From Drum covers to a Gen Z hue – A brief history and future of yellow

Colour theory is a science and colour trends are some of the most difficult to identify, taking anything from 10 years for larger items such as motor vehicles and easily two to three years for fashion.

Why? Colour plays an intrinsic and complex role in our lives. With links to our earliest memory with a specific colour, to constructs of identity, culture, history and emotions – colours can remind us of a place, a time of year, or our favorite traditions, and can also shape the way we feel.

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A colour’s meaning ebbs, flows and alters, with a delicate golden thread of commonality linking all elements and humanities.

Yellow has one of the richest colour history, tracing back to the origin of humanity itself. As an alternative representation of gold, it was incorporated into art and has been used as a cost effective replacement in many important historical pieces used to shape cultural and art history.

At risk of over-analysis, Vincent van Gogh is one of the few artists who is well known for his use of yellow, and his discussed mental health struggles make for an interesting dark, psychological link to the tone. As troubled as he was gifted, Van Gogh was rumoured to have actually eaten yellow paint in a bid to feel what happiness could be like.

Sunflowers, 1889, Vincent van Gogh

Closer to home, yellow marks history and culture with its close representation of gold being a colour favoured and reserved to people of high rank in many African nations, because of its close resemblance to gold, which is universally associated with money, quality and success.

It pops strongly in the iconic imagery of Drum magazines of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and within the iconic photographs that illustrate this era – the young Nelson Mandela in a smart suit and determination on a still-smiling face, Dolly Rathebe in a yellow two-piece swimsuit on what seems to be a beachside dune (although is actually a mine dump), Miriam Makeba in a skin-tight, yellow, dress designed by Eduan Naude.

It is difficult to deny the colour’s impact and message of Dolly Rathebe and Miriam Makeba’s covers, which honoured strong black females and positioned them as beautiful and desirable in a time that denied the essence, power and courage of a black woman speaking or singing her mind, thoughts and beliefs.

Today, yellow is known for its duality in both cheery and cautious references. And while there is no hard science to prove that wearing bright clothing can lift your mood, it’s enjoying such popularity for a reason.

We associate yellow with sunshine, joy and confidence. It’s dressing for happiness and optimism – goodness knows in the aftermath of 2016 and 2017, we need it.

A self-portrait by Art Hoe co-founder Mars. (Source)

This year, the yellow palettes offer a sense of warmth and honesty, a strong link to the macro trend for 2018; a time that the world is challenged with distrust due to the current climate dictated by the Trump presidency, Brexit and our own political/economical landscape. Transparency has become fundamental in communicating with consumers and general public.

The future of yellow is based on the future of humanity, a key hue for 2018 — Gen Z Yellow — is positioning itself as substantially cooler than its predecessor, Millennial Pink. As the oldest of Gen Z, the newest consumers head for varsity and the job market their values, attributes and attitude informing the fashion industry.

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Erika Woelfel explains, Behr Paint colour expert, “Gen Z is growing up — or, as they might say, ‘glowing up.’ In contrast to millennials’ nostalgic pink, yellow represents vitality and ambition, traits we’re seeing in this upcoming generation of tastemakers.”

Gen Z Yellow isn’t limited to one specific shade; it encompasses a whole range of shades from buttercream to melted butter and beyond.

In 2018, yellow remains embedded in the emotions, desires all the while existing in construct of a contemporary culture, the time of defining new identities, the rewriting the historical associations and altering the semiotics of yellow for future observers.

From Margiela runway show in Paris in January. Source

Nicola Cooper is a senior trend analyst and cultural strategist

*This post was made possible by adicolor

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