ISkincare packaging, designer runways and nstagram-famous red carpet dresses have gone from millennial pink, the hue that captivated and pampered “girlbosses” until the late 2010s. that, make way for the yellow of Gen Z. But can a generation famous for its fractured individualism really unite behind the color of duct tape?
Gen Z yellow is similar to one of Pantone’s colors of the year for 2021, “illuminating,” a dose of canary meant to herald brighter post-pandemic days. So it makes sense that Spring 2023 runways such as Alexander McQueen and Moschino feature the color. (Although the history of Gen Z yellow dates back to 2017, when writer Haley Nahman coined it in an essay on the now-defunct blog Man Repeller.)
Still, you won’t find Gen Z yellow infiltrating every facet of design the way millennial pink once did. Blame it on the rather “daring” shade, as the Business of Fashion puts it euphemistically. Millennial pink has won over fans for its soothing nature; its successor is less pleasant to look at. Gen Z’s “individualistic attitudes” don’t do their namesake color any favors either; young people prefer to brag about their own unique style, not follow trends.
Véronique Hyland is the Fashion Editor of Elle magazine and the author of Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink. She’s also the first person to put “millennial” in front of pink for a 2016 piece in the Cup – which she now has some regrets about. She doesn’t buy into the idea that yellow is the official color of Gen Z — or that young people need an official color.
“It looks like a manufactured marketing gimmick to me,” Hyland told the Guardian. Of course, the same could be said for millennial pink, though Hyland notes the color was in the ether. before brands have taken over. “I think there’s been a push for different colors of Gen Z to happen – à la ‘fetch’ of Mean Girls – which I’ve seen since at least 2017, but it hasn’t reached the same kind of ubiquity,” she said.
Millennial pink flourished in a sense because its namesake generation wanted to fit in; Hyland doesn’t think Gen Z has the same desire. “Millennials in the 2010s were trying to fit into an existing culture, and Gen Z is more willing to challenge the mainstream culture,” she said. “Even if you look at their response to the climate crisis, there is an understanding of the urgency and the need to be heard without shyness.”
Martin Kesselman, interior designer and owner of high-end New York paint shop Incolour, said he still receives regular inquiries about millennial pink, even seven years after its supposed peak. “It grabs more attention and translates more into interiors than that Gen Z yellow,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard of yellow, but it doesn’t come up as much in conversations.”
Read about Gen Z yellow and you’re sure to learn a few tropes: the color represents hope and optimism, two feelings young people crave in a precarious reality. “It drives excitement, creativity, and stimulation,” Kesselman said.
For Peggy Van Allen, designer and president of trade association Color Marketing Group, this represents an opportunity for branding experts to align their products with customer emotions. “The younger generation is drawn to yellow because of its expressive and hopeful qualities,” she said. “Marketers use color to speak to a consumer who is looking to empower themselves.”
But they also cater to a consumer who knows all those branding tricks. If the yellow Gen Z feels too forced, their target demographic just might avoid it. “When older generations see this popularity and use the color more, Gen Z’s yellow becomes too saturated,” said Nick Kolenda, who studies marketing psychology. “So now Gen Z might need to look into new, uncharted territory when it comes to finding their own shade.”