Pink in politics. Powerful or pandering?

Do female politicians need to go Pink in Politics

Recently Angela Eagle, Labour MP in a campaign for the party leadership, appeared in a pink suit jacket, alongside a pink union jack with her swirly signature on it.  She was heavily criticised for making a political rally look like a perfume launch. It raises the question if pink is just another colour, or if it plays into stereotypes of femininity. Is pink in politics as a branding tool damaging to strong women? And can this be said of other campaigns and companies  targeting women which use pink as part of their branding?

A brief history of pink

One of the earliest references to pink and blue colour appeared in a June of 1918 edition of the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department, when pink was encouraged for boys! Sometime between 1940 and 1980 (when manufacturers were trying to pinpoint how using gender colouring could increase toddler clothing sales) pink was just like any other colour. It had different meanings and associations in different cultures, but was still available for all to use and wear.

Since the 1980’s pink has become such an inherently feminine colour that men can’t seem to wear it without making a political statement. This is slowly changing through high street fashion. There’s now some evidence that men who wear pink are seen as more authoritative.  Real men are seemingly proud to sport pink! Women will always find the word ‘Barbie’ not far from people’s description of pink outfits. Now it seems that women of power wearing pink is actually more contentious. Companies and campaigns such as The Pink Ribbon Campaign have received backlash over the ‘pinkification’ of important issues.

Isabella Lenarduzzi CEO of JUMP,  an organisation set up to advance women, witha strong pink branding policy disagrees.

Using pink is daring to make a bold statement. Pink can be powerful, feminine and a business colour too.

Under the constant microscope

Now we’re not strangers to women in the public eye being constantly pulled up on what they wear, whether it be First Lady Michelle Obama in sleeveless dresses, Hillary Clintons’ pantsuits or even Teresa May’s shoes. We know that women are under much more pressure than their male colleagues and judged more harshly. They’ve got to look professional but not dowdy, attractive but not high maintenance, authoritative but not cold. It’s a hard-line to balance.Tweet thisIf they dress in traditional suits they are frumpy and not taken as seriously as men in an identical outfit. If they wear a dress or skirt, they are playing on their femininity to gain support. Now we see that if they wear bright, ‘traditionally girly’ colours then they are mocking political precedence, so maybe there is no place for pink in politics.

Should it matter?

Pink in Politics

Pink in Politics

Perhaps Eagle felt that using pink and a curly signed flag would appeal to female voters. It certainly made her stand out from her male competitors in their blue and grey suits. It was perhaps intended to suggest she’s a soft, pink, nurturing alternative to her rival Jeremy Corbyn.

Some have criticised this as the ‘dumbing down’ of women in politics and the assumption that female voters will be swayed by someone’s clothing choice. When David Cameron told Jeremy Corbyn to get a better suit, his supporters rallied around him, showing how one’s clothes do not affect an ability to lead. They suggested that politicians who focus on such things are seen as shallow and materialistic.

Read: Women pay more with an invisible Pink Tax

So why are we not rallying around Eagle? Why are we not calling out sexist news outlets that focus on a woman’s wardrobe rather than her achievements? I believe that all people in power should be able to wear what they want, in whatever colour they want. We should stop allowing ourselves to be distracted by how they look and focus instead on how they act. Only then will women in politics be taken more seriously and not reduced to coat hangers, unlike their male rivals.

Many people don’t start thinking about their careers until there is a problem. So take a few moments when you are relaxed, to understand what is important to you.  Have our Career Reflections Worksheets delivered right into your in-box.  Print them out in the old school way or keep them open on your phone. Use them as a guide to give your thoughts some structure.

Invest some time in yourself! Don’t wait until it’s too late!


3Plus, Culture, Gender Balance, Professional Image and Fashion, Workplace
Esther Myers
Esther Myers
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Esther Myers is a Drama graduate who teaches children with disabilities and is heavily involved in women’s rights movements. She lives in London but often travels back to Yorkshire to see family and friends. She enjoys going to the theatre, being involved in feminist forums and Motown music. She works in a pub part time and wants to write about work and online issues facing modern women, as well as about intersectional issues.

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