The Semiotics of Colour: From Millennial Pink to Gen-Z Yellow and Slime Green
Colour is deeply embedded in the production of meaning and identity within culture and the popularity of certain colours during certain periods within certain cultures can be utilized as an instance in which to unpack how meaning dictated by colour is ascribed within semiology. Contemporarily, the phenomenon of a single colour as a “cultural meme” has gained traction as the visuality embedded in digital media takes on more and more of a role in the collective production of meaning. Alongside the phenomenon of colour as a cultural meme, is the ascription of a colour to a certain era, and or generation of people.
Enter, Millennial Pink. Arguably the most influential shade of the decade, the colour has not ceased its reign at the forefront of aesthetics since its rise mid-decade. So much so, that it has become synonymous with an entire generation. Millennial pink, speaks volumes about colours ability to construct meaning and identity, even within vast, widely varied groups of people. Rose-gold iPhones, Acne Studios, Glossier, Gucci, Celine, Balenciaga, Rosé; hallmarks of ‘Millennialisms’ have all been wrapped in the shade at some point during the last 5 years. Somewhere between salmon and grapefruit, the colours various tones have become ubiquitous.
But can the semiotics of colour really absorb the ethos of a generation? Is associating a colour with an entire generation a gross overdetermination? What can Millennial Pink tell us about our culture as a whole? The palette, since its rise to popularity, has become synonymous with good taste and quality; luxury that eschews gaudiness for understated sophisticated femininity. It has a retro-kitsch quality to it; A Wes Andersen sensibility. Blatant consumerism masquerading as something more refined. Millennial Pink in many ways signifies a certain irony. It’s pink without the prettiness, a feminist statement and a cultural signifier of wealth and status all at once.
As with every trend, Millennial pink has been purportedly usurped as the shade du jour by a new palette, representing a new generation. Retro-kitsch refined consumerism has been eschewed by something a bit more broad and aggressive; hazy nostalgia and unapologetic exuberance in the form of Gen Z Yellow gives way to an altogether defiantly gaudy Slime Green. This new palette some would say is more varied, more turbulent; speaking to the fluid, amorphous, and variable nature of our times. In so much as we need nostalgia, crisp 1970’s warm hues of golden sunlight, which give us a hopeful optimism… we also need progress. Obnoxious, ugly, ironic and in your face. Cultural revolution was never realized without shaking up ideology.
If Millennial Pink represented consumerism masked as understated sophisticated luxury, the neon yellows and greens that have filled the runways and streetwear of 2018 mean something different altogether, something reactionary. The semiology of these colours is loud rebellion. Rebellion against the status quo. This is not the meek pseudo feminist-chic of pale pink, it is the flouting of societal convention, the subtext of Slime Green and loud Gen-Z Yellow is this: “I am not conforming to what you think I should be.”
This ethos can be seen in the larger context of not just the semiotics of colour but of aesthetics in the larger cultural milieu. “Bad Taste” has been trending for the past few seasons on the runways, and gaudy tacky aesthetics have reared their ugly heads in pop-culture in an ironic bid to refuse subjugation. Millennials grew up in the midst of the transition to the high definition aesthetics of contemporary digital culture and this transition into sleekness saw the generation manifest this sensibility into their products. Millennial Pink is a product of this, an articulation of a bid for sophistication, sleek luxury, and modernity.
Generation Z, on the other hand, grew up on high definition aesthetics, and have lived the majority of their lives confined by the prefabricated walls of manicured social media aesthetics and the glorification of perfection. The semiotics of Gen-Z Yellow and Slime Green and in the wider scope of the cultural milieu, that of “Bad Taste” is one of rebellion against this status quo.
Cody Rooney is a Glossi Mag contributor.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.