The Color of Young. The Color of Old. What are the Shades of Age?

Written by Erika Woelfel

A friend told me recently she had bought an “age appropriate” swimsuit for the beach this summer. She is a mom and career woman with an enviable figure. I was trying to picture what an age appropriate swimsuit would look like for someone in their mid 30. At what age should you not wear the swimsuit on the cover of Cosmo? Should the middle aged wear black swimwear to the beach? Should it be ruffled? Have a matching cap and modesty wrap? I couldn’t help thinking: if I were in great shape, I would wear the smallest, most colorful bikini possible without frightening away the local flora and fauna!

But then again…back to reality. I’m not always that daring, and I shrink to think of others judging me based on my imperfections. Sadly, this is how many people approach their decorating projects, with trepidation and a sense for whether others might approve or disapprove depending on their own ideas of what is fashionable or appropriate.

So, do words like “ageless” and “timeless” apply to consumer preferences for color? It’s a tough call. There are universal truths about color, and then of course, there are individual preferences. For example, it has been widely stated (and researched) that blue is America’s favorite color, and women are more likely than men to wear colors like bright red or purple. But now we’re seeing hot pink and bright orange crossing over the gender lines. The rule is, there are no rules for who can use what color anymore. We can partly thank globalization to this change. The exposure and acceptance of other cultures has broadened not just our taste for exotic foods – but our decorating color palette as well!

I’m not sure I agree that only people of a certain age use certain colors for their homes. Just because you’re over 60 doesn’t mean you only want to use classic colors like hunter green and navy, and just because you’re under 25 doesn’t mean you will only want to use special effect lime green and electric blue.

However, look for considerations when designing hospitality or health care facilities for the elderly – aging eyes see color differently. As we get older, the eye lens yellows, making it difficult to see the differences between blue and blue green. Pastel colors often look very washed out, thus the need for brighter hues. Case in point: little old ladies wearing too bright blush or lipstick isn’t a mistake on their part – they are only using colors they can actually see! To help elderly people see color better, fluorescent lights are helpful, as well as bulbs for task lighting labeled “high color” or “excellent color rendering.”

The old rule about only using historical colors in a period home doesn’t work anymore either – I see Gen Xers doing it their way by fixing up Mission bungalows and putting contemporary Ikea styled kitchens in them. Colors range from bright red to buttery yellow to Mediterranean blue and turquoise. The opposite is true as well: Historical colors look great in city lofts! A feature wall in antique gold looks great with dark woodwork, Italian leather sofas, and creamy plush area rugs on polished floors.

How much more can be said for how different age groups select and use color?

The latest forecasts show color that is characterized by sporty, fresh hues. Baby boomers in particular, with their massive spending power, will drive the trend as they create social, lively atmospheres at home. This life force palette of lush green, clean blue and vibrant yellow comes in mid-range values and saturated versions. Look for softer shades of pink, salmon and orange making their way home as well. They do wonders for setting a romantic mood and helping your complexion glow!

The bottom line here is this: it doesn’t matter how old you are, you are attracted to what makes you feel most comfortable in your personal space and haven! Trends may come and go, but there is no expiration date on a favorite color. It all comes down to a frame of mind, and most of us like to consider ourselves “ageless” in one way or another. People are only limited by attitude when it comes to what they can accomplish, and by what colors they want to use in their lives.

Reprinted with permission from

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