The Guy Who Wore the Same Clothes as His Wife for 35 Years Also Designed the Pink Garden Flamingo

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Leominster Champ

The Guardian has the best article ever about relationships. It was written by one Nancy Featherstone, who describes how she and her husband, Donald, have been wearing matching outfits for the last 35 YEARS.

But as if that was not enough (which it was), we discover that Donald Featherstone created the pink garden flamingo!!! Nancy Featherstone writes:

If we need a new outfit, we go to the fabric shop together and pick out something we both like. Donald is an artist - he designed the now iconic pink plastic flamingos you see in gardens - so has an excellent eye for colour and is comfortable wearing distinctive designs. Whenever I see flamingo fabric, I buy some and make us an outfit; we now have more than 40 in their own special closet.

Don't believe Nancy? Well, check out that image at the top of the post. That's the two of them in the local Leominster, Massachusetts newspaper in matching pink flamingo shirts.

Featherstone, in fact, figures into a classic essay brought to my attention by Eric Gibbons called "The Plastic Pink Flamingo: A Natural History," which describes in delightful and rich detail the cultural context that made the garden flamingo meaningful.

Here's just a taste of that glorious essay, which deserves new life now that we know the full extent of Donald Featherstone's eccentricity:

When the pink flamingo splashed into the fifties market, it staked two major claims to boldness. First, it was a flamingo. Since the 1930s, vacationing Americans had been flocking to Florida and returning home with flamingo souvenirs. In the 1910s and 1920s, Miami Beach's first grand hotel, the Flamingo, had made the bird synonymous with wealth and pizzazz. After a 1926 hurricane leveled Millionaire's Row, developers built hundreds of more modest hotels to cater to an eager middle class served by new train lines - and in South Beach, especially, architects employed the playful Art Deco style, replete with bright pinks and flamingo motifs.

This was a little ironic, since Americans had hunted flamingos to extinction in Florida in the late 1800s, for plumes and meat. But no matter. In the 1950s, the new inters tates would draw working-class tourists down, too. Back in New Jersey, the Union Products flamingo inscribed one's lawn emphatically with Florida's cachet of leisure and extravagance The bird acquired an extra fillip of boldness, too, from the direction of Las Vegas - the flamboyant oasis of instant riches that the gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel had conjured from the desert in 1946 with his Flamingo Hotel. Anyone who has seen Las Vegas knows that a flamingo stands out in a desert even more strikingly than on a lawn. In the 1950s, namesake Flamingo motels, restaurants, and lounges cropped up across the country like a line of semiotic sprouts.

And the flamingo was pink - a second and commensurate claim to boldness. The plastics industries of the fifties favored flashy colors, which Tom Wolfe called "the new electrochemical pastels of the Florida littoral: tangerine, broiling magenta, livid pink, incarnadine, fuchsia demure, Congo ruby, methyl green." The hues were forward-looking rather than old-fashioned, just right for a generation, raised in the Depression, that was ready to celebrate its new affluence. And as Karal Ann Marling has written, the "sassy pinks" were "the hottest color of the decade." Washing machines, cars, and kitchen counters proliferated in passion pink, sunset pink, and Bermuda pink. In 1956, right after he signed his first recording contract, Elvis Presley bought a pink Cadillac.

Why, after all, call the birds "pink flamingos" - as if they could be blue or green? The plastic flamingo is a hotter pink than a real flamingo, and even a real flamingo is brighter than anything else around it.

I'm not a religious man, but I'm going to pray that a documentary filmmaker has some spare time to spend with the Featherstones. It'd be the best romantic comedy since Herb and Dorothy.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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