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Saturday, 11 November 2006



The Legend of Tailor Pink

By Jim Reeds
Pink can mean the red coat worn in fox hunting (a.k.a. "riding to hounds"). One theory about the origin of this meaning refers to a tailor named Pink (or Pinke, or Pinque). I am interested in establishing the truth or falsity of this theory, which I call The Legend of Tailor Pink.

What follows is a list of essentially all discussions of this point that I have found in print. If you can supply any information on the subject, please let me know, by email
Oxford English Dictionary, 1933 (Neutral)
To begin with, the OED gives many examples from the 1800's of the use of the fox hunting sense of "pink." Note that the OED does not mention the Tailor Pink story.
6. Scarlet when worn by fox-hunters; a scarlet hunting coat, or the cloth of which it is made. 1834 DISRAELI Corr. w. Sister 15 Feb., Although not in pink, [I] was the best mounted man in the field. 1860 R. E. WARBURTON Hunt. Songs 1. (1883) 143 A sect..Who blindly follow, clad in coats of pink, A beast whose nature is to run and stink. 1861 HUGHES Tom Brown at Oxf. They are the hunting set, and come in with pea-coats over their pinks. 1889 Daily News 12 nov. 5/2 Scarlet, conventionally known as 'pink', will, he trusts, last as long as fox-hunting. 1900 Ibid. 24 Feb. 6/7 A short coat in hunting pink.
b. transf. A man in 'pink'; a fox-hunter.
1828 Sporting Mag. XXI. 323. Even in the strictest College a pink could unmolested walk across the Court. 1849 SHAIRP, in W. Knight Shairp & Friends (1888) 44, I see the pinks flocking out to the 'meets'. 1869 E. FARMER Scrap Bk. (ed. 6) 91 Pinks call for their second [horse] to finish the run.
2. Applied to the colour of a hunting-coat; see A.6.
1857 TROLLOPE Barchester T. xxii, He.. could not be persuaded to take his pink coat out of the press, or his hunters out of the stable.
Anole Hunter, 1929 (Pro)
Anole Hunter (pseud. for Everett Lake Crawford), Let's ride to hounds (Derrydale Press, New York, 1929), page 64:
For as soon as you don pink (really scarlet but called pink for a tailor who was famous for his hunting toggery) you are a marked man.
Mureau and Evans, 1961 (Pro)
Charles Mureau and David Sandford Evans, The Pink Coat, or The Why's and Wherefore's of Fox Hunting (Hill'n Dale Press, Calabasis, California, 1961), page 31:
The reason for the "Pink" coat is that a tailor by the name of Pink was the original designer and maker.
Johnston, 1962 (Pro)
Lyle T. Johnston, 1962 Collier's Encyclopedia article on Foxhunting:
The word "pink" does not refer to the color of the coat but is a term applied to the state of being formally attired for hunting. It is thought to have had its origin in a tailor by the name of Pink who, in the old days, is supposed to have made the most perfect attire for hunting.
Self, 1963 (Pro)
Margaret Cabell Self, The Complete Book of Horses & Ponies (McGraw Hill, New York, 1963), page 277, has a variant spelling:
These coats are called "pink" coats, after a famous tailor named Pinke.
And, in a 1963 edition of a work first published in 1949 (the earlier edition of which I have not seen), The Horseman's Encyclopedia (A. S. Barnes and Company, New York, 1963), page 261:
These are commonly called "pink" but not because of their color. A famous London tailor named "Pink" or "Pinke" gave his name to the hunting coat and they have been called "pinks" ever since.
Bloodgood and Santini, 1964 (Anti)
The entry for "pink" in The Horseman's Dictionary compiled by Lida Fleitman Bloodgood and Piero Santini, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1964, page 150:
Etymology: Variously ascribed to the 'pink' colour of a faded old hunting coat or, without any basis of fact, to the supposed name of a hunting tailer, called 'Mr. Pink.'
Longrigg, 1975 (Anti)
Roger Longrigg, The History of Foxhunting, Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., New York, 1975. On page 119:
