The gloomy economic forecast may have consumers seeing storm clouds overhead, but designers’ spring color choices are considerably more sunny and vibrant. Not about to let the heaviness of the world seep into their palettes, designers are turning to mood-altering shades such as Tangerine Tango, Solar Power and Dazzling Blue. Uplifting as those shades (and names) may be, several of this spring’s leading colors are derivative of top-ranked colors from recent seasons and can easily be paired with more neutral tones like the classic maritime Sodalite, the beige-gray Driftwood and the natural neutral Starfish, which are among the season’s other top picks.

This story first appeared in the September 8, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.


Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said, “There are a few anchor colors if someone needs to be practical and still have a neutral color as a base. There are also bright colors that will work with what people already have. When it comes to clothes, there is not a throw-it-away, give-it-away mentality. That is the new reality. Designers are giving them some basics, but also a little hint of brightness and excitement that offers a lift.”


Top 10 Women’s Pantone Colors


Percentage of designers who used this color: 14.71 percent

Even Eiseman has been surprised by the staying power of orange and yellow in recent seasons, but that only increases the likelihood that more people will embrace those brights. “Now consumers have seen it for several seasons. If they bought it already, they may want more of it. For those who have been slow to change, there will be more of a broader acceptance of these colors. Once they see it in magazines, in store windows or in orange pillows on a sofa, they will think, ‘I do need to try that, too.’” Tommy Hilfiger’s Alex Katz-inspired collection taps into this shade, as does Nanette Lepore’s line and Cynthia Steffe by Shaun Kearney.


2. SOLAR POWER 13-0759

Percentage of designers who used this color: 14.12 percent

Having spotted this eye-opening yellow in her travels through France, Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe in the past few years, Eiseman said more Americans are taking to yellows. Rachel Roy is helping the cause. “It’s interesting to see how many designers are now picking up on this sunny and happy hue. More of them are ready to take the plunge,” Eiseman said.


3. SODALITE BLUE 19-3953

Percentage of designers who used this color: 13.53 percent

Aside from providing a traditional springtime option, this one gives shoppers confidence and helps them validate their livelier spring color choices.


4. CABARET 18-2140

Percentage of designers who used this color: 11.76 percent

A cross between red and pink, Cabaret is testimony to shoppers’ ongoing admiration for all things pink. It is also a top-notch cosmetic color, whether used for blush, lip gloss or anything else that can perk up appearances. It’s the kind of pick-me-up associated with a Betsey Johnson collection, as evidenced by her spring line.


Interestingly, the popularity of animated children’s movies among adults such as “How to Train a Dragon” has helped to make bright colors more accepted by the general public, Eiseman said. “It is really astonishing what some of the animators are doing with film. We always look at these movies and especially what is going into sequels — like ‘Toy Story 3’ — which can elongate a color story.”

5. STARFISH 16-1120

Percentage of designers who used this color: 10.59 percent

This warm neutral is traditionally more of a fall color, but it works well in providing warmth to livelier shades like orange and yellow. Elie Tahari and Tommy Hilfiger have tapped into Starfish for spring. A great mixing color, Starfish also finished fifth in Pantone’s top 10 ranking for men.


6. MARGARITA 14-0116

Percentage of designers who used this color: 8.24 percent

Just like orange, this yellow-green combo has been hanging on at the top of the color charts far longer than expected. But this interpretation of Margarita is softer and a little less citrus-y than the actual cocktail. That said, it does have mixing capabilities in that it blends well with Sweet Lilac and Driftwood, especially when used in more subdued spring prints.


And the fact that margaritas are not only mainstays in many bars, but are also being reimagined, may bode well for the longevity of this color trend. “Like Cabaret, it has sort of a festive feeling that isn’t too over-the-top,” Eiseman said.


7. SWEET LILAC 14-2808

Percentage of designers who used this color: 7.65 percent

Perhaps this spring’s surefire choice, this soft shade is becoming to most. “In anxious times, people need something that they will feel healthy and good in,” Eiseman said. “Sweet Lilac is in between lilac and purple. It looks good no matter what kind of skin tone you have.”


