Think back to 2016: Leo finally got his Oscar, Pokemon Go took the world by storm, and Donald Trump was not (until November) the president. It was the year Rose Quartz, a much better name for the colour that came to be known as millennial pink, shared the honour of being Pantone’s Colour of the Year with a pale blue hue dubbed Serenity. Together, they looked like the gender-normative bedroom colours for a set of fraternal twins. But while Serenity Blue never really took off, since then, so-called millennial pink has come to colour anything marketed to women in their 20s and 30s. It’s on our beauty products, our book covers, in our wine glasses, and has even begun to show up in our food. But now, two years later, it is apparently time to pass the torch. To something people are calling — to my immense horror — "Gen Z Yellow."
That’s right, we millennials and our pink are out. What's in instead this summer is a sunny tone the approximate colour of a lemon rind that had a baby with a marigold flower. It's named for the generation that has arrived to put us out of our misery as we pass into irrelevance, much the way Gen X (remember them?) did when we suddenly became the focal point of coordinated marketing efforts and awkward, tone-deaf news coverage.
Before you accuse me of being some old shrew who’s just angry because the younger generation, with their fancy devices and wacky slang, is ascendent, let me say this: I love Gen Z! They’re badass anti-gun activists who make great memes. What’s not to like? Also, I’m down for anything that takes some of the heat off millennials when it comes to baby-boomers and their op-eds about the evils of avocado toast or how we don’t deserve to have living rooms or whatever. But here’s an idea: Can we not make a trend of naming colours for specific generations? Aren’t there better, more apt descriptors that are less… Eye roll-inducing? Generation gap-enforcing? Generally uninspiring?
The great thing about colours is that they’re beautiful and fun to look at! They are also equally fun to describe. Like earlier, when I said the yellow in question looked like little lemon-marigold babies. I liked that! Didn’t you? We could call it Lemon Baby Yellow. Or maybe Beyonce’s Dress From Lemonade Yellow. I don’t know about you, but I think about that “Hold Up” dress at least once a week and feel it totally deserves a namesake colour. There’s also Bodak Yellow, which already sounds like a legitimate colour. Or we could get very health-conscious about it and call it If Your Pee Is This Colour, You Probably Need To Be Drinking More Water Yellow.
Or, as great as I’m aware these names are, we could also decide to leave all the colour-naming to Pantone, the people who do this shit for a living! In addition to handing down annual decrees about which colours will soon come to dominate our homes and wardrobes (this year’s was Ultra Violet), the Pantone Colour Institute also identifies new colours, christens them with names, and transmits that information to fashion, product, and textile designers. While some names are obvious, others are delightfully poetic and evocative, like Luminary Green, Puritan Grey, and Lavender Fog. These people are champion colour-namers, who are somehow able to look at a specific hue and not just see, feel, and innately understand the the depths of its colour-soul, but also devise a pithy name that will communicate all that and more to the rest of us. It’s a pretty awesome skill.
"We’re coming at it to create an emotion and connect to somebody," Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Colour Institute, told Refinery29. "The first step of the process is looking at a colour and [evaluating] what immediately comes to mind. What does that colour say to you? What does that colour convey? How do we be sure that we come up with a colour name that will instantly make that association?”
The team also takes care to look into things like the changing associations of certain words — for example, "avocado" conjures up something very different now than it did in the '70s — and how the words they use will translate into other languages. Many are experts in the field of colour psychology, which examines how colour can influence our perceptions and moods, and how the colours we’re drawn to at any given moment shift based on the rest of the cultural landscape.
To call this yellow something as boring as Gen Z Yellow, then, is to deprive it of its right to a truly descriptive, unique name, like Fresh Pineapple or Yellow Brick Road or Highlighter – all real Pantone names for subtle variations on the same bright yellow. When compared to the Pantone catalogue, with its lyricism and specificity, the name Gen Z Yellow is beyond annoying. It's an insult. It would be like naming your new baby "Infant 2018." And all the yellows deserve better! Let’s not do the yellows like this.
It’s also worth remembering that the concept of a “generation” — or a group of people all born within approximately the same period of time — is basically a made-up construct that didn’t really exist before the late 19th century, when French and German philosophers invented it. A 2015 article published in the Washington Post and aptly titled “Your Generational Identity Is a Lie” reveals how the names of and stereotypes around various generations have shifted over time. Even the birth years that define any given generation are subject to change.
Anyway, in the great words of Coldplay, "It was all yellow." Or at least it's about to be. The hue has already made its way onto cute Etsy throw pillows and Pinterest accent walls, not to mention the bodies of countless celebrities and influencers. Even Glossier, patron saint of all things both millennial and pink, used the colour for the packaging on its sunscreen, which debuted last year (they’re always just a little ahead of the curve, aren't they?). And as ready as I may be to bid adieu to pale pink in favour of bright yellow, I believe now is a crucial time for all of us to put our collective foot down and call it literally anything other than Gen Z Yellow. If we don’t, next thing you know, you’ll be hearing about Gen Q Chartreuse or Xennial Mauve or something, andI speak for everyone when I say no thank you to that.