Lola (from Kinky Boots) perhaps has the best line when it comes to the color red. It is the color of desire, and thus, love. Red is the shade of choice for a restaurant's interior because it stimulates the customer's appetite. There's still an urban legend that goes around saying red cars get ticketed more often than cars in other colors.
Back in the seventeenth century, one of the original red dyes came from an insect called cochineal, a little bug that now lives mainly in Peru and the Canary Islands.
When the Spaniards invaded Mexico in the 16th century, they saw the Aztecs had vibrant fabrics dyed in red, so the European invaders stole the Aztec's discovery of the cochineals. At that time, there had already been other sources of red dyes, but nothing was as pigmented or able to produce red hues that stayed longer on textiles.
The Spaniards harvested the bugs, dried them, and sent them to Europe. For a long time, these bugs were one of the best-kept secrets in the dye industry because the European importers couldn't tell if the pellets they received were berries, bugs, or minerals, and the Spaniards were tight-lipped about how they procured them.
DID YOU KNOW? The red dye in your food and or cosmetics may have come from dried cochineals. The demand for natural ingredients has resurrected the need to harvest the cochineal bugs, and apparently the dye from cochineals is safe enough to put near the eyes. Check the product's ingredients. If they include carmine, cochineal extract, or natural red 4, then that product was made using cochineal bugs. But not to worry, vibrant-red sweet potatoes are now used to replace the bugs as a source of red dye.
In the sixteenth century, the cost of red dye was so high that only the rich and well-connected could afford it.
One of the most famous fans of red was Louis XIV. Not only did he wear garments in red, but he also painted his heels scarlet. According to historian Philip Mansel, the gesture of painting heels meant that the nobles never dirtied their shoes, and that the red color meant the wearer was "always ready to crush the enemies of the state at their feet."
Mind you, this is the same Louis XIV who famously said, "It is legal because I wish it."
DID YOU KNOW? Although the current pope, Pope Francis, has chosen to wear black shoes, traditionally, popes had always worn red papal shoes. The red shoes symbolize Jesus Christ's blood when he was whipped on his way to being crucified, and of course, when his hands and feet were pierced on the cross. Many popes decided to forego this tradition, but Pope Benedict XVI restored the use of the red papal shoes.
It was only in 1869 when the synthetic red dye Alizarin was discovered. This dye was the first natural dye to be produced synthetically (in nature, this type of red dye was extracted from madder root). And thus the cochineal industry was upended.
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Another shade of red that's just as popular, is pink. Nowadays, pink is not just a girl's color, it's a girlie girl's color. This is evident in Barbie's hot pink brand color and the iconic pussyhats (initiated by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman) that first made their mass appearance in the US' 2017 Women's March.
However, this wasn't the case in the mid-1700s. in Europe, both male and female aristocrats wore pink because it was considered a luxurious color that symbolized wealth, class, and privilege. In fact, Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's chief mistress, loved pink so much that in 1757, the French porcelain manufacturer, Sèvres, came up with a new shade of pink called Rose Pompadour.
Back in those days, children of both sexes were dressed in white, and pink was assigned to boys because it was thought to be close to red, a color associated with masculinity, and had military undertones.
In the mid 19th century, men started wearing darker tones, leaving pastels to the women, and thus pink became a feminine color. This feminization was also attributed in part to the color's proximity to the naked female body.
DID YOU KNOW? The Nazis used pink in their coding system. Gay men in concentration camps had to wear a large pink triangle, intended as a badge of shame. (Homosexuality was considered a sexual offence and so gay men were lumped together with rapists and pedophiles, who also wore pink triangle badges.)
And finally, In 1950s postwar America, pink has generally been associated with girls, whilst blue with boys.
"Society decides what colors mean," said Valerie Steele, editor of the book Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color, and director of The Museum at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. "When that particular divide was made, it reinforced the perception of pink as a frivolous, because of its association with women, who have been traditionally looked down upon."
Yep, nothing beats good ol' misogyny.
Although misogyny, sexism, and gender inequity still run rampant (isn't it comforting how some people still cling to tradition, no matter how wrong it is?), the color pink more or less has been reclaimed.
The pink triangle has now become a powerful symbol of gay pride. Rihanna came up with a pink Fenty x Puma collection that features items for men (because real men wear pink, and short shorts). Pink is punk, as declared by The Ramones and The Clash.