Red was known sometimes as red, usually as scarlet, and very occasionally as pink. (Cook, in 1826, is one of the first to refer to pink; he does so once or twice as a change from scarlet; this is true of 'Nimrod' into the 1840s, Surtees into the 1860s, Sidney into the 1870s. Scarlet remained the normal word into the last quarter of the century. The origin of 'pink' is obscure enough; its elevation into shibboleth is baffling. There was no leading tailor of the name -- to dispose of a frequent explanation -- in London or any hunting centre.)
In a letter dated 22 April 1993, Longrigg expands on the last two sentences: use of "pink" in speech has been a snobby social class marker (similar to the ones given in Mitford's Noblesse Oblige but for a slightly different social stratum). "Tailoring is a trade as well documented as cabinet making," and if there were a tailor Pink, Longrigg's search would have turned up some documentary record. Bryant, 1992 (Pro)
Bonnie Bryant, Snow Ride (Bantam, New York, 1992) has another variant spelling:
"Did you know that's not actually pink?" Carole asked. "Sure, they're red," Stevie said. "I still don't know why they're called pink, though."
"It's P-i-n-q-u-e," Carole said, spelling it out. "It doesn't have anything to do with the color. Pinque was the tailor who designed it."
According to a letter dated 6 August 1993, Bryant learned the story -- including spelling -- by word of mouth in about 1959 or 1960.
A number of clothing retailers in both England and America repeat the Tailor Pink story in their advertising literature. None has been able to supply any evidence for the story.
Problems with the Tailor Pink story
If there was a tailor Pink (or Pinke or Pinque), what was the street address of his place of business? When was he born, when did he die, where is he buried?
Why is there almost a century's gap between the first use of the word "pink" for the color of a red hunting coat and the first appearance of the tailor Pink story? Why did the tailor Pink story appear in America decades before it appeared in England? And why does the word "pink" appear in lower case (at least in the 19th century) when eponymous words such as "Wellington," "Blücher," "Stetson," "Levi's" and so on are usually capitalized in English?
Here are some of the theories of the origin of "pink" and the tailor Pink story that I have run across or have invented:
  1. The coats are called pink because they were invented by tailor Pink.
    Maybe the tailor's given name, or nickname, was Pink.
  2. Transference of meaning from "pink" as meaning fashionable dandy, common in the first decades of the 1800's.
  3. Transference of meaning from "pink" meaning pinnacle or excellent extreme, as in "pink of health" or "pink of courtesy."
  4. After a season's use, a scarlet coat fades to pink.
  5. During rain, a scarlet coat's dye washes out to pink.
  6. In the U.S. Army, a certain kind of officers' dress uniform is called "pink"; in the British army in the 18th and 19th centuries uniform coats were scarlet; maybe there is some connection between these facts and with pink hunting coats?
  7. "Pink" was useful as a shibboleth, a social class marker, and hence persisted in use longer than most slang words.
  8. The tailor Pink story was attractive as a "logical" explanation to those stung by the accusation that "pink" was used as a shibboleth.
  9. There was a tailor Pink, a character in a novel or play, given -- following a practice common in Victorian humorous writing -- an occupational surname, similar to Trollope's Dr Fillgrave or Surtees's Peter Leather, etc. Somewhere along the line people forgot he was fictional.
Of the above, I lean toward theories 2, 3, 7, 8, and 9.
Many thanks to these people, who have kindly helped me in my search for information: Bonnie Bryant, Richard D. Carreño, Kristine Carroll, Andy Clark, John B. Glass, A. H. B. Hart, Denise Hughes, Roger Longrigg, John A. V. C. McGrath, Alexander Mackay-Smith, James Mullen, Charles A. Mureau, Aryk Nusbacher, Hilarie Orman, Sarah Pallas, J. Peterman, Diane Reichard, Catherine Rogers, Laura Rose, Brian Scearce, Matt Simpson, David Stockton, and Peter Winants.