It's time to brush up on new color palettes

April 24, 1991|By Pat Morgan | Pat Morgan,Knight-Ridder

Black, according to some fashion followers, is such a staple it has become a cliche. Such a notion causes those of us who have invested large sums in a wardrobe based on black to snicker.

Truth is, black as a fashion basic will never die. It is not only visually slimming, as the image consultants say, it also is easy to dress up, hides dirt (for those times one must take an extended business trip with limited luggage) and goes with anything you can think of.

Still, fashion moves in cycles. (How else to sell new clothes?) And the black, black, black cycle is finally giving way to a more colorful one.

This is a prediction you've already heard. Last season, perhaps? The one before? Yes, but now there is proof.

Consider last month's fashion shows in Milan and Paris, where fashion hounds from all over the world converged to witness the industry's offerings for fall '91. A sure sign that color has been accepted among the fashion cognoscenti could be found in the abundance of pink, yellow, green, red, purple and coral suddenly sprouting from the field of black-clad fashion writers and buyers.

We're not talking neon brights here. Generally, such eye-popping color is too young, too casual and too hard to look at to last long in fashion's spotlight. Likewise, traditional springtime pastels are too soft, too demure, too downright wimpy to survive fashion scrutiny; they are the stuff of mainstream clothing, not forward-thinking fashion.

What is needed and found this season is a hybrid of sorts. Colors that are intense without hurting your eyes, soothing without being washed out.

Fashion's answer comes in two palettes. The aquatics: ocean blue, seafoam green, peachy coral, seashell pink. And the vegetable hues: eggplant, tomato, avocado, summer squash.

"The truth is, deep inside, we all love color," says Joyce Knudsen, owner of the ImageMaker in Rochester, Mich. "We have ever since we got our first crayons as children. But color can scare people. It's more difficult to deal with than black and white. It draws attention to you and sends a very definite message about who you are and what your frame of mind is."

Still, she says, people get a psychological lift from wearing a color that makes them happy. And now that fewer offices are demanding conformity to the navy-gray-black-or-burgundy dicta, it's easier to experiment with color at work.

Yellow, a favorite for spring that will continue to be strong for fall, is a power color, Knudsen says. "It takes a lot of confidence to wear yellow. It means you don't mind being the center of attention, so it says you are self-assured and confident of your capabilities. In a casual setting, it says you're a lot of fun."

Intense coral, which often is so deep it looks orange-red, is a good go-to-work color, Knudsen says, because it indicates a high comfort level with oneself and so sends a message of competence and efficiency.

On the other hand, the aquatic colors eye-soothing shades of blue and green are likely to sell well because they don't come on too strong, Knudsen says. Which may be why they are the dominant palette for spring.

"Marine blue and seafoam green make people feel relaxed, not particularly aggressive," Knudsen says. "That makes them great for social and casual settings, when relaxing is the whole point."

But they may not be the best choices for a power meeting with the boss, she points out.

"These colors are not going to make anyone sit up and take notice, the way yellow or red will," she says. Soft green, she says, is probably better left for after hours, though the deeper shades of marine blue can be quite good in the office because they blend in well with the more traditional navy and gray.

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