How This Shade of Yellow Became the Color of a Generation

How This Shade of Yellow Became the Color of a Generation

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Nancy Mitchell
Oct 26, 2017
Yellow fashions and yellow light in a photo from Rookie Mag.
(Image credit: Rookie Mag)

As a person who writes content for the internet, I am uncomfortably familiar with the lengths people will go to to entice people to click on their content. "X is the new Y" is a well-trod and reliable formula. Because who wouldn't want to know what's new? So when I saw the first flurry of articles crowning something called "Gen Z Yellow" the new Millennial Pink, I couldn't help but roll my eyes a little bit. Another day, another trend piece.

Kylie Jenner eats a banana. Gen Z yellow meets Millennial pink. Screenshot from her Instagram.
(Image credit: Kylie Jenner)

But still, I was intrigued. My investigation of this supposed phenomenon led me to an article from Elle Australia, which declared Gen Z yellow "The Colour To Watch (And Wear) Now". Scrolling through the examples of Gen Z Yellow fashion, I felt the same irritation that I initially did with the breathless articles about Millennial Pink: namely, that Gen Z yellow is not a color. Millennial pink, while also not a color, is at least a loosely amalgamated set of shades that are all kind of muted or salmon-y.

Rhianna wearing a yellow dress at the launch of her Fenty Beauty line.
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Fenty Beauty)

The Elle article, meanwhile, featured things in bright, sunny yellow, muddy, mustardy yellow, and nearly-fluorescent yellow. This is not some sort of special shade deserving of a generational moniker, I thought. It's just... yellow. Also, I was not convinced that fourteen people wearing yellow made it a Trend That is Sweeping the Nation. Trends are like conspiracy theories: if you look hard enough, you can find evidence for them everywhere.

Yellow light suffuses this portrait of Chance the Rapper, by Petra Collins (via her Instagram).
(Image credit: Petra Collins)

Digging a little deeper, I found this article, written by Haley Nahman for Man Repeller, identified by many sources as the one that started it all — not the trend, of course, but the wave of people talking about the trend (and the 'Gen Z' moniker). For evidence, there is Kylie Jenner eating a banana and wearing a pale yellow crop top — against a background of Millennial pink, a perfect capture of our particular color moment. There is Zendaya wearing a highlighter-yellow bikini, Tavi Gevinson sitting in a yellow chair, artist Petra Collins suffusing shots with a bright, yellowish light.

A self-portrait by Art Hoe co-founder Mars, via their Instagram.
(Image credit: Mars Interlude)

But it was in the comments of the article (yes, I am one of those people who reads the comments) that I found the most interesting clue. There, someone named Spiderlashes said:

hello i'm 16 this has been a thing for like three years it came with the Art Hoe movement.

Art Hoe movement? Spiderlashes further explains:

Was originally for WOC, but white girls took it over and made it Bad

Another portrait of Mars in yellow, from their Tumblr, via Dazed.
(Image credit: Sensitive Black Person)

A little more research was in order. Here's what I found: The Art Hoe movement was co-founded by Mars and Jam, two young artists and POC, as a way of redefining blackness and challenging stereotypes about people of color through art. Dazed describes it as "a sort of social-media driven Harlem Renaissance". Many of the works are portraits of the artists superimposed against famous pieces of art, often wearing rich, mustardy shades that reflect the colors in the original art.

The Art Hoe aesthetic: wildflowers, yellow backpacks. Photo by Samantha Tamburello, via her Instagram.
(Image credit: Samantha Tamburello)

The Art Hoe aesthetic, meanwhile, seems to be about wearing baggy jeans, picking wildflowers, having a Kanken backpack, and looking literary. One thing these two aspects of Art Hoe have in common? The color yellow. Scroll through the Art Hoe tag on Instagram and you'll see edgy teenage art next to lots of pictures of backpacks—all in that signature shade.

A yellow composition from Blurry Clothing, via their Instagram.
(Image credit: Blurry Clothing)

The Art Hoe yellow, it's worth noting, exists on a much tighter spectrum than the colors in the Elle and Man Repeller articles. It's still not a single color, but it encompasses only a handful of shades, from pale yellow to mustard. And while this yellow may not yet have achieved the level of ubiquity that Millennial Pink has, I think it's worth watching. The true trend setters—the young people, the artists—have probably already moved on to something else, but for us, yellow's time in the sun may be just beginning.

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