The Deeper Significance of 2021's Optimistic Color Trends

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Cecilie Bahnsen Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Cecilie Bahnsen

Perhaps you haven’t given much thought as to which fashion designers are glass-half-full kinds of people, but the collections for Spring/Summer 2021 — inadvertently or not — may be a fairly good indication of who’s feeling optimistic these days. Think: pinks with a punch, the freshest shades of green, and sweet pastel yellow. These aren’t exactly the kind of hues you associate with doom and gloom, and upon closer inspection, there’s greater significance as to why so many designers have taken a chance on bright color trends on the Spring/Summer 2021 runways. Experts sure think so.

Dr. Dawnn Karen, a psychologist — more specifically, a pioneer in the field of fashion psychology — and author of Dress Your Best Life: How to Use Fashion Psychology to Take Your Look—and Your Life— to the Next Level, says that clothing has become a tool for breaking free of restriction and monotony, especially this past year. “Our relationship with colors and clothing has evolved,” says Dr. Karen to TZR. “People are paying more attention to it as a healing modality.”

According to Dr. Karen, brighter colors can elicit positive moods and darker colors can elicit more somber emotions. “So these colors,” she says upon viewing the pale yellows, soft lavenders, and bright greens seen at brands ranging from Christopher John Rogers to Peter Do, “give off an optimism.” Whether or not consumers gravitate toward them comes down to two theories, she explains: mood illustration dress and mood enhancement dress.

“Mood illustration dress occurs when people dress to perpetuate their mood and mood enhancement dress occurs when someone dresses to optimize their mood,” Dr. Karen says. “Essentially these designers coming out with the [Spring/Summer] 2021 looks are basically incorporating mood enhancement dress theory, where bright colors optimize their moods.”

Of course, the power of color — especially when you're looking to cultivate a specific emotion — is much more nuanced than just choosing brights over duller tones. “I believe that each color of the aura is an energy and a mood,” says Susanna Merrick, founder of Aura Wear, her intuitive styling and Aura-reading business. “Styling your aura is essential going through your closet and instead of saying ‘what do I need to wear today?’ saying ‘what do I want to wear that’s going to make me feel X, Y, Z?’”

According to Merrick, whose work includes reading the auras of her clients, style comes down to choosing which colors to wear to manifest a certain feeling, as well as recognizing that different energies are associated with a specific color. “When you think about violet [as a form of] energy, it’s all about visionary, manifestation, looking-to-the-future kind of stuff. So when it comes to your closet, the aesthetic is futuristic, trendy things that make you feel really elevated." She contrasts this with simply wearing the same color which can be a way to manifest your desired energy.

In short, the colors you gravitate toward and ultimately choose to wear, carry meanings much deeper than meet the eye. That includes the ones that are just a few months from landing at your favorite retail destinations. Ahead, Dr. Karen and Merrick share their unique expertise on what it all really means.

Spring/Summer 2021 Optimistic Color Trend: Pastel Yellow

Peter Do Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Peter Do

“Pale yellow means happiness, being jovial, a sense of likability, and if you’re in a stressful social situation, wearing yellow could mitigate that,” says Dr. Karen, looking at the new collections from Peter Do, Jil Sander, and Ferragamo. When it comes to her own clients, Dr. Karen says wearing yellow is something she prescribes, in fact, in order to project happiness that’s associated with the shade. “It can impact the psyche when someone’s wearing it and when someone’s looking at you.”

Additionally, Merrick points out that within these same examples of pale yellow outfits, the styles are also indicative of what it means to have yellow in your aura. "When you think about yellow as an aesthetic, we usually think about classic silhouettes and clothes that have longevity to them because they’re practical. Look at this fancy dress with flats. This classic trench but you need the purse around the hip because it’s more convenient. And then we have this sporty sweater dress, but she’s got everything in that bag because she’s got places to be and things to do," she says referring to the designer collections. "People who have yellow in their auras, this is the aesthetic they like."

Jil Sander Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Jil Sander
Salvatore Ferragamo Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Salvatore Ferragamo

Spring/Summer 2021 Optimistic Color Trend: Lavender

Stine Goya Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Stine Goya

As Dr. Karen says, purple is a shade that’s most often associated with royalty. And while next year’s color may bring a sense of regality or opulence, there’s also a more specific meaning beyond the lavender shade of purple trending in the collections of Stine Goya, Valentino, and Baum und Pferdgarten. “There’s a need for lavender and yellow because they are calming and there’s lots of chaos in the world and this reminds us of a simpler time,” suggests Merrick.

