Pretty In Passenger-Seat Pink: Why Are Women In Power-Adjacent Positions Flocking Toward the Feminine Hue?
In the past few days, an interesting trend has emerged among women in power-adjacent positions: a penchant for pale pink.
On Monday, Melania Trump and Queen Rania of Jordan met at the White House, both clad in subdued cocktail looks—Melania’s a blush Proenza Schouler wrap dress, and Rania’s a delicate, ultra-pale pink blouse paired with a set of ballet slipper-colored Adeam wide leg trousers.
Seemingly picking up what the Queen and First Lady were throwing down, Meghan Markle attended an event at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday in a pale blush bateau neck Prada dress—the third in a line of pale pink looks she’s worn since marrying into the royal family just over one month ago.
The very next day, Queen Letizia of Spain stepped out in a color block shirtdress with a pale pink bodice.
In early July, Melania showcased her approval of this shade once more, stepping out with a "Make America Great Again" cap-clad Donald in a Passenger-Seat Pink sweater and her signature oversize shades.
The color has become so prevalent, so ubiquitous particularly among women who are married to men in positions of power that we've given it a new name: passenger-seat pink.
Interestingly, the same admiration for the hue does not seem to extend to women who hold positions of power themselves. Queen Elizabeth, for example, rarely leaves the palace without brightening the whole Northern Hemisphere. Her sartorial palette is bold, and for good reason—she wants everyone to know they’re looking at the Queen.
As for fellow rainbow pioneers Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, and even political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the reason for their very bold color choices is likely similar to the Queen’s—they want to be seen, noticed and respected—but additionally, they have to pop within the world of politics, which has long been a boys' club, a sea of navy, gray and black suits.
Color expert Elaine Ryan spoke with InStyle about the emergence of passenger-seat pink, explaining that the preference for the feminine hue may act as a subtle assurance that traditional power dynamics are still in place—especially when the woman is in a public-facing position not by explicit choice, but by marriage. “In this time, when women are being seen by some as usurping the power from men, pink sends the message of non-threatening, feminine, and 'taking a back seat,'" she told us.
Conversely, “bright, bold colors on a woman who holds a powerful position speaks not only of her feminine authority, but also of her need for 'center stage.’”
"Women are feminine, empathic and sensitive," extrapolated Dawnn Karen, Founder of the Fashion Psychology Institute. "Wearing softer hues will denote this and serve as a hindrance whereby these women would be perceived on the extreme as too feminine."
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She added that the wearer of the color may also be perceived as "incapable of being all of the qualities associated with being powerful—assertive, determined and domineering," whereas, "bolder hues serve as a mechanism to balance the perception of what it means to be a woman."
Of course, the predilection toward pale shades among leaders' wives isn't a product of this week (or this spring 2018 fashion season) alone. Passenger-seat pink has been a regal and political go-to for decades, dating back to the 1950s when First Lady Mamie Eisenhower's adoration of the color sparked a trend in fashion (and housewares), inspiring the term "First Lady" or "Mamie" pink.
Mamie's successor, Jackie Kennedy, borrowed the former FLOTUS's color from time to time, as did Princess Diana in her years married to Prince Charles.
Considering the recent uproar over Melania Trump’s “I really don’t care, do u?” jacket, it makes sense that the First Lady is toning down her statement-making flair. But while the parka was abhorrent, at least when she was making capital F fashion statements in the form of fancy hats and capes, it felt like she was expressing some kind of agency.
Markle, too, appears to be forsaking both her typical style tendencies and personal beliefs in order to conform to palace norms—trading her deeper hues and bold cuts for the pastel frocks favored by the royal family.
For such a quiet color, passenger-seat pink has certainly heralded quite the move toward political, traditional, and sartorial conformity.