Skip to main content

Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year Should Bode Well for Denim

When Pantone named Classic Blue the 2020 Color of the Year in December, denim heads required no explanation why the confident, calm and enduring hue deserved the distinction. The color has been ingrained in the DNA of denim since its inception. It is synonymous with indigo, the foundation of every denim collection and the color of denim maestros’ stained hands.

In short, Classic Blue is denim. And in 2020, it may also be the color of money for denim brands that capitalize on the trend.

“Classic Blue is a staple for denim where it will always have a presence in the market,” Venetia Fryzer, retail analyst at retail data and analytics firm Edited, said.

Denim brands, she urged, should view the accolade as a chance “to come into their own and use this color choice as an opportunity to capitalize on their signature products.”

Deeper meaning

Like denim, Classic Blue is universally loved. Described as a “restful” color by Pantone, it highlights “our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.”

“We are living in a time that requires trust and faith,” Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said. “It is this kind of constancy and confidence that is expressed by Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue, a solid and dependable blue hue we can always rely on.”

Classic Blue
Classic Blue Pantone

The irony of Classic Blue is how the color has been here all along, right in front of our faces. The color is tied to the branding of major players in technology (Facebook), sport (The New England Patriots) and consumer products (Ford, Pepsi to name a few). And while Pantone maintains that there is no hidden political agenda as to why the color was selected for 2020, many news outlets like The New York Times noted the color’s connection to the Democratic Party in the U.S., the U.K. Conservative Party and the EU flag.

Related Story

“The choice of this harmonious and neutral shade generates a change that will affect many areas, not only the fashion and jeans market,” Lucia Rosin, founder of the Italian creative studio Meidea, said. “A color that can create a connection between sense and technology in their chromatic representations, this shows that simplicity is actually very complex.”

In fashion, the primary color has been looming as part of the streetwear movement. Off-White featured Classic Blue denim jackets and jeans with a velvet finish for Spring/Summer ’19. The blue hue, juxtaposed with neon green, made for an electrifying pairing on Louis Vuitton’s catwalk the same season.

Classic Blue served as the dramatic backdrop to Balenciaga’s Spring/Summer ’20 runway show in Paris, which only amplified the string of Classic Blue oversized puffer coats and crinoline dresses that literally bounced down the catwalk.

Classic Blue heats up fashion.
Balenciaga Spring/Summer 2020 PIXELFORMULA/SIPA/Shutterstock

The color was also prominent in the Spring/Summer ’20 collections of Eckhaus Latta (blue sequin tank gowns), Caroline Herrera (as dresses with oversized painterly brush strokes) and Haider Ackermann (monochromatic suiting).

“Classic Blue is the most universally embraced color,” Laurie Pressman, vice president at Pantone Color Institute, said. “It’s a color that no matter where you live, you look up you and see the sky and it’s there.”

Denim shares in the color’s universality. “Blue denim plays well in this messaging because it is all about what’s classic,” she added. “Denim is something that is dependable, that can be counted on and that is extremely personal.”

Blue moment

In a world of growing uncertainty, consumers may gravitate to stable, dependable fashion. “In light of this, brands might strip back to the basics and invest in timeless classics, where blue denim is at the heart of this,” Fryzer said.

Classic Blue presents a new opportunity for denim brands to play up their roots.

“As a brand entirely focused around denim, we were thrilled to see Classic Blue as Pantone’s Color of the Year,” Anne Crisafulli, Madewell’s head of merchandising,said. “At Madewell, we believe that there is nothing more classic than denim, which is why we’ve built our entire collection around it.”

Classic blue heats up retail in 2020
Madewell Madewell

The color runs deep throughout Etica’s women’s collection. “Denim is our core product, so we emphasize blues every season,” said Sage Matthews, Etica’s creative and design director. The spring line includes botanical tie-dye jeans, jacket and a shibori French Terry dress in Classic Blue. A jumper, skirt, shirt and jacket in the hue are due for spring.

