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The rich cerulean blue of a tropical ocean, the bright cerise of a strawberry or rose, the warm caramel hue of amber, or the emerald green of a tree’s leaf. Color gives life excitement and flavor. And color similarly gives clothes their punch—and evokes shoppers’ emotions.

As you walk into a clothing store, whether it be an overwhelming department store or a boutique down the street, you might wander at first, glancing at the clothing racks. But soon you’ll find yourself gravitating towards a certain section, a certain sweater or dress. And what’s the first thing you might notice? The color. Color grabs your attention, and holds it, creating an emotional connection between consumer and product. Whether you’re a fan of minimalistic shades like black, white, grey, or beige, or eye-catching hues like canary yellow, kelly green, or cobalt blue, we all care about what color garment we wear. Color guides our everyday fashion choices and can greatly influence the brands we like and the personal style we cultivate over time.

Color evokes feeling, and wearing the right one—whether it be our favorite color or one that brings out our eyes—can be like wearing a perfectly tailored garment. And yet color also reflects the greater machinations of the fashion industry at large as we, sometimes unknowingly, fall prey to color trends.

The origins of color lie in nature, where roots and berries were once used as dyes. Pigments were expensive to harvest and produce, weaving color into the social hierarchy for centuries. Rich purple or blue were designated for royalty, leaving those without the means doning plain, dark hues. Now, color is synthetic, meaning it is a universal commodity that everyone can enjoy; it no longer signifies a social or economic status.

Today, color forecasting is an integral part of how brands operate and choose merchandise. Take, for example, the iconic mint green or deep maroon of the early 2010s, colors that found themselves on every garment, in every store. For most of us college students, we likely wore a mint green top or a maroon sweater when we were in middle school. And now we might find ourselves thinking those shades are out of style, replaced by brown and sage green—the new “it” colors of fashion. These colors are most likely selected by Pantone, a company in the business of color forecasting, who decide what shades will find themselves on the runway the next year. In fact, Pantone has a hand in the color of roughly half of all garments sold in the U.S., actively shaping the hues designers incorporate into their products and heightening the turnaround for trends. In this way, color forecasting is one of the many clever ways the fashion industry cultivates demand for clothes in order to maintain continuous growth.

From the mouth of Miranda Priestly herself, in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, colors of the time are determined by the architects of the industry themselves: the designer houses. They determine the color of the season before it trickles it’s way down the fashion value chain to luxury brands, followed by department stores, fast fashion companies, boutiques, and clearance aisles. So, while we might think that color is the part of our clothing we choose, it is also a part of the greater trend cycle at play in the fashion industry, and the economy at large.

A color trend can ultimately change the way we think about a color and how we purchase goods. In short, we constantly communicate with the fashion industry, both consciously and unknowingly, via the medium of color.

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