IInstagram-famous skin care packages, designer runways and red carpet dresses have moved on from millennial pink, the hue that captivated and pampered “girlbosses” in the late 2010s. Instead, make Gen Z yellow. But can a generation known for its fractured individualism really unite behind the color of caution tape?
Generation Z yellow is similar to one of Pantone’s 2021 colors of the year, “illuminating,” a dose of canary meant to herald brighter days after a pandemic. So it makes sense that spring 2023 runways like Alexander McQueen and Moschino featured the color. (Though the story of the yellow Gen Z goes all the way back to 2017, when writer Haley Nachman coined it in an essay for the now-defunct Man Repeller blog.)
Still, you won’t find Gen Z yellow seeping into every aspect of design in the same way that millennial pink once did. Blame it on the shade being quite “bold,” as Business of Fashion euphemistically puts it. Millennial pink has won fans for its soothing nature; its successor is not so pleasing to the eyes. Gen Z’s “individualist attitudes” also don’t do its namesake color any favors; young people prefer to promote their own unique style rather than follow trends.
Véronique Hyland is fashion director of Elle magazine and 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 buy into the idea that yellow is the official color of Gen Z—or that young people need any kind of official color at all.
“It seems like a made-up marketing thing to me,” Hyland told the Guardian. Of course, the same can be said for millennial pink, though Hyland notes that the color is in the ether before marks taken from him. “I think there’s a push to do different colors from Gen Z — à la ‘fetch’ from Mean Girls — that I’ve seen since at least 2017, but it hasn’t reached the same kind of ubiquity,” she said.
Millennial pink thrived, in a sense, because its namesake generation wanted to fit in; Hyland doesn’t think Gen Z has the same desire. “Millennials in 2010 were trying to adapt to an existing culture, and Gen Z is more inclined to question the prevailing culture,” she said. “Even if you look at their response to the climate crisis, there is an understanding of urgency and a need to be heard without fear.”
Martin Kesselman, an interior designer and owner of the upscale New York paint store Incolour, said he still regularly receives inquiries about millennial pink, even seven years after its supposed peak. “It draws more attention and translates into the interior more than that Gen Z yellow,” he said. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard of yellow, but it’s not mentioned that much in conversation.”
Read up on Gen Z yellow and you’re sure to pick up a few tropes: the color represents hope and optimism, two feelings young people desperately seek in an uncertain reality. “It drives excitement, creativity and stimulation,” Kesselman said.
For Peggy Van Allen, designer and president of the trade association Color Marketing Group, this represents an opportunity for branding experts to align their products with customers’ emotions. “The younger generation is drawn to yellow because of its expressive and hopeful qualities,” she said. “Marketers use color to speak to a consumer who wants to be empowered.”
But they also speak to a consumer who knows all these branding tricks. If Gen Z yellow feels too pushy, its target demographic may simply shun it. “When older generations see this popularity and use the color more, Gen Z yellow becomes too saturated,” said Nick Kolenda, who studies marketing psychology. “So now Gen Z may have to seek out new, uncharted territory when it comes to finding their own shade.”