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Clever’s Guide to Color Trends Through the Decades | Architectural Digest


“Muted tones represented a turn back to nature and a rejection of the synthetics from the 1950s and ’60s,” she further explains. “These hues are deeply comforting, which could be seen as a response to the recession, the oil crisis, and the end of the Vietnam War. In addition, more attention was given to the environmental movement, which makes sense given this palette’s more natural connotations. Brown often ties to a sense of reliability and stability, while gold is associated with illumination, and dark orange represents warmth.”

The 1980s didn’t see a neon or primary bright it didn’t wholeheartedly embrace.

Illustration by Sydney Hirsch

1980s: Primarily bright

After we were done hibernating in the earth tones of the 1970s, we looked toward brights and primaries to wake us back up in the 1980s. Cobalt blue, lacquer red, and sunflower yellow dominated over white backgrounds, while neon pinks, teals, and purples glowed in the dark, glossing over any negativity with a consumer-ready optimism.

“More than anything else, in the ’80s, we are seeing a huge boom of consumerism, really guided in by the onslaught of new TV programming,” says the designer Sophie Collé. “Americans especially are spending money like never before. We see bright colors creep into TV, sports programming, and advertisements. We also see bright colors on TV echoed in real life, and vice versa. I think bright colors can definitely be a shield from a lot of sad and scary things happening in the world! In general, design thrives on income inequality, and colorful or not, these trends have a way of hiding real issues going on in society.”

Smiley, sunny yellows typified the ’90s and 2000s.

Illustration by Sydney Hirsch

1990s and 2000s: And it was all yellow

The interior colors of the 1990s and 2000s varied widely. Some of them went for understated, relaxing neutrals, while others unapologetically played with bright, energetic hues. Yellow, in particular, was especially emblematic of the sunshiny optimism and excitement for the future that came to a head at the start of the new millennium. Since then, people have shied away from painting their walls such an assertive hue.


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