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April 5, 2010, 10:20 pm

Why Purple Will Be the New Blue

Originally posted on The Huffington Post.

Ten years ago, I predicted that blue would be the new green. When I released my annual trends forecast for 2000, I pointed to the power of Millennium Blue. I meant it figuratively—our concern with all things environmental would morph into heightened awareness about the world’s water supply (and, sure enough, when magazines got bored with their “green” issues a few years later, some of them published “blue” issues to highlight this dimension of climate responsibility). But I also meant it literally. The tail end of the 1990s saw the release of Apple’s first-generation iMacs in a beachy hue called Bondi Blue, Pepsi’s repackaging in a deeper shade of blue and the launch of the American Express Blue credit card, positioned as an evolution of the classic green one.

Now I’m seeing that purple is going to be the new blue.

Here’s why I say this: Blue is as primary as primary colors come. It’s a slice of the primary color wheel that we used in elementary school to mix more exotic shades such as orange and green. It’s a foundation of RGB (B being for blue) and CMYK printing processes (C for cyan). It’s half of the electoral map that has come to serve as shorthand for our divided political climate. It has a million clear-cut connotations: blue states, the Blue and the Gray, blue laws, the blues.

Purple, on the other hand, is a hybrid that defies easy categorization. It’s not shorthand for much of anything. It’s the end of the rainbow, the last color on the visible spectrum. Or it’s something you can make by mixing two other colors together. (Try doing that to make blue.)

If purple is shorthand for anything now, it’s arguably the undecided, could-go-either-way nature of the political landscape, circa 2010. What used to be called swing states are increasingly called purple states. And not just the longtime swing states, but any state with elected offices up for grabs this year, or with Democrats in the governor’s mansion and Republicans in Congress (or vice versa). Thanks to Scott Brown, even true-blue Massachusetts is looking rather rosy.

Of course, I’m not just talking literally about color here. (Though a look at fashion runways from the past few seasons points to a real style trend.) My larger point is that blending, mixing and hybridizing are the defining features of our culture today.

We have a mixed-race president. Non-Hispanic, single-race whites are expected to be a minority in America by the year 2050. Monoculture is on its way out, and multicultural is no longer just a buzzword. Blending and blurring will be the future, and stereotyping will get harder and harder to do.

I’m not blithely suggesting that all prejudice will magically go away. I’m all too aware that old biases die hard and that full social justice is still far away. But think about how far we’ve come and how hard it’s going to be to say, “People like that are like that” when there are hardly any people exactly like “that” and instead we’re all “that and that and that.”

Consider the Tea Party, for example. When the movement started last year, many commentators dismissed its members as right-wing nutjobs. But a number of more sensitive, in-depth profiles in the past few months have shown that the reality is, of course, far more complex than the easy stereotype. And with the Tea Party’s popularity outstripping that of the Democrats and Republicans, it’s clear it’s a force to be reckoned with.

Even people who still identify with one of the traditional parties are starting to see more shades of gray—make that purple, as in kind of red and kind of blue—around issues. The rich variety of news and opinions we can find on the Web has enabled us, if we choose to look, to see political and social issues from all sides. Plenty of people who were in favor of health-care reform were given pause when AT&T announced last week that it would be taking a $1 billion charge as a result of the legislation.

Or take the shifting views on same-sex marriage—still a contentious issue, to be sure—which was until recently as unthinkable as interracial marriage was in the 1950s. It’s now the law of the land in five states and the District of Columbia, and it’s likely on its way to the Supreme Court. Come to think of it, lavender, or light purple, has long been associated with lesbians and gay men, who have become a bit harder to stereotype in an age when “Will and Grace” and Ellen DeGeneres have long been on TVs across the country.

I don’t mean to sound utopian. We still have a long way to go, and stereotyping—and worse, prejudice and violence—will likely never go away. But as with everything in our world these days, it’s getting increasingly complicated. Simple dichotomies such as red and blue are behind us. Purple clothing may come and go, but I believe purple as a state of mind is here to stay.

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4 comments to Why Purple Will Be the New Blue

  • Stuart Harris

    What a coincidence. In the trendy cliff-top Sicilian town of Taormina last week I was struck by how much purple there was in the shops. Not so much as to be overwhelming, but certainly enough to be noticeable.

    Okay, Sicily isn’t Italy and Italy isn’t the United States, but having been around for the rise of Millennium Blue, I’m getting a similar sense with purple.

  • William

    Nice watching Marian. I like your examples. But what about Holland? Tolerancy is under pressure. Some people forget there is grey (purple). So, I have some mixed (purple) feelings about this for my home country. I hope you’re right though.

  • Good stuff Marian. Like your reliance on the political landscape. What about orange…especially in the ad agency world (sites, letterhead, etc.)? Early adopters started using it in the mid 2000’s, and now it’s everywhere. Should we dump the orange on our site and change it to purple. Or…are we too late?
    Thoughts?

  • Tamilla Mamedova

    Amazing article… Purple is indeed a state of mind. The world could use a little bit of creativity. Let me add another interesting insight to this piece: If you look at the chakra rainbow, you’ll see that the color of one’s “crown chakra”, the chakra which is at the top of your head and connects you to the universal energy (or God, a synonym for ‘universal energy’ in my experience), is the color purple.

    In terms of your excellent political examples about red states and blue states, I agree wholeheartedly.. America, and the rest of the world, could use a little tolerance and “purpleness” :)

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