed my rosiness as a sign of availability”
myself, and stopped noticing the looks (though there were still plenty of them) from passers-by. The feeling carried on for the last few days of my week. I still felt self-conscious, especially when I went onto Sky
News to talk about our diverse new Parliament looking like a bemused Barbara Cartland fan. But then something strange happened. I realised that my new wardrobe could also work in my favour. People kept underestimating me because of the colour of my clothes, and it kept giving me a chance to put them in their place.
There were still awkward moments – wearing an ironic statement T-shirt saying ‘Pretty Baby’ in a busy newsroom is definitely an experience I’m in no hurry to repeat, and removing a Chihuahuasized pink handbag from a chair for your editor to sit down on is next-level humiliating – but eventually, in my last two days, I even started to feel empowered by the fact that I could wear bold, fun clothes, but still be a serious professional.
There was one exception. The day before this experiment ended, I was sent to speak to survivors at London’s Grenfell Tower, in the wake of a devastating fire. I looked down at my luminous pink outfit with increasing apprehension. It felt offensively cheerful in the light of such horror and I tried, in vain, to minimise the effect by letting down my long hair and crossing my arms tightly. I cringed inwardly as I approached residents, hoping they wouldn’t be aggrieved by my attire.
No one batted an eyelid. I realised how self-obsessed I had been to assume that anyone who had just lost everything would even notice my outfit. I chided myself mentally for letting my insecurities get to me, and focused on what I was there to write about: a community determined to fight for justice, and an atmosphere electric with resilience.
The next and final day of my pink week, I found myself looking forward to putting on my rosy get-up. I finally understood the transformative power this colour can have, not just on mood, but on the way people perceive you, and the way you perceive yourself. I walked to work in the sun, oblivious to people’s stares and another catcall. I only stopped when a group of women in black suits called out,“You look so cool! We love pink! Spread the love!”
When the time came to return to the monochrome, I felt a twinge of sadness. It finally hit me that even though I’d always thought of myself as confident, I was actually so paralysed by the thought of people judging me that I’d deprived myself of pigment in order to slip inoffensively into the background.
I looked at the outfit I was wearing – black trousers, grey jumper, white shoes – and saw in it a blandness that I’d never noticed before. I changed into a pink version of the same outfit (though I did keep the black trousers; I’ll never be a head-to-toe pink kind of girl) and immediately felt like smiling. I decided to make a new vow: from now on, I’ll never be scared of colour again. Especially pink.
“Hello, IT? Yeah, when will my pink PC be here?”
Radhika knew she should have gone for the unicorn latte
“Oi, who you calling My Little Pony?”