We who are currently in our 60s, 70s, and beyond remember a simpler time, a time when colors were called just what they were. They were described either as light, medium, or dark but yellow was called yellow and red was called red, and so on and so forth. There was a difference with the color blue. It was never enough just to say light, medium, or dark blue. Even back then, more of a description was needed. We used terms such as navy blue, pastel blue, and baby blue. Sometimes a blue was labeled as robin’s egg blue, sky blue, or azure. In addition, there were turquoise, sapphire, and teal — all of which fell into the category of blue. Then, somewhere along the way, things changed and colors became equated with items the public was familiar with.
Since everyone has to eat, familiarity with different foods provides us with the best of descriptions. Designers and manufacturers use names such as eggplant when describing a color that is a brownish dark purple and brown is called coffee. A very deep dark shade of red is known as cranberry. No bride ever wants to announce to her bridesmaids that she wants them to wear red gowns. That would be considered gauche. So she uses the word cranberry and tells them that is the wedding color. As all females know, every wedding has to have a color associated with it. There are different shades of red but each one gets a different name. Some are called hibiscus, sangria, or crimson. They all sound so much better than just simply red. Fire engine red is bright and pretty — it is fine for nail polish but not for a wedding theme.
There are a few colors that are unable to stand alone. Green is never just plain green. There is much specificity to this color and with good reason. One cannot just buy a scarf or a sweater that will match, or compliment, a green dress without considering if the dress is lime green, hunter green, jade green, olive green, or sage. Yellow too is rarely called just yellow. It is usually described as saffron, lemon, amber, or sunshine yellow. Pink is another color with a wide variety of shades. There is cherry blossom pink, cotton candy, flamingo, lavender rose, and orchid pink. When a shade of pink is found to be somewhat offensive, it is often referred to as bubble gum pink or Pepto-Bismol pink. Neither of these descriptions is complimentary.
Even the color white has evolved. Many people think of black and of white as not actually being colors but this is a false premise. This is true of black, which is not a color, but not of white, which is. It is the lightest color but despite the fact that it is the color of fresh snow, chalk, and milk, those terms are rarely used to describe white. It is often described by such terms as cream, eggshell, ivory, winter white, and vanilla. There is also Navajo white but that term is usually reserved for the color of a paint. Nevertheless, while black is not considered a color, even that has acquired some acceptable names such as ebony, coal, ink, and onyx.
There are some colors whose names have disappeared from the lexicon of fashionistas. Tan is a word that has gone AWOL. It is no longer used. Tan is a pale tawny shade of brown but, that is too long for a name. So when describing something that we once called tan, people get creative. An item, whether it is an article of clothing or a piece of fabric, is called by any of the following: camel, sand, or luggage. Beige has also disappeared. More acceptable words are champagne, buff, and ecru — to name just a few.
However, if one accepts the well-known premise that “the more things change the more they stay the same,” there is evidence of this when an old timer acknowledges she has a tan suit and she wears it with a beige blouse. That’s just the way it is.
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mahjong and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.