Millennial Pink, Gen-Z Yellow and the Truth About Color Clickbait

On December 31, 2017, I plugged my Instagram handle into a slightly sketchy online algorithm that promised to spit out a neat little grid of my top nine Instagram posts of the year. When I surveyed the results — a small square composite of even smaller squares, each encapsulating a brief snapshot from the past 365 days of my life — I couldn’t help but laugh at its totally incidental and yet glaringly predominant color scheme: millennial pink.

According to a retrospective published in New York Magazine, the term “millennial pink” was coined during the summer of 2016, when Véronique Hyland penned a story for The Cut originally titled, “Is There Some Reason Millennial Women Love This Color?” At the time, no one could have predicted that term would rise to the top of our cultural lexicon and remain there for years, but the pervading aesthetic of my most-liked Instagram posts hints at why it did.

In a world where social media and the internet fuel an unprecedented hunger for newness, which then contributes to an exhaustingly short life cycle for almost all trends (they become saturated to the point of feeling stale and are thus promptly traded in for the next thrill), millennial pink has maintained its power by virtue of the fact that it continues to deliver tangible results. Sometimes, those results are sales (“Make something pink and make money,” The Washington Post wrote in a piece about millennial pink foods). In other instances, the outcome is social media cachet: “Posts with a pink thing in them perform better,” Sight Unseen co-founder Monica Khemsurov told The Cut. “A normal post might get 1,500 likes, and the pink ones get 4,000, so it’s hard to break out of the cycle, because that’s what people want. It’s hard for us to say pink is over, because our readers and followers still love pink.”

The desire to proclaim “pink is over” has been shouted many times over. In June 2017, The Guardian declared millennial pink had peaked and would soon be displaced. A couple months later, Haley wrote a story on Man Repeller predicting what that displacer would be: “If I squint and scroll through my feeds, it’s still a rose-colored blur,” she wrote, “but when I slow down and take a closer look, flashes of something else, something sunnier, betray a changing of the generational tides. I call it Gen-Z Yellow. It was only a matter of time. The paradox which made pink so appealing — that a color with ‘girly-girl baggage’ could be re-imagined as a symbol of feminism and resistance — has been all but usurped by its own ubiquity.”

The term “Gen-Z yellow” stuck. Not only because it was adopted by other online publications (The Huffington Post, Apartment Therapy, Who What Wear and Refinery29, to name a few), but also because it quickly became evident that the color was, indeed, having a moment. Earlier this spring, Katie Smith — the retail analysis and insights director at Edited told Who What Wear, “Even though retailers only lifted their new yellow arrivals by 0.2% in the last three months (compared to the same period in 2017), sellouts of yellow grew 106%. This is a consumer-driven trend, which currently outstrips supply.”

At the same time Gen-Z yellow was being groomed by for a millennial pink takedown, another contender emerged: lavender.

 At the same time Gen-Z yellow was being groomed by for a millennial pink takedown, another contender emerged: lavender. Its ubiquity on Spring/Summer 2018 runways did not go unnoticed, and soon enough, outlets were endorsing its candidacy for “color of the moment.” “Lavender will be one of the statement trends of 2018,” wrote Who What Wear in December, “And we’re definitely ready to set our Millennial Pink aside to make room for the new It shade.” Vogue UK echoed this sentiment a few months later with the headline, “Could Lilac Be the Next Millennial Pink?”

With a name that was decidedly fun to repeat, melodramatic purple edged its way up in the hierarchy of viable trending colors. People started hashtagging it on Instagram. The Paris Review wove it into an op-ed about how lilac suits the unease of our current political climate (“The country is stuck in a phase of half mourning, and what better shade to wear than a moody pastel, half hopeful, half gaudy?”). Amazon is selling a T-shirt with the following emblazoned in caps lock: “MELODRAMATIC PURPLE IS THE NEW MILLENNIAL PINK.”

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but now, six months later, I’ve started seeing more and more of it — and liking more and more of it, too. It’s one of those rare, delightfully strange colors (in an email to me, eponymous founder Maryam Nassir Zadeh called it “specific and unusual”) that goes with nothing in theory, but everything in practice. It’s slightly garish and certainly polarizing, and yet I can’t stop carrying around the one thing I own in the color: a quilted bag from the brand Atelier Mimii. Needless to say, I’m eager to add to my collection.

As for a catchy name to formalize its up-and-coming status, I’ve given that a lot of thought. At this point, we’ve collectively run out of new generations to associate trending colors with (hence, melodramatic purple), so I racked my brain for some other association that would peg this unique shade of green to this particular moment in time and encapsulate its underdog-like combination of alienating and appealing and offensive and charismatic, all at once. That’s when it hit me: This color is such a Miranda

Is Miranda Hobbes green the rightful heir to millennial pink? I can’t think of any ascent more fitting, frankly, but only time will tell. Right now it doesn’t seem like millennial pink is going anywhere — at least not until it stops producing dollars and likes. However, regardless of whether or not it ultimately fades from the zeitgeist, it will undoubtedly leave a meaningful legacy behind: proof that, with the right branding, an otherwise perfectly regular color can not only reflect our current culture, but also help us make sense of it.

When I spoke with fashion psychologist Dawnn Karen about this topic, she said, “These same colors have existed since the beginning of time, we’re just giving them new associations. Pink used to be a more gendered color … but when we started calling it millennial pink, it became more neutral. Suddenly, pink didn’t just belong to girls, it belonged to an entire generation.” The Cut acknowledged this phenomenon, too, calling millennial pink a “genderless mascot.”

Given how successfully pink acclimated to its role as both a mascot for society and guaranteed clickbait, it’s not surprising that other shades of the rainbow would be primed and primped for the same. Millennial pink, Gen-Z yellow, melodramatic purple and Miranda Hobbes green are all viable diagnoses in an ongoing chromotherapy session. Their surrounding hype, I suspect, is a byproduct of the comfort derived from distilling identity — or, in this case, popular consciousness — down to something as simple as a color: a mood ring for our oversaturated time.

Photographed by Edith Young. Styled by Harling Ross. Modeled by Elianah Sukoenig, Ariana Duplechain-Cook, Medha Ghosh and Sandra Diola. Flower Flashes by Lewis Miller DesignMakeup by Regard Tang.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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