Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In the Pink...Mamie Pink, That Is

When I was high school there was this girl a couple of years older than me who wore pink every chance she got. We were required to wear school uniforms, but had the choice of adding jewelry and scarves in order to feed the need to be unique and different.

I threw my identity out for others to see by using an antique men’s collar bar to pin various handkerchiefs to the lapel of my “required” navy blazer. I alternated between a handkerchief my mother had brought back from a trip to the Caribbean and one that belonged to my great grandmother I had found languishing in a drawer at my grandfather’s.

But this acquaintance of mine absolutely adored pink…..she accessorized with all things pink that she could get away with and constantly announced to anyone, much like Shelby Eatenton in the movie Steel Magnolias, that “pink was her signature color.”

Unfortunately my friend and even the character of Shelby Eatenton can’t exactly corner the market on credit regarding the signature pink line because a former First Lady has that honor.

Mamie Eisenhower.

Mrs. Eisenhower was the poster child for the perfect 1950s wife and mother. She made a real pretty picture, and American women loved her and wanted to be her. One source describes her as a soap opera lover who also played scrabble. She served TV dinners, wore noisy charm bracelets, and enjoyed listening to Lawrence Welk. She proudly heralded her role as a traditional housewife by saying, “Ike runs the country. I turn the pork chops.”

Actually….she had people who turned her pork chops, but that is just a minor detail that most American women adored about her. They also adored the fact that Mamie firmly believed that real ladies once they reached the all important 50-year mark should never leave their bedrooms until after twelve noon. In fact, a Gallup Poll in 1969 determined that Mamie Eisenhower was the most admired woman in the world.

Mrs. Eisenhower loved pink mainly because it was her color. She looked good in pink, so she simply surrounded herself with the color. Her first inaugural gown included 2,000 pink rhinestones and her bedroom was always pink.

Can you imagine? Dwight D. Eisenhower…the hardened soldier he was…..the tough military man…..IKE….sleeping in a pink room?

He must have loved Mamie very much. In fact, he sent her pink flowers every day.

Prior to being the perfect First Lady, Mamie was the perfect military wife having set up approximately 33 homes at various duty stations through the years. She performed those moves herself with exact military precision. To make things easier and to make sure her new home always matched her furniture and decorative items Mamie carried around three sticks with her dipped in the colors green, pale pink, and a shade of cream. Once she arrived at the new home she would employ painters to transform the rooms to match her belongings including that signature pink.

Her move to the White House was no different. In fact, so much pink was used in the private living quarters that the press took to calling the White House “the pink palace”.

The color was dubbed “Mamie Pink” and quickly caught on across the country and thousands of homes were redecorated or were built with pink bathrooms. I always wondered why pink just seemed to be the prevalent color for bathrooms in homes I entered growing up that were built in the 1950s or early 60s. This website explains that it was quite a trend in décor and in clothing for women since everyone wanted to be like Mamie.

Once they retired to their first real home in Gettysburg after living in the White House Mamie once again covered the house in pink including the master bedroom and her bath. President Eisenhower lucked out with green as his bathroom color per the website ....Save the Pink Bathrooms. I adore the fact that they both had separate bathrooms.

Using pink so extensively wasn’t the only way Mamie put her special mark on the White House. She decorated lavishly for the Christmas holidays.

Mamie pink has endured through the years to the point that the Hoover presidential library honored her in their display “Christmas at the White House” with a tree all decked out in pink you can see online.

Mrs. Eisenhower loved pink mainly because it was her color. She looked good in pink, so she simply surrounded herself with the color. Her first inaugural gown included 2,000 pink rhinestones and her bedroom was always pink.

Can you imagine? Dwight D. Eisenhower…the hardened soldier he was…..the tough military man…..IKE….sleeping in a pink room?

He must have loved Mamie very much. In fact, he sent her pink flowers every day.

Prior to being the perfect First Lady, Mamie was the perfect military wife having set up approximately 33 homes at various duty stations through the years. She performed those moves herself with exact military precision. To make things easier and to make sure her new home always matched her furniture and decorative items Mamie carried around three sticks with her dipped in the colors green, pale pink, and a shade of cream. Once she arrived at the new home she would employ painters to transform the rooms to match her belongings including that signature pink.

Her move to the White House was no different. In fact, so much pink was used in the private living quarters that the press took to calling the White House “the pink palace”.

The color was dubbed “Mamie Pink” and quickly caught on across the country and thousands of homes were redecorated or were built with pink bathrooms. I always wondered why pink just seemed to be the prevalent color for bathrooms in homes I entered growing up that were built in the 1950s or early 60s. This website explains that it was quite a trend in décor and in clothing for women since everyone wanted to be like Mamie.

Once they retired to their first real home in Gettysburg after living in the White House Mamie once again covered the house in pink including the master bedroom and her bath. President Eisenhower lucked out with green as his bathroom color per the website ....Save the Pink Bathrooms. I adore the fact that they both had separate bathrooms.

Using pink so extensively wasn’t the only way Mamie put her special mark on the White House. She decorated lavishly for the Christmas holidays.

Mamie pink has endured through the years to the point that the Hoover presidential library honored her in their display “Christmas at the White House” with a tree all decked out in pink you can see online.
While there is no proof that Mamie used her signature color on any of the White House Christmas trees the obituary for the White House florist during that time indicates….. In 1958 he helped Mrs. Eisenhower decorate 27 trees with electric candle lights, glass balls and loads of tinsel….though a new book by Jennifer B. Pickens titled Christmas at the White House indicates 26 trees. Perhaps Ms. Pickens wasn’t counting the tree Mamie had in the laundry room. While the Hoover Library I referenced above did include a pink Christmas tree to honor Mrs. Eisenhower, I have found no proof that any of the 27 trees she used in the White House during the holiday season were decked out in her signature “Mamie Pink”.

The main Christmas party for staff usually numbered around 500 as it included house staff as well as political staff. Mrs. Eisenhower would purchase the gifts for each person at local department stores. Some gifts included actually artwork completed by President Eisenhower, an accomplished painter.

The Eisenhowers began the official custom of the White House Christmas card in 1953, and six of President Eisenhower’s own paintings were used as Christmas gifts and as covers for personal Christmas cards. One year the card Ike gave to staffers including a painting of Abraham Lincoln that he completed while he was waiting to hear about the Korean armistice. Staffers received the Lincoln card at a White House holiday party. The website, White House Christmas Cards, provides much more regarding the Eisenhower cards from their personal greetings to the more official White House cards.

1 comment:

franceshunter said...

I never knew that was why pink was one of the "signature colors" of the 1950s. That explains Elvis's pink Cadillac! Thanks for another terrific post. It was truly a different world back then. I wonder how Mamie Eisenhower would be received by the public today ...