How Pastels Become a Cultural Obsession

“I love the smell of pastels… that breathes life into my soul.”

  • Ama. H. Vanniarachchy

Whether it’s a luxury house of the 1950s in the USA, a Rococo art, or Spring and Summer fashion collection, what’s the one thing you will find in common in all of them? Apart from being mesmerizing, they all have “Pastel” colors in stock. Time and again, we witness pastel shades popping up in our Instagram feed. It makes you wonder if pastel colors are getting this massive attention now?

But what many people are oblivious to is the fact that pastel tones go way back. To as old as the 18th century, yes! Three hundred years ago, that is where the story of pastel shades began.

In this article, you will be reading about the origins and how pastels went on to become the classical trend, which is always in style. 

The origins 

For anyone who is somewhat familiar with trends and forecasts, it’s a well-established fact that trends repeat themselves over a cycle. But when they stay for very little time, they are called Fad. Contrary to Fad, when a style lasts for several seasons and is acceptable every year, that’s called a “Classic.” Yes, pastels have established themselves to the classics of the shades. 

As mentioned earlier, pastels go back to the 18th century. This was the time of the Rococo art, also known as the Late Baroque, which began in the 1730s. The technique was known for being theatrical and ornamental. It used asymmetry, curves, and pastel tones to create drama. If we talk about the location, history says it emerged in the capital of France, Paris. 

The man behind this art is Jean Antoine Watteau, also known as the Father of Rococo paintings. He’s an artist who majorly focused on the depiction of courtship parties. This creates a new niche for himself and a genre for the artists to follow called ‘fêtes galantes.’ His inspiration was based on everyday scenes. He is primarily credited for depicting sophisticated figures having a good time outdoors. 

Establishing a trend 

Now, if history is becoming too overwhelming, let’s move forward in time. If you look at America of the 1920s, you will see that the pastel shades are not just in the fashion stores, but people preferred pastels for their houses. Whenever we think of these colors, words like ‘serene,’ ‘calm’ and ‘ease,’ pop up very frequently. 

One question that might bother anyone is how a color palette appeals to people of such different generations, that too, for the last 300 years. While it is true that pastel tones fade away and are replaced by a brighter tone, history is evident that they eventually come back. The returns have been much more frequent in recent years. Summer and Spring fashion collections are practically incomplete without the incorporation of pastel shades. 

In 2016, Pantone broke the tradition of naming a single color of the year and named ‘Rose Quartz’ and ‘Serenity’ as the colors of the year. While the gender-fluidity also influenced the decision, it also established the dominance of pastel shades in the modern era. In order to understand how pastels have continued to awe generations, it is crucial to look at the events in history. Yes, again! But not as old as the origins, let’s travel back to just 100 years ago. 

Understanding the pattern 

How often have you heard the quote, “History repeats itself”? A lot, right! While it can be said that it is mostly the case because humanity repeats its mistakes, the explanation is different when it comes to trends and forecasts. As a hue, the palette of pastel tones is much calmer and non-modern, when you consider the colors like bright red, blue, or the shades of the industrial or digital era. Yet, why is it that they have managed to create a connection with almost every age? Well, read these events carefully to understand. 

  • One of the reasons why the 1930s and ’40s witnessed the dominance of pastel shades is because the whole world was focused on wars. Shades of bright colors and dyes were used just for the war purpose. This lead to the use of colors like earthy green and brown among ordinary people. 
  • By 1950, when the war was over, people started leading a regular life, and more romantic colors were preferred. 
  • Things changed again in the 1970s, which was a time of economic recession. The neutral colors and earthy tones returned. These colors lasted until the ’80s, which saw the rise of ultra-luxe colors. 
  • The 1980s was a time where the rich got even wealthier, and the luxury colors were their way of flaunting their affluence. Pastels returned for a short time in the late ’80s due to interior designs that featured hues of peach, turquoise, and mauve, and the famous show of Miami Vice. Yes, the video marketing strategy goes way back! But the pastels were soon replaced with the bright shades of the ’90s.
  • The 1990s saw the rise of computers and bright colors. It was the beginning of the digital culture of the 2000s, where loud colors were the fashion.
  • Then came the 2008 financial crisis, which was known as one of the most significant economic recessions in history. The colors were muted again, and yes, pastels came back in fashion.

Supporting theories

Now you probably have guessed that whenever there is a recession, the pastel palette comes back in style. 

  • One of the theories following this is that these colors allow people to be calm in a complex environment. The ease and serenity of pastels are what attract people during the collapses. 
  • Another theory is that since the business is one of the worst affected victims of the crisis, people tend to buy things that they can use for longer times. Obviously, the brighter shades are very appealing to the eye, but it is the neutral shades that one can rely on for more extended periods. 

Pastel tones are also known as the happy colors, which keeps the mood light and who doesn’t want to have their guards down and relax, at least when they are home. 

Future of Pastel 

Coming back from our time travel to the present state, the world is still dealing with one of the worst health crises. It won’t be wrong to say that pastel hues will be in fashion for a while, as the history is evident. 

One more reason why the present generation is obsessed with the pastel hues is the minimalistic approach it gives. Pastel hues can blend in with almost every shade. For a generation that beliefs in less are more, the neutral tones are the go-to option. So yes, you can be relaxed if your wardrobe is filled with pastel tones, you can be at ease because pastels are here to stay! 

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