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Colour Trends Throughout History

Colour trends through the decades.

Last week, I talked a little about colour and how different hues can serve as drivers for specific human behaviours. Today, we’ll examine the hottest colour trends in the past, as well as what’s trending right now in design, fashion, and art.

The image above is one that instantly caught my eye during my research. It’s a breakdown of Crayola colours since the company’s inception in 1903. What started out as a box of eight crayons now holds over 120 colours, as well as special limited edition colours, metallics, gem tones, glow in the dark, pearlescent and more. (A full Crayola colour chart can be found here)


Who decides what’s trending?

With the massive burgeoning of available colours in recent years, how do we begin to analyze and determine which hues are in style and which are passé? Well, thankfully there’s a global authority on everything colour: Pantone. Pantone not only owns the world’s most popular proprietary color matching system, they also facilitate technical colour research and market their choice for Color of the Year annually. Fashion designers, retailers and merchants all faithfully follow this symbolic color selection. As Pantone puts it, the color of the year is “a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our global culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude”.


Color by the decade

Based on Pantone’s color of the year selection, as well as more organic color trends, here’s a nifty list of what colors were popular during each decade, starting with the 1900s:


  • The New Era
  • Royal families still sat at the top of well-defined social hierarchies in most Old World countries
  • Elaborate drapery, lace and pleats were modest and correct, pastel colors of Edwardian era were gently seductive
  • Unfussy and more liberated approach to life
  • The Fauves (‘Beasts’) wildly explore unnatural color in the first art revolution of the 21st century
  • A radical use of unnatural colors that depart from tradition



  • Changes and challenges: WWI
  • Colors of the day were more sensible and functional (vanity seemed inappropriate)
  • Optimism, idealism, and sensuality
  • Toy empires: Raggedy Ann and the Erector Set reflect the nascent commercialism of the century
  • WWI: the influence of military uniforms and of flag-waving patriotism, the corn poppy
  • Cubism pushes art further into the twentieth century



  • Modern Ways : The roaring 20s
  • Cocktails. laughter, travel, sensuality
  • Social mores were deeply challenged, and the hegemony of the white male weakened
  • Experimentation in Europe and the US with new ways of dressing and dancing, romancing and traveling
  • Art Deco – sleek and anti-traditional elegance that symbolized wealth and sophistication



  • Diversion, Resilience and Recovery
  • Rapid decline of the New York Stock Exchange threw the US into the Great Depression
  • Colors during this time were upbeat, happy tones
  • Board games like Monopoly emerged as a cheerful and affordable way to stay at home
  • Synthetic resins developed and used to manufacture pool balls, telephones, radios etc
  • 1939 World Fair, “Futurama” craze



  • War, Peace, Prosperity
  • Film noir reflected the melodramatics and bleakness of this era
  • Black and white films accented with sensual reds in posters
  • Fantasia, fairy tales and talking animals
  • End of WW2, notion of The American Dream erupts
  • Color as scientific: Paints brochure titled “Color Dynamics” promotes interior paints based on the “principles of energy in color.”


Okay, let’s take a pause and look at the 1950s-today in the next post!

Till then,

Vickie ?


Sources: Pantone: The Twentieth Century in Color by Leatrice Eiseman, Keith Recker, Pantone.com,

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