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« American Religious History--Who Knew? | Main | Bulk »

April 12, 2004

An Age of Orange-xiety


I don’t know how you feel about this, but it seems to me that at some point in the last year or so we entered an Age of Orange. I’m sure people who are more au courant vis a vis the fashion world are probably sick and tired of the darn color by now, but it only recently struck me that orange is hot, hot, hot.

The elevated hipness of orange actually dawned on me for the first time, consciously, last week when my dental hygenist gave me a translucent orange toothbrush and mentioned that it was a new color in the Oral B line. You mean, I thought, Oral B has a ‘line’? Toothbrushes have a fashion dimension? Where have I been?

Of course, we’re not just awash in orange, but in orangey-red, copper and bronze-y shades as well, as the following pictures (all taken on today's lunch hour) may illustrate:

So, being a Blowhard, I got to pondering what this orgy of orange could, well, mean. I asked a bunch of people when the last time orange was this hot, and—to my surprise—got a reasonably consistent answer: the Sixties!

Hmmm, the Sixties. I guess I could see the connection, zeitgeist-wise. On the surface society appears to be in a consumerist dream of mass consumption while below it is riddled with anxiety about a land war in Asia.

This back-to-the-Sixties hypothesis certainly seems to be supported by this piece of evidence, which loomed up over me as I came back from lunch:

Whatever These Girls Are Selling, I'm Buying

The billboard pretty well clinched it for me. Of course, my curiosity then moved on to the fashion-mavens who decide this color stuff. They work, as I understand it, 18-months to 2-years ahead of the current day in their tireless work of scoping out the consumer colors of the future. How could they have known where American society was headed?

I could only come up with one theory: they’re a bunch of precogs. Mutants. They really can see the future. I wonder if it has occurred to either the Bush or the Kerry people that they might get a clue to who will triumph in November by consulting fashionistas. Or—well—maybe they’d rather not know.



posted by Friedrich at April 12, 2004


What about all the orange shag carpeting that people used in the '70s? I know someone who had that stuff installed as late as 1981. She still has it.

Posted by: Jonathan on April 12, 2004 8:20 PM

A friend of a friend works as a color prognoticator for some fashion-biz consultancy. I've never met her, but maybe I can do a little background work on the subject.

As you say, orange is no longer the future. Orange was of the moment many moments ago, although it will continue to work its way through America's visual and commercial cultures for a while. I overheard some speculation just yesterday that bright tweety-bird yellow is coming up. I'll have to check with the friend-of when I finally meet her.

Posted by: Daniel on April 12, 2004 9:41 PM

Methinks the tweety color may soon be passe as well. Last year, I had a "zinc yellow" Ford Explorer pickup. Seat covers were -yep- Tweety bird, as were the floor mats and windshield sun visor. I sold it when I assumed a new step family and my little yellow truck had to be exchanged for a mastodon - an Expedition. Now, I hunger for one of those new little retro Chevy thingys in what else? Bright yellow!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 12, 2004 9:53 PM

My case is even worse! I not only see orange everywhere nowadays, but I live in ORANGE county (CA)! What you said about the toothbrush is also true. In the past there were certain things that wouldn't vary much in color or design. Now everything, even the most useless and obscure tools, comes in several different shapes and translucent colors!

Posted by: Rod on April 12, 2004 11:09 PM

Any predictions from anyone about when translucency is going to go out of fashion? The vogue for it seems to keep growing -- who'd have thought so many would be so beguiled by translucency? I feel sometimes like I'm living in a Lifesavers/Fruitopia world.

I'm guessing translucency won't fall out of fashion until the next time Steve Jobs makes a big change in Apple's image.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 13, 2004 12:18 AM

Orange was one of God's mistakes, particularly as a colour for clothing. This fact was made plain to me on the weekend when I made one of my periodic visits to the local goth clubs, and by God some clown had decided to go dressed all in orange. Obviously you're going to stand out anyway when everyone else is wearing black or otherwise dark-coloured clothing, but the orange... I kept seeing him wandering about the place all night and could not escape the feeling that it was not only horrendous on him, but that orange is horrendous in general.

Posted by: James Russell on April 13, 2004 2:43 AM

I noticed the orange thing recently and pointed it out to my wife the other night, and she has noticed it too.

It is a color of warning, of danger, saying "don't eat me, I'm poisonous".

Makes sense that the last time it was in was the 1960's, we haven't been this politically polarized (or this at war) since then, no?

Posted by: David Mercer on April 13, 2004 4:44 AM

Have to disagree, folks. Orange is the sunniest, most energizing, happiest, childish, optimistic and care-free color of them all. Belongs to Leos out there (yeah, I'm one of them) - if not by birth than in spirit.
As with every color, "easy-on-the-eyes" rule is: the bigger concentration (hue),the lesser amount of that color in overall color scheme should be. Thus, monochromatic (all orange) combinations are too intense and can get you nightmares.
Rule number two - with color of that intensity the less contrast with supporting colors the better. For illustration see that Goth club example above - too much contrast between all-black crowd and one all-orange clown promote him in idiots category.
I can go on forever on the topic, bring sinaesthetics, Kandinsky and Skryabin, sunshine deficiency deseases, etc, etc. - but I'll spare you the boredom.
Better listen to organization whose sole purpose is "to forecast Color Directions one to three years in advance for all industries, manufactured products and services" - Color Marketing Group. Color forecast-2003 ('04 is n/a on their site) states in preamble, that
“We have experienced new found energy using full chroma hues that can lift our spirits and provoke our senses. With a rebel yell, we protest a total shift to ‘establishment colors’,” said Barbara Lazarow, CMG, Co-Chairman, Consumer Color Direction Committee, Blonder Wall Coverings, Cleveland, OH USA. ”For color we look to the prosperous times of the 20’s and 60’s and to the glamour of the 30’s and 40’s. "

According to this forecast, orange is not even the biggest hit. Blue is. And from my own experience, the hippest color trend in interior design is direction towards "Blueprint blue".

