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Farewell to Classic Blue, Pantone’s Color of the Year 2020

As Pantone gears up to announce its Color of the Year for 2021, the fashion industry is likely crossing its collective fingers for a selection that will pull consumers out of a deep funk.

While most can’t wait to kiss the Year of Covid goodbye, Pantone’s 2020 color pick deserves a second look as its moment in the spotlight is set to expire. There have been plenty of distressing distractions throughout these prolonged and painful months, and it’s worth noting that Classic Blue—a hue originally chosen for its comforting simplicity, reminiscent of a sky at dusk—may have been just the tone we needed to carry us through troubling times.

Indeed, Pantone’s late-2019 rationalization for its choice seems prophetic in hindsight.

“Instilling calm, confidence and connection,” Laurie Pressman, vice president the of Pantone Color Institute wrote, “this enduring blue highlights our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.”

No one could have predicted how destabilizing this new phase of 21st-century life would be. A global pandemic surfaced in late winter, giving way way to heightened social tensions during the summer months. Heated nationwide protests of police brutality and racism rose up across the country, with a fervor reminiscent of the Civil Rights movement.

A contentious political landscape saw the continued lobbing of divisive rhetoric, while the country yearned for a philosophical balm to heal and inspire. Blood boiled redder across the country with every passing day in quarantine. But as consumers began to bandage their emotional wounds, true blue appears to have won out—and not just in the presidential election.

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“The Pantone Color of the Year we select is the color we feel best reflects what people are looking for—what they feel they need that color can hope to answer,” Pressman told Sourcing Journal this week. “With that in mind, we do feel that Pantone Classic Blue was absolutely a fitting choice for the year we have had.”

Pantone’s global team of color experts “combs the world looking for new color influences,” she said. They tap into the entertainment industry as well as the worlds of fashion, art and design to unearth inspiration. They also consider socio-economic conditions, new technologies and materials on the market, aspirational travel destinations, trending social media platforms and even upcoming sporting events that stand to capture worldwide attention.

“With our selection for Pantone Color of the Year 2020, we found ourselves on the precipice of a new era,” Pressman said. “It was critical that the color we selected could accurately capture the zeitgeist of what people were feeling.” Classic Blue highlights the public’s desire for a stable foundation, “something which we are craving during this uncertain time.”

“Pantone chose the color at the end of 2019 for its restful, reassuring and dependable nature,” says Edited analyst Venetia Fryzer, adding that Classic Blue has indeed resonated with consumers of all ages, “especially with the challenges faced worldwide in 2020.”

According to Fryzer, retailers employed promotions to tap into “the hue’s deeper calming and relaxing psychological qualities” this spring, as the pandemic began to take hold. “Classic Blue is a staple shade, and its qualities appeal to many different demographics” across ages, genders and races, she noted.

In analyzing a cross-section of U.S. mass-market retailers, the color made up an even larger proportion of the color mix of nearly all apparel categories this fall. Bottoms featured it most prominently, with 11 percent of pant arrivals showing up in some form of blue.

This should come as no surprise given the continued popularity of denim, Fryzer said, and all-American blue jeans in particular. This year, 32 percent of denim arrivals were blue, up from 27 percent in 2019. “Consumers are clearly favoring classic denim washes, with this hue accounting for nearly a quarter of jeans that arrived and sold out this season,” she added.

Analysts at Trendalytics underscored Classic Blue’s popularity in the denim sector. Of the top 10 lifestyle categories to embrace blue this year, denim was the undisputed No. 1, with nearly three-fifths of the blue products attributed to jeans and denim jackets. Athletic apparel came in at a distant No. 2 for apparel, with about 9 percent of activewear appearing on shelves in blue hues.

Analysts characterized the color as a “top market mover,” with 21 percent of new Classic Blue SKUs currently out of stock, and blue products on the market growing by 3 percent over the past 30 days alone. The tone also generated almost 70 percent more social buzz than it did in 2019, with denim brands like Gloria Vanderbilt, Levi’s, Madewell, NYDJ, and Agolde driving a portion of that engagement.

While Trendalytics described blue color ways’ search volume as both high and stable, the firm says with 70 percent confidence that blue shades would begin to decline in popularity over the next three months—perhaps as the world makes way for a brand-new Color of the Year.

Unlike 2019’s Living Coral or 2018’s Ultra Violet, though, Classic Blue is an unshakeable constant in the fashion lexicon. In the form of denim jeans, the color acts almost as a neutral—an amenable partner to whatever wild or subdued complement a wearer might choose. “This universal favorite is comfortably embraced,” Pantone color scientists wrote of Classic Blue when it debuted as their pick a year ago.

As the world readies itself for the end of this color chapter, the bracing, reflective tone may be just the one consumers cling to at the close of a chaotic year. In the waning days of 2020, shoppers will likely continue to gravitate to Classic Blue—a hue that “fosters resilience,” Pantone said, signaling “the return of another day.”