From an aura perspective, the stylist points out that lavender tends to have a dreamy, almost sci-fi energy that may suggest more futuristic and avant garde dressing. However, in perhaps a more soothing approach, that’s not entirely how designers chose to interpret the color. “Silhouettes are very classic and conservative yet comforting,” says Merrick of relaxed tailoring, mesh head-to-toe separates, and oversize shirting.

Baum und Pferdgarten Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Getty
Valentino Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Getty

Spring/Summer 2021 Optimistic Color Trend: Turquoise

Ulla Johnson Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Ulla Johnson

If you’re looking for a precise example of turquoise energy, look to the above ruffled dress from Ulla Johnson's runway. “It’s a turquoise aesthetic to a T,” shares Merrick. “I always say turquoise is the hippie energy: flowy but also connected to nature.” While the Ulla Johnson look may embody this feeling, Merrick also explains that the more structured turquoise pieces, such as those from Louis Vuitton and Christopher John Rogers, have a different vibe. One that feels especially pandemic-appropriate. “They’re trying to establish boundaries around the bodies.”

Dr. Karen predicts that, “collectively as a society,” the turquoise trend will be especially popular going forward into Spring/Summer 2021. “Blues are for calmness and authority, but looking at these photos, I’ll also say it’s serenity and the fact that you can soothe yourself.”

Louis Vuitton Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Louis Vuitton
Christopher John Rogers Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Christopher John Rogers

Spring/Summer 2021 Optimistic Color Trend: Tangerine

Tory Burch Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Tory Burch

“Orange represents taking risks. It’s a creative, confident, independent energy,” says Merrick about the colors seen at Tory Burch, Mara Hoffman, and Maryam Nassir Zadeh. She also calls it the most surprising of the trends in the group. “Most of us do associate orange with caution. It’s there to warn us to slow down or stop. It’s a color that can not be as comforting when we’re going into uncertain times.”

But don’t write it off, either. This tangerine shade may be polarizing, but those who love it really have the ability to embrace its power. After all, Dr. Karen explains that orange is the color of liveliness. “If you’re feeling unmotivated, wearing orange will give you that vitality,” says the fashion psychologist. It’s a sentiment that may really speak to anyone who’s spent a lot of time at home recently.

Mara Hoffman Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Mara Hoffman
Maryam Nassir Zadeh Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Maryam Nassir Zadeh

Spring/Summer 2021 Optimistic Color Trend: Green

Michael Kors Collection Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Michael Kors

For hope, fertility, and rebirth, Dr. Karen says this especially fresh shade of green embodies all these feelings. As far as optimism goes, it’s a color to embrace when next spring’s collections from Michael Kors Collection, Victoria Beckham, and Molly Goddard stock retail shelves. And if you’re already drawn to it, there’s a possible subconscious reason why.

“When someone is attracted to the color green, they’re calling in growth, expansion, determination, focus, ambition, goals,” says Merrick. “I always lovingly refer to green as the ‘Type-A energy’.” In other words, this is the color that will get things done.

Victoria Beckham Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Victoria Beckham
Molly Goddard Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Molly Goddard

Spring/Summer 2021 Optimistic Color Trend: Magenta

Christopher John Rogers Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Christopher John Rogers

In a traditional, and arguably outdated, sense, pink has typically been associated with feminine dressing. But in the spirit of breaking norms, both Dr. Karen and Merrick point out that this especially bold magenta hue is a powerful color choice that’s genderless.

“It represents the nonconformist, the go-against-the-grain. It tends to be a little more wacky, conversational aesthetic,” says Merrick of magenta energy, which happens to translate appropriately to the collections of Christopher John Rogers, Cecilie Bahnsen, and Stella McCartney with their creative styling. See: McCartney’s abstract one-sleeve look and Bahnsen’s whimsical tulle skirt. This might be an especially appealing option to individualists in 2021 who are ready to rebel against 2020’s very long athleisure streak.

Cecilie Bahnsen Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Cecilie Bahnsen
Stella McCartney Spring/Summer 2021. Photo: Stella McCartney

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