This is how the specialists describe orange for listening industries:

Iron Ore-ange: The influence of copper on Orange creates a sophisticated and mature background with ethnic undertones.
And also,
Squash: Representing the natural evolution of orange, this warm and comfortable, non-gender-specific color bridges the age gap from youth to maturity.

So why go across the trend? Give us carrots, not sticks.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 13, 2004 9:19 AM

ClearChannel owns BILLBOARDS!!?!

Posted by: Dave on April 13, 2004 9:19 AM


Yeah. Tons of 'em. In the words of the famous Chicken-Man: "They're everywhere. They're EVERYWHERE!"


Thanks for the insight into the world of color. From my ultra-scientific study on yesterday's lunch hour (driving around several shopping mall parking lots) I would agree that blue is also popping up in a lot of very intense, electric-y shades. Also greens seem to be mutating either toward very dark, rich shades or toward very cool, icey-pale shades. Reds are also appearing in a set of very intense variations, both cool and warm. So perhaps the real story is the abandonment of greys and neutrals for bright color. But all of this reinforces my sense that we are really in a kind of 'back to the Sixties' moment...and that what is being expressed is not just a surface popiness, but also an underlying disquiet.

The drag about this 'second time around' Sixties thing is that I'm much more aware of the slightly sublimated negatives (certainly than I was during the Sixties themselves) and that I'm too old to do much more than look at the Fanta girls. Sigh.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 13, 2004 10:32 AM

Personally, I blame EasyJet.

Posted by: Andrew Duffin on April 13, 2004 11:04 AM

And here I am, sitting in my office, in a bright orange shirt and black pants. And it's not even St. Patrick's Day.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 13, 2004 1:35 PM

and as they say at Live Journal,
Current mood: stunned. Current music: Bumble Bee

Posted by: Tatyana on April 13, 2004 2:14 PM

What can I say; I'm so far behind the times. In the last year I even purchased a shirt that could be described as teal.


I have noticed, however, that I can find monochrome clothes with highly saturated colors much more easily now than in the past. Even the patterned cloth seems to use much more contrasty colors.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 13, 2004 2:39 PM

Rats, I just bought a pound of wool roving to spin into yarn that varigates from a lightish melon to a very dark copper--when spun and plied it comes out pumpkinish with high and low notes. And now I find out I'm trendy!!! Gack! I knew I should have stuck with black sheep brown!

I really dont care what the color folks do who determine what colors we see around us as long as they dont bring back that godawful Harvest Gold!

Posted by: Deb on April 13, 2004 3:06 PM

As a Dutchman, I couldn't love the color more. I recall watching the SLC olympics and the stands filled with orange when the Netherlands was busy taking all the speedskating medals.

Posted by: Boots on April 13, 2004 3:11 PM

Deb, don't despare; you're safely out of the trend- which is, as I quoted above, more saturated complimentary color combos, and what you have is variegated single color.
And as long as you don't remember awful 70's and combine orange + magenta (remeber those sari paisley fabrics?), your sweaters will be perfect for Thanksgiving...

Posted by: Tatyana on April 13, 2004 3:30 PM

Living here in Austin, Texas, where the University's colors are burnt orange and white, I am here to tell you, burnt orange is by far the ugliest color in the world.

Posted by: Dixon on April 14, 2004 9:19 AM

Teal is out?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 14, 2004 10:29 AM

It's still here, Michael and Doug, it's just got updated:

"Blue Bayou: The shift of classic navy toward an updated techno-version of blue with a metallic, watery sheen. Fathom: A key bridge of green into blue, it addresses the continuation and evolution of teals inspired by blue. Its sophisticated coloration completes the mind's need for peace and serenity."
(See link above)

Posted by: Tatyana on April 14, 2004 12:41 PM

Ah, that must be why I bought it. I've always needed my mind's need for peace and serenity completed.

What I need next is my mind's need for understanding of that last sentence completed. I think.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 14, 2004 12:51 PM

Curious connection:

Novelist Connie Willis wrote an interesting story entitled "Bellwether", about researchers exploring this (and other) cultural trends.

I don't know whether the conclusions of the scientists in the story are worthwhile, but the story is a laugh riot, and does a good job illuminating this kind of trend in culture.

Posted by: steve h on April 14, 2004 3:43 PM

Connie Willis is one of the best short-fiction writers alive today. She is comfortable and accomplished with comedy and tragedy, action and social commentary, character and plot. I'd strongly recommend her short story collection, "Impossible Things", to anyone.

(For Michael, it's SF/F, but I'd still recommend it.)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on April 14, 2004 6:58 PM

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