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Sage Advice

event wisdom

by the Founder & Creative Director of

Sage McRae Event Design

  • Writer's pictureSage McRae

The Blah Cheer of Pantone's 2021 Colors


A steely grey and lemon yellow were Pantone's selections for the colors of 2021


Here I sit at the helm of 2021, wondering what this new year has in store for my business and the world. Given the tragedies and challenges of the-year-that-shall-not-be-named, it's rather difficult to feel optimistic for what lies ahead. Yet, I still feel it! Hope, if it indeed springs eternal, has recently done so more like a faucet whose handle has been turned on and off by varying degrees. It isn't consistent and it can be on the cool or the warm side when the water finally flows. In that way, I suppose hope for 2021 is just like the two colors Pantone selected for this year: "Ultimate Grey" and "Illuminating." The former: kind of like duct tape; the latter: reminiscent of a lemon. The grey just exists, without flair or prestige. It's blah and doesn't inspire hope or optimism. Lemon yellow is cheery and fresh, like the color of a child's Crayon-drawn sun over a house and stick family; it is positively happy. Perhaps Pantone chose the two as a message of its prediction for the year ahead, that although the difficulties continue, some brightness can be found.

(A note to add that grey is not a hue; it is a shade or a tint. It's white with black added, or black with white added, whichever way you prefer to say it. Colors are hues which can be tinted with white or shaded with black. I'll keep it simple and use "color" freely to mean a hue, tint, shade, whatever, you get the picture.)

Anyhow, sticking with lemon as a theme, we can use the well-known idiom to explain how "that year" of COVID-19, fires that turned the sky orange, and a contentious political landscape gave us lemons and now, in 2021, we will make proverbial lemonade. Or a lemon drop, if you prefer a glass of something with a higher proof...or lemon bars or lemon curd to put on scones, and oh no -- there's why I gained my "covid 19!" Really, though, what's up with these colors, Pantone? Often the yearly color(s) is/are used to inspire wedding trends or interior décor. These two hues were chosen based on "experts" advising what they believe will be popular in upcoming months. As a wedding planner for the last 17 years, I've seen some years' selections resonate strongly with couples and others flop. Or there's a delay as trends catch on across the country. Not since 2009 has Pantone selected a yellow, when it chose the more golden Mimosa to symbolize its predictions. Further back in 2006 we were gifted Sand Dollar, a pale but warm tan that was rather less like the bleached sand dollars I used to collect off the Pensacola beaches as a kid visiting my grandmother, and more like the sand you would find at beaches. (Not the white sand of Pensacola or the brown & grey of the San Francisco Bay, but more like what people think of as "sand" whenever they do consider such a thing). Honestly, my first thought when I saw that the colors were grey & yellow? Chevron prints with mostly grey and an accent of yellow. That style was everywhere, circa 2010 or thereabouts. It's been done, and done again.

Does it matter if anyone follows Pantone's predictions?

Do I think we will see weddings using Ultimate Grey or Illuminating to inspire their décor scheme? In a few words: yes and no. My prediction is that the folks who like classic and austere looks will use grey (ooh, in how many shades?!) to indicate their reserved and purportedly upper class tastes. They would have been the group who chose Sand Dollar and linen hemstitch napkins, don't you think? (On that note, why are saturated colors associated with less dignified tastes, or something lower class? Although I didn't mean race, let's face it, the American culture is so focused on white supremacy that the upper class prefers white décor to connote its superiority! Of course, this is suuuuper reductive and I should spend more time on this thought that dropping a weight like this at the end of a blog post. Plus, it's not even accurate throughout history, as it was Queen Victoria who set the Western trend for wearing white as a bride -- rather than, thank you Pantone, something similar to Ultimate Grey. Let's set this paragraph insert aside for now and get back to the originally scheduled post, with the promise that I will elaborate in future posts, or direct you to writers much better educated in topics of race, colorism, and the intersections of class and gender with both.) Those, like me, who enjoy the cheer and vitality of vibrant colors, will likely use this lemony yellow in addition to another hue...I'm thinking coral. We could use more warmth and cheer!

Does it matter if anyone follows Pantone's advice/predictions? Not really. What is important in all of this is that we DO carry on hoping, that we not only illuminate the future with the brightness of science (hello, vaccines!) but also shine a light on WHO matters most to us. After a year of isolation and hopelessness for many, and knowing that there will be plenty more rough moments ahead, we've learned that spending time with the people (and animals...and possibly the "pet" plants) we love is not only enjoyable, but necessary for our health. Sure, take breaks and social distance like the best of us introverts, but then, when it's safe to do so, hug a friend, gather around a dinner table, dance at a concert, and smile widely as you watch two (human) lovebirds share their vows! Stay steely strong, then beam happiness. After all, isn't that the gift of having survived the struggles, and what the countless numbers of lost souls would want us all to do?

Acknowledge your ultimate strength, Illuminate the world, and hope for better.

1 Comment

Sage McRae
Sage McRae
Jan 05, 2021

What are your thoughts about Pantone's selection for this year? Will you use them for any events you're planning in 2021 or 2022? I can't wait to hear from you!

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