8. DRIFTWOOD 18-1210

Percentage of designers who used this color: 7.05 percent

Not wanting to get too fanciful, designers are using this deeper neutral as a grounding color. Given that pragmatism, it’s not surprising that the outerwear label Mackage by Eran Elfassy and Elisa Dahan uses it. “This is sort of spring’s version of brown,” Eiseman said.


9. BELLFLOWER 18-3628

Percentage of designers who used this color:
6.47 percent

Perhaps First Lady Michelle Obama’s fondness for purple is helping to spur variations of her favorite color. “When a style icon wears a color, that will help only bring attention to it,” Eiseman said. “One of the other reasons people really like it is that they already own other things in these colors.”


10. COCKATOO 14-5420

Percentage of designers who used this color: 5.88 percent

Of all the other leading 10 shades, this one is the most different, which also might explain why it ranked 10th. Tracy Reese is a fan of this easy and playful green for spring, as is Ella Moss by Pamella Protzel Scott. But this turquoise-infused shade first wooed fans when used in high-end jewels and minerals.


Top Ten Men’s Pantone Colors


1. DAZZLING BLUE 18-3949

Percentage of designers who used this color: 13.29 percent

Blue is the go-to color for scores of men, whether that be for jeans or a pinstripe suit. All in all, guys don’t have a problem with any variety of blue and this brighter hue is refreshing enough to make them want to get more of the blues. Yves Klein would have approved.

2. VINTAGE KHAKI 16-0205

Percentage of designers who used this color: 13.12 percent

Another standby shade, albeit an even more common one, is Vintage Khaki. It plays to men’s fondness for the dependable. And given the resurgence of all things old school and Americana, this basic’s name alone will win fans. 


3. GRANITA 19-2039

Percentage of designers who used this color: 12.46 percent

This rich tone is the male version of Cabaret, but designers knew full well they had to tone it down for the guys.



Percentage of designers who used this color:
10.91 percent

The remake of “Hawaii Five-O” is in its sophomore season and this blue seems to be riding that wave. This turquoise is pretty much a safe bet for men whether they are hanging out on the beach or just bouncing around town after Memorial Day.


5. STARFISH 16-1120

Percentage of designers who used this color: 9.45 percent

This neutral along with Vintage Khaki and Tradewinds gray tends to make men feel more confident. There is also a certain comfort level with such familiar hues.



Percentage of designers who used this color: 9.42 percent

No longer restricted to Hermès shopping bags, this orange stands on its own like no other. More avant-garde style setters took to it this summer by being so bold as to wear tangerine-toned pants and polos. And they don’t even winter in Florida.

7. SODALITE BLUE 19-3953

Percentage of designers who used this color: 8.91 percent

This fresh alternative to navy adds a little sizzle to what is pretty much still a safe shade. Like some of the other neutrals that landed on the men’s top 10 list, Sodalite Blue is slightly different without being too out there.

8. SOLAR POWER 13-0759

Percentage of designers who used this color: 8.33 percent

The fact that more collegiate and professional athletic teams are wearing uniforms with more vibrant colors and interesting patterns is resonating with their fans. The University of Maryland’s football team recently got buckets of publicity for its new Under Armour attire. “The more people see this mixture of patterns, the more they are going to accept it and try it out themselves,” Eiseman said.

9. TRADEWINDS 15-4307

Percentage of designers who used this color: 7.12 percent

Like the weather, there always has to be a little gray in the lineup. “Men really understand it and it’s a confidence builder,” Eiseman said.


10. GRASS GREEN 15-6437

Percentage of designers who used this color:
6.99 percent

This fairway-friendly color is an homage to golf, a sport played by 36.7 million Americans each year. With many guys far exceeding the average American 46-hour work week, they may be turning to green in their clothing choices as a consolation prize for not having enough time to actually get outdoors.