ROME — When Inspector Luca Sita picked up two new N95 masks at his police station in Ferrara in central Italy on Thursday, he was thrown for a loop: One mask was white, and the other was pink.
Mr. Sita works in plainclothes, so he was more perplexed than vexed, but he immediately thought of his colleagues working the streets and in squad cars who had to intervene in various situations, including making arrests.
“Institutionally,” he said, wearing a pink mask “is a bad look.”
The pink in itself was not offensive, he said: A mask of any color other than white, black or blue, which match the national police uniform, would have been just as unacceptable.
“Green, orange — any lively color would have been unwearable,” he said.
The Sindacato Autonomo di Polizia, a trade union, immediately fired off a missive to Lamberto Giannini, Italy’s police chief, expressing “perplexity” that pink N95 masks had been sent to a few police stations in various regions.
The letter cited a 2019 memo from the police chief of the time that exhorted officers to “avoid wearing noncompliant garments that could prejudice the decorum of the institution.”
The police “must give the appearance of authority and efficiency, which is why we thought it opportune to raise the question,” Stefano Paoloni, the union’s secretary-general, said in a telephone interview.
“It’s not a prejudice against the color,” he added, but rather a question of decorum.
Italians took to social media to joke about Pink Panthers, gift horses and fragile masculinity.
It remained unclear on Friday where the masks had come from. The Interior Ministry, which oversees the state police, declined to comment.
The office of the commissioner for the coronavirus emergency, which supplies and distributes medical and personal protection devices, declined to comment.
“I hope that after we raised our concerns there will be an attempt to distribute more sober colors,” Mr. Paoloni said.
Teresa Bellanova, the deputy infrastructure minister, said on Twitter that she saw nothing wrong with having officers wearing colored masks. “The respect for uniforms is not given by colors,” she said, “but by how the men and women who wear those uniforms behave and work.”