Every developer knows that color has meaning. A dark, cerulean blue is a brooding color, while turquoise plays on the bubblier side of life. The colors designers choose for their posters, programs, websites and projects all reflect a feeling and try to evoke a certain mood about their brand. But what can a vintage color palette say about a website or business?
Vintage is sort of a catch-all term for items from the past and encompasses a variety of aesthetics and moods. Each decade of the 20th century has its own cultural touchpoints and nostalgic themes, and it is important to understand the history, cultural zeitgeist, and meaning of these palettes before using them in your next project.
Uncover the history and feelings behind using vibrant green and muted yellow in a vintage color palette for design and development.
Why Do We Like Vintage Items?
Using a vintage color palette is popular in many designing and marketing circles to push a certain brand persona or mood to a website. In conjunction with vintage logos and fonts, a retro aesthetic can be the hub of any feature or organization.
Retro aesthetics are ingrained in popular culture. Most people can recognize the checkerboard floors and blue suede shoes of 1950s Americana, for example. Their colors, clothing and furniture act as archetypes and stand-ins for memory. Though the 1950s was 70 years ago, the look of the era is so familiar it is as if most people alive today lived through it.
Nostalgia is truly a powerful tool. Because these aesthetics have such a hold on popular culture, marketers can use the moods and feelings attached to these eras to evoke the same feelings about a website or brand.
Young people are also preferential to vintage aesthetics. Retro is unique; even with slight imperfections, its originality is what makes it special. The feeling of witnessing something unique is alluring to younger generations.
Vintage 1950s: Poodle Skirts and Pastels
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A girl is swaying a poofy skirt gently to the rhythm of the music. Although the neon lights outside cast a glare on the cherry red menus, she knows exactly what she wants. Someone slides another coin in the chrome-plated jukebox as the chef passes her a juicy burger, sizzling fries and a chocolate shake. It’s a picture you might recognize: a night from the 1950s.
Understanding the 1950s Aesthetic
1950s aesthetics are all about romanticism, classy ideals, and pastels. After the second World War, Americana hit its stride with an economic boom. New projects are funded, like space travel, technology for home, and medicine.
Some popular colors stayed muted and neutral, leaning into 1950s ideals of sensibility. However, the colors most remember are the vibrant reds and lovely pastels that coated diners, dresses and more. Romantic mint greens and soft pinks in the home cast a dream-like quality over the scape, and the bright red cars represent a time of money, flashy wealth, big dreams and the beginnings of rock music.
How to Incorporate the 1950s Palette?
To advertise and design with a vintage 1950s color palette, lean into the dream-like qualities of drinking a milkshake in a chrome diner. These soft colors have an air of romanticism, while the reds and turquoise echo a flashy blast from the past. Using these colors can call back to the beginnings of a business and show the age and experience. It can also reference close-knit family and familiarity. Family-owned businesses may want to utilize 50s palettes, for instance.
Vintage 1960s: Rocking Oranges and Browns
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A family perches on the burnt sienna leather couch, peering into the fuzzy black and white television set. Slowly, a man bounces across the rocky surface–the first human to do so. Later the child will retire to her room, plastered with photos of British bands and rock records. She flips through a magazine and daydreams about painting bold eyeliner and donning feathered coats tomorrow. She is a child of the 1960s.
Understanding the 1960s Aesthetic
Americana in the 1960s aesthetic is all about freedom and great change. Social reform and civil rights leaders protested and campaigned for equality. Music experimented with new sounds, like the British Invasion bands who sang lyrics about “peace and love” to their adoring fans. Finally, technological advances alter this decade with the moon landing and technicolor.
The groovy, bright pinks and tangerine oranges reminiscent of the 60s reflect the free love counterculture that led into the 1970s, while the more burnt oranges and browns are similar to the “mod” style with go-go boots and bouffant hair. Colorful psychedelic patterns and classic colored suits also came in style as revolutionary changemakers demanded attention.
How to Incorporate the 1960s Aesthetic?
Oranges and pinks can echo a bold and innovative vibe for the design or website. Feathered and vibrant patterns represent a fun experience, perfect for an entertainment or event page. Calling back to the iconic Americana moments from the 60s is a great way to express individuality and fun.
The more muted browns and sienna colors pair well with the idea of a classic look. Like the 50s, many people associate pop culture with this decade and love their favorite bands and movies from the era. The mid-century modern look is particularly popular in the past few years and continues to draw people in with its sleek, styled warm hues.
Vintage 1980s: Vibrant and Quirky Colors
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A boy leans again the blinking machine, zapping aliens through the joystick. Underneath his scuffed sneakers is the popping patterned carpet filled with neon triangles and zig-zags. The hot glow of the arcade echoes out onto the street, where his friends drop their bikes and tumble inside. Large glasses, acid wash jeans, and MTV blaring from the mounted television: it’s the 1980s.
Understanding the 1980s Aesthetic
The 80s is one of the most iconic decades, particularly in the past few years with period pieces set in the decade. Bright colors, fun games, and boppy tech music are all the markers of an 80s style. The further advancements in technology, like video games, arcades, and computers find a burst of color.
Energy and vibrancy is in the heart of popular advertisements and music. The 80s weren’t afraid to be quirky, and this extended to the neon yellows and glowing purples. Teal and blue also make an starring role in many fashion trends and home decor.
How to Incorporate the 1960s Aesthetic?
The 80s brings a lot of nostalgia for old games or childhood memories, like late nights at the arcade. Using this aesthetic for a vintage color palette means drawing on these positive memories. Furthermore, the vibrancy and unapologetic brightness of these colors can show that a website is unafraid to be itself.
Is the business or event marketing individuality and a fresh, fun look? The 80s colors perfectly exemplify this feeling. Try out the quirky blues and purples for the next design.
Choosing a Vintage Color Palette
Whether going classy or fresh and free, there are so many ways to incorporate vintage aesthetics into the project. Colors have deep meaning, and drawing on color psychology can do the heavy lifting to cast a mood or draw in an audience.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.