“In Fall ’20, we are offering this shade in more of our core denim fits and in brand new fits we are introducing, with just a touch of wear to give them dimension,” Matthews said. “In Holiday ’20, we are exploring a range of washes—from vintage destroy, to ’70s clean and flat, to slightly tinted—all with the same classic blue base shade.”

While lighter washes dominated the Spring ’20 runway shows of brands like Ella Johnson and Louis Vuitton, mid-washes were present, Fryzer said. Versace, Brandon Maxwell, Marc Jacobs and Gucci introduced the color to their collections by way of denim with strong silhouettes inspired by the ’70s and ’80s.

And the first wave of men’s Fall/Winter ’20 shows indicates that more Classic Blue denim is to come. The vivid color was part of E. Tautz’s colorblocked denim tops, the foundation to Per Gotesson’s upcycled collection and featured in Charles Jeffrey Loverboy’s range of button-down shirting and extra-long scarves.

“As we look to Fall ’20, these hues may organically evolve into darker tones in line with the change of weather and as designers look to Pantone’s Classic Blue for inspiration,” Fryzer said.

Blue meets green

With color being an impactful marketing tool to lure peacocking millennials, expect a heap of Classic Blue style edits to come from trend-oriented retailers like Asos, Net-a-Porter and Revolve this spring, and for denim to be a major part of their curations.

Consumers are already searching for the color. Last month, global fashion search platform Lyst reported that searches for ‘royal blue’ were up 86.96 percent month on month and 17 percent up quarter on quarter.

In these edits, brands that can deliver Classic Blue jeans in a green way will have an advantage. Washes that have less of an impact on the environment and are gentler on the skin will be a key area of focus in 2020, Rosin said.

The color trend tees up a platform for denim brands to amplify new innovations that reduce water and chemicals in the dyeing process. Wrangler achieves the shade through its waterless Indigood foam dye denim. Meanwhile, G-Star Raw uses a dyeing processes called Crystal Clear, a hydro and salt-free dye system developed with Artistic Milliners and Dystar.

“The classic blue color represents concreteness, trust and innovation,” Rosin said. “I would say that it adapts very well to the great research work that has been done in the sustainable washes and finishes.”

Classic Blue heats up denim retail.
Classic Blue street style Olivier Degoulange/Shutterstock

The color may also have a longer shelf life than previous Pantone Colors of the Year like 2019’s Living Coral, a love-it-or-hate-it “animating” and “life-affirming” coral hue that was representative of our need for optimism and joy. As a result, a wider scope of consumers will hold onto Classic Blue garments for the long term.

And in the case of Classic Blue denim, consumers may grow to love the garments even more over time. “It feels worn in and a part of you,” Pressman said. “It shapes to your body and the colors change.”

Not to mention, the color has feel-good properties. “Classic Blue is neutral, it creates confidence and makes you feel at ease,” Rosin said.

Blue clues

So how will consumers style Classic Blue denim in 2020? Anything goes, according to the experts.

If it has any impact on denim sales, it will be positive, CIE Denim founder Kelcie Schofield said, especially when it comes to tonal dressing. “Any shade of denim will style well with Classic Blue,” she said, adding that Classic Blue has a “significant representation” in CIE’s collections for 2020.

Classic Blue heats up fashion.
Diplo rocks Classic Blue. Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

Matthews echoed that sentiment. “We love Canadian tuxedos, so we would love to see them paired with a matching indigo shade denim bottom,” she said. Alternately, she said the color will “go beautifully” with white, tan and non-denim styles that have workwear details.

She recommends merchandising the color with white or ecru for a “neat marine look.”

Or, play with contrasts. “Classic Blue pairs well with black, so I’d recommend wearing a Classic Blue top with your favorite pair of black denim,” Crisafulli said. Or, pair the color with a vintage-inspired wash. “It’s all about mixing different hues of blue to create dimension,” she said.