Colors Of The Century By Decades

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There I was, after a long week, needing a feel-good movie with some chuckles and a lot of heart. I decided to watch The Help again.

Recently, I wrote about finding decor ideas in movies, and found myself once again in love with the interiors stylings of mid-century Jackson, Mississippi.

Hilly might’ve been a horrid little racist, but gosh, I loved her turquoise kitchen and dining room accents (complete with Julia Child-esque pegboard walls). I found myself thinking about how there were few colors that could be connected to a decade more than that shade of Tiffany Blue.

What then, I thought, might be other colors to capture a decade? (Of course, I have no history degree and this is just my take on colors that come to mind of when I think of the decades in the 20th Century.)


When the 1920s come to mind, I conjure images of cabarets and theaters filled with reds and golds. Large-scale flowers on the wall, dramatic prints. Big, bold colors that scream of the opulence and excess that would soon come crashing down around them in 1929.


Chicago theatre, built in 1921 (image: Jrissman)


The Dirty ‘30s were America’s heartbreak, a time of poverty and environmental strife. From the Dust Bowl of the Plains to the Great Californian Migration, sandy brown canvas and tans, muddy greys, and other modest colors and fabrics spoke of an industrious generation dying to get to work.


The movie-lover in me sees the ’40s as the Golden Age of cinema with Bogey, Bacall, and all the other greats. Though color film had been used already by The Wizard of Oz, black-and-white ruled the day. So did the grey suit. Charcoal grey and white, to me, epitomize the sombre mood of a nation just getting back on its feet when international war broke out, threatening to pull America in (until, of course, it did).


After two tough decades, the post-War boom was the rise of the American dream. Bungalows were everywhere. Happy picket-fenced families embraced a better day, and the color palette reflected it. By the end of the decade, the two biggest colors on the scene were mint green/turquoise and bubble-gum pink, found in bathrooms and diners and kitchens all over the land. They’d hold on strong well into the 1960s, but other brilliant hues stormed the scene too.


Spurred on by the popularity of pinks and blues, designers unleashed everything on the public. The ‘60s were gnarly, baby. Packed with effervescence and dynamic patterns, it’s safe to say the 1960s didn’t have a color — they had a kaleidoscope of color. In the 1960s, anything went. Pinks, greens, blues, purples, it’s all groovy, man.


By the end of the ‘60s, a dour mood found the nation. From the highs of Woodstock, they hit the lows of of Altamont, and then the ’70s kicked off with the National Guard killing four students at Kent State. From the vibrant happy colors of the 1960s, the color palette swung a 180. Now the dominant colors were mustards, puce green, browns, and oranges. Not “dark” per se, but far more sullen than the candy-colored kaleidoscope of just a few years prior.


After a muddy decade of the ‘70s, the Vietnam War had ended, and soon things would begin to improve — but not until after the big crash of ‘82. After so much heavy, it was time to get light. By 1984, Miami Vice had hit the airwaves. Enter the age of Pastel. Pale mint green, soft pink, dusty rose, peach, and more.

And then, a shift: While it’s easier to define things as a “decade” but from the late ‘80s to now, it seems almost like the trends changed mid-decade.


The ‘90s marked a return to earthier colors again. Tans and midnight blue and forest-friendly greens, greys and creams. The rugged rock of grunge exploded, making plaid the pattern of the decade. Earthy or dark was common in plaid too, but it all switched up before the new Millennium loomed, from ‘97 on.


By 2000, the pendulum had long swung again. Eggplant, teal, orange, melon — so much color, so much life. Designers embraced it all. From VW Beetles in fun shades to appliances and walls at home, all bets were off for a while, despite valiant efforts by charcoal and black and other moody colors that were edging back into the scene.


This decade has much to go yet, but so far Pantone has declared the colors of the year to be Honeysuckle, Tangerine, and Emerald Green — and my just-bought clothes I’m wearing as I type are two of the three colors I just named, so it looks like Pantone’s onto something there. It’s safe to say the immediate fashion future is looking bright.

Roll With It

There’s not much you can do to avoid color trends. Designers influence the entire world around us, and we can only buy what they make available to us — such as that lovely lime-green spatula in your kitchen or the orange accents on your sneakers.

No, not much sense in protesting the color choices available to you. Instead, hop on that wave and ride it until it washes out. After all, the color tide’ll change in a couple years. It always does.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.