lnstagram-famous skincare packaging, designer catwalks, and red carpet dresses have transitioned from millennial pink, the hue that captivated and coddled “girl bosses” in the late 2010s. Instead, make way for Gen Z yellow. But can a generation known for broken individualism really unite behind the color of warning tape?
Gen Z yellow is similar to one of Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2021, “illuminating,” a dose of canary intended to usher in brighter days post-pandemic. So it makes sense that Spring 2023 runways like Alexander McQueen and Moschino had the color. (Although the history of Gen Z yellow goes all the way back to 2017, when author Haley Nahman coined it in an essay on the now-defunct Man Repeller blog.)
Still, you won’t see Gen Z yellow infiltrating every facet of design in the same way millennial pink once did. Blame the shade for being rather “bold,” as the Business of Fashion euphemistically puts it. Millennial pink won fans for its calming nature; its successor is less easy on the eyes. Gen Z’s “individualistic attitude” doesn’t do the eponymous color any good either; young people prefer to promote their own unique style, not follow trends.
Véronique Hyland is the fashion director of Elle magazine and the author of Dress Code: Unlocking Fashion from the New Look to Millennial Pink. She’s also the first person to put “millennial” in front of pink for a 2016 piece in the Cut — which she now regrets. She doesn’t believe in the idea that yellow is the official color of Gen Z – or that young people need an official color at all.
“This feels like a fabricated marketing thing to me,” Hyland told The Guardian. Of course, the same can be said for millennial pink, though Hyland notes that the color was in the ether before brands picked it up. “I think there’s been a push for different Gen Z colors to happen — à la Mean Girls’ fetch — that I’ve been seeing since 2017, but it hasn’t reached the same kind of ubiquity,” she said.
Millennial pink flourished in a way because the eponymous generation wanted to fit in; Hyland doesn’t think Gen Z has the same desire. “Millennials in the 2010s were trying to adapt to an existing culture, and Gen Z is more willing to question the prevailing culture,” she said. “Even when you look at their response to the climate crisis, there is an understanding of the urgency and the need to speak up without hesitation.”
Martin Kesselman, an interior designer and owner of the high-end New York paint store Incolour, said he still gets regular questions about millennial pink, even seven years after its alleged peak. “It gets more attention and translates to interiors more than this Gen Z yellow,” he said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about yellow, but it doesn’t come up that often in conversations.”
Read about Gen Z yellow, and you’ll learn a few tropes: the color represents hope and optimism, two feelings that young people desperately crave in a precarious reality. “It stimulates excitement, creativity and stimulation,” Kesselman said.
For Peggy Van Allen, designer and president of the Color Marketing Group trade association, this presents an opportunity for brand experts to tailor their products to customers’ emotions. “The younger generation is drawn to yellow for its expressive and hopeful qualities,” she said. “Marketers use the color to talk to a consumer looking for empowerment.”
But they also speak to a consumer who knows all these brand tricks. If Gen Z yellow feels too forced, the target demographic might shun it. “When older generations see this popularity and use the color more, Gen Z yellow becomes too saturated,” says Nick Kolenda, who studies the psychology of marketing. “So now Gen Z may have to venture into new, uncharted territory when it comes to finding their own shadow.”