IN THE LATE 1970s, a researcher named Alexander Schauss discovered something interesting about the color pink. It was a very specific color of pink—a Pepto, bubblegum shade created by mixing a gallon of white latex paint with a pint of red semi-gloss outdoor paint. He was the director of life sciences at the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Washington, and deeply interested in the work of psychiatrist Max Luscher, who hypothesized that a person’s color preference hinted at their emotional state. Schauss was curious if the flip side of that hypothesis was true: Could looking at certain hues encourage physiological and emotional changes?
After years of (somewhat questionable) research, Schauss suggested that this very specific shade of pink could slow a test subject’s heart rate and even reduce a propensity for aggressive, violent behavior. He believed the color, called Baker-Miller pink, had a calming effect akin to what you might experience during yoga or meditation. How a color might do this is still debated. “I think it’s based on associations rather than physiology,” says NYU psychologist Adam Alter, who wrote a book, Drunk Tank Pink, that examines this phenomenon. “I’m open to being convinced otherwise, I just haven’t been yet.”
That debate aside, people have glommed onto the idea, in part because it’s alluring to think a color could change one’s behavior or state of mind. It’s particularly attractive to designers in the sports world constantly seeking colors and materials that might give athletes even the tiniest advantage. A new sportswear startup called Vollebak uses Schauss’ research as the basis for a complex hoodie called, appropriately, Miller-Baker Pink. It’s defining feature is a mesh visor that casts everything in a soft pink hue, something Vollebak claims provides an increased state of calm.
Steve and Nick Tidball, twin brothers who are advertising creative directors and avid adventure sports athletes, started the company. After more than a decade competing in extreme sports, they say they’ve found few brands using smart design to intelligently address the problems they often faced. “A lot of brands are obsessed with what’s the new green or what’s the latest material that athletes would like to wear,” says Steve Tidball. “We approached it from what do I as an athlete need?”
What they as athletes needed was a way of calming their nerves the night before a big event. Tidball says they began by studying the parasympathetic nervous system, a division of the autonomic nervous system responsible for promoting states of rest in the body. The hoodie borders on obsessive in its dedication to designing for relaxation. The brothers knew they wanted to incorporate Schauss’ color theory to reduce heart rate, so they designed a hoodie with a mesh visor that gives a pink tint to everything you look at. (Relaxation bonus: The hoodie is like your own personal cave; you can see out at 80 percent visibility, but no one can see in.) But that’s only one part of the problem. “We started to think, how can design influence the way you breathe?” Tidball recalls. They designed the mesh visor so it naturally encouraged athletes to breath through the nose (there are small holes around the mouth to let air out), which ultimately slows down the rate of respiration. And they retooled the hoodie’s pockets so that when an athlete sticks his or her arms into the holes, they’re cradled like a broken arm in a sling. “Essentially it’s like wearing a straight jacket,” he says. The idea is to discourage the wearer from exerting any more energy than absolutely necessary.
There’s no doubt the hoodie was an intensely considered design challenge, and at $330, that effort shows. The price may be worth it if you’re the type who routinely climbs mountains or runs endurance races, but we think it sounds like a pretty good accessory for taking an afternoon nap, too.