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The Pantone Fashion Report

By Sylvia A. MartinezMar 5 2021
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Who doesn’t need to reimagine their wardrobe after working from home ushered in a weekly rotation of sweatpants and joggers? In 2020, we became experts at all-business-on-top and ready-for-a-nap on the bottom for Zoom work calls. Helping to usher out 2020 and welcome a livelier new year, Pantone—the premier experts on color trends—declared not one but two colors for 2021: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating (a yellow).

“The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit.”

Now, as winter gives way to spring, we’re beginning to emerge from our cozy cocoons of drab, even if it’s just to go to Gristedes for some groceries, and what better way to do that than in outfits inspired by the two colors of the year.

In color theory, gray is associated with nuance, indecision, or cloudy skies. But gray is also steady, dignified, and neutral. As New Yorkers are well aware—it’s smart, and a smart fashion choice. Yellow is associated with joy and happiness, intellect and energy. It’s cheerful and attention-getting. It produces a warming effect and it is known to stimulate energy. The arrival and administering of vaccines bring hope that we will return to normal someday soon, and sunnier colors speak to that collective feeling of hope.

I love yellow, it’s such a great color generally,” says Steven Alan’s Lucy Croft. “It speaks to optimism. We can’t help but feel a little bit lighter.” Isabella Castaldi of Free People agrees: “Yellow is such a happy color. That’s probably why it was chosen, people need happiness and bright colors and lightness in their lives right now.”

We turned to Croft, operations director for Steven Alan, a shop part of the RC CAPSULE program at Rockefeller Center, and Castaldi, store brand creative experience leader for Free People, about how to incorporate yellow and gray into our mostly at-home wardrobes. Here are their tips:

Step out of your comfort zone. Steven Alan largely sticks to the tried-and-true black, gray, navy, and white. But when it came to picking wool fabric for a new shirt jacket, the team was drawn to a bright yellow marigold. “We were a little nervous, but it hit the mark when it comes to what people need right now,” Croft says. “The color has been flying off the shelves.” Her advice? We should be daring when it comes to incorporating these Pantone picks and other colors into our wardrobes. “If you see something you like, go for it! It’s a pretty amazing mood lifter.”

Get comfortable with comfort. Moving outside your comfort zone doesn’t mean abandoning comfort, according to Free People’s Castaldi. While we continue to stay in and work from home, we can strive for “elevated comfort.” Think buttery-soft sweater sets with matching pants or shorts, grand sweatshirts, and softer jackets in sunshiny or orangey yellows for those more formal Zoom calls, she advises. Even the “groutfit”—a word mashup of “gray” and “outfit” for a monochromatic head-to-toe gray—has been elevated with soft fabrics and textures, as well as fashionable skirts, vests, and jumpsuits. Comfy clothing is all about texture. We should feel good in what we wear against our skin, both figuratively and literally.

Little pops of color go a long way. If you’re still partial to your NYC uniform of mostly black and the occasional gray, there’s no reason to fret: Accessories are just what the fashionistas ordered. A charcoal gray dress or ensemble allows you to maintain your very New York look—and add a pop of yellow. One quick and easy way to lift not just your hair but your spirits is to pull up your hair with a big yellow hair claw, Castaldi says. You can look more pulled together or messy-fab in seconds. Instantly brighten your face with a bandana, neck scarf, or facemask—the most important accessory of 2020–2021. Sticking to basics and branching out a bit in accessories makes for happy New Yorkers, according to Croft. Although be warned: She advises against yellow-and-black combos, lest we end up buzzing about the city looking like giant bumblebees.


Basics don’t have to mean boring. Gray is a nice soft neutral, a classic midpoint between black and white, a yin and yang that provides balance, according to Castaldi. The beauty of it too, is that it easily pairs with its co-color of yellow. While Ultimate Gray is in the middle of the gray spectrum, there are so many shades of gray (easily more than 50). Lighter shades are seen as more feminine, while darker charcoal or slate grays are more industrial and masculine. Blue-grays are cooler, while pink-grays are warmer. Gray is never boring; just think about all of the metal finishes—platinum, sterling, and chrome—that make for fabulous metallic grays.

Only time will tell what will happen with fashion when people are ready to freely mingle again. Some fashion designers have predicted a revival of the Roaring ’20s, which followed the Spanish Flu pandemic and a victory in WWI. While there likely will be some return to glam as people will be happy to gather again, many predict that the “elevated comfort” look Castaldi spoke of is here to stay. “Right now, I’m seeing really great yellows, hot pink, and other colors exploding on my computer screen,” Croft says. “But we’re starved for human interaction. The possibility of getting dressed, going into stores, and trying on clothes with a friend sounds like absolute heaven right now.”

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