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All the Colors of the Rainbow… and Then Some

Fall has arrived. That means Mother Nature has one last blast of color in store for us before the winter whitewash begins. The same can be said for our clothing. Spring, summer and fall clothing are as colorful as the world around us, but winter clothing tends to be drab. As I’ve thumbed through catalogs filled with fall and winter clothing, I noticed that some of the descriptions of the colors of those clothes can be helpful and some are utterly useless. Sure, I can see the color on the page of the catalog or on the website, but I want to know if the red is more like a cherry or a cranberry. Is the purple more like a plum or an eggplant? That’s when I look to the name of the color to help me narrow down the exact hue.

Anyone familiar with buying paint or cosmetics knows that there are some wacky names for colors. Descriptions of clothing used to be more straightforward. Over the past year, I’ve taken note of some of the unusual color names I’ve come across for clothing.

The colors of a rainbow can be so limiting.

The colors of a rainbow can be so limiting.

The Culinary Collection

The grocery store is clearly an inspiration for the people selecting names for many colors. There is a smorgasbord of food names used to describe the color of clothing. Of all the color names I came across, these seemed to be the most helpful in trying to determine an exact shade of a color. Most of the names in this collection fall into one of these 5 sub-categories: fruits and vegetables, condiments, grains, ice cream and beverages. You can wake up in the morning and dress yourself in oatmeal, raisin and coffee. Not getting enough vegetables in your diet; wear pumpkin, beet and okra. You can don a shiraz shirt and head to happy hour. Have a craving for something sweet? No problem. Just wear pistachio cream or butterscotch.

The Natural Collection

These colors inspired by the world around us are descriptive, but ambiguous. Fresh air and sea breeze are seemingly similar in concept, yet vastly different in color. Other than brown smog, air doesn’t really have a color. If you feel like you need a vacation, dress yourself with a destination in mind. If you’ve planned your wardrobe well, there’s no need to ever leave your closet. You can spend a day at the beach by wearing sand, palm and Caribbean colored clothing. If you prefer a walk in a garden, dress yourself in hydrangea, rose and bark. (I’m pretty sure they meant tree – not dog.)

The Insult Collection

Feeling blue? Maybe it’s the color you’re wearing that is affecting your mood. The names of these colors don’t do much to improve the wearer’s self-esteem.

Lush – Clothing items with this name were wine colored, not the lush green of a jungle. This makes me believe that the marketers were hoping to appeal to heavy drinkers. Go ahead; spill your red wine on this shirt. It will blend right in.

Drab – Hopefully this appeals to a person who prefers a subdued color palette, not a description of their overall personality.

Traffic cone – When I’m stuck in traffic, I have plenty of time to contemplate how lovely I would look wearing something the same shade of neon orange as the cones obstructing my lane.

Elephant –Who wouldn’t feel like a million bucks when they’re  wearing clothing that reminds them of a huge, wrinkled creature? Elephants are intelligent and graceful for their size, but they can pull off the gray wrinkles much better than humans can.

The Logophile Collection

These color names are helpful descriptors, if you can decipher them. This collection appeals to those with a sense of fashion and a big vocabulary. Colors like cerulean, vermillion, ochre and jonquil all fall into this category. The most challenging color I came across was vicuña. I had no idea what that was.  Thanks to Google, I now know that a vicuña is a South American animal similar to a llama. I guess if you’re willing to wear elephant, why not wear vicuña?

The WTF Collection

Clearly, the marketing people who selected these color names were absolutely out of ideas or high on something. These words do nothing to suggest a particular color.

Flag –This isn’t helpful. Which country’s flag are they referring to? This leaves too much room for interpretation.

Horizon – What time of day should I look at the horizon to get an idea of the color of the clothing?

Heritage – I don’t even know where to begin with how useless this word is as a description for a color.

Pebble – Why stop with pebble? Why not gravel, dust, dirt, grout?  The possibilities for this generic color are endless.

Nomad – Tan is such a bland color. Calling it nomad is so much more exotic.

Midnight affair – This shade of teal must be the official color of adulterers.

Plum kitten – I’ve had cats in my life since I was 3 years old. Never once have I seen a plum kitten. Purple is my favorite color. Believe me, if cats came in that color, I’d have gotten one.


Not getting a clear description of the clothing I’d like to buy has me seeing red. Well, maybe it’s not red, maybe it’s cranberry or ketchup or summer sunset.


What strange color names have you come across?


About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

28 responses »

  1. Great write! I’ve never really thought about it before.

  2. For precise, try aubergine which I discovered is the color of eggplant (dark purple). But for having the blues, is it ‘French blue,’ ‘turquoise,’ ‘sky’ (definitely vague), or one of the many zillion other blues?

    Paprika, thanks for your humorous take on this dilemma. 😉

  3. Hi Paprika! I actually considered buying a paprika red car not long ago …

  4. I have missed this blog.
    Cyan. At the point where I heard that, I was sure I’d heard them all before

    • It’s nice to know I was missed. Thanks for coming back to read. I’m really trying to get back onto a more predictable schedule with the blog.

      Cyan is a good one. I didn’t come across it in my online and catalog travels, but that is definitely a word for the logophile collection.

  5. I am literally “green” with envy after reading your latest commentary. You have left little room for us punsters to negotiate. I might have to stay up until “midnight” in order to compete with your wit. However i will avoid “blacking” out by scarfing down some “cocoa” to keep me awake. Maybe a glass of “blush” would also also do the trick. If I get hungry later, I’ll snack on some “cinnamon” toast or slice up some juicy beefsteak tomatoes and sprinkle them with “salt and pepper.” There’s no telling to what lengths I would go through to try to keep up with you. More importantly, having gone through my not so recent transition from workplace to retirement, I can offer this sage advice taken from childhood. Make new friends, but keep the old, one is “silver’ and the other is “gold.” Thanks for your humorous observations and your willingness to sharing them.

    • For someone who was concerned about having enough puns left, you sure cornered the market on them in your comment. Some friends may be silver; some may be gold, but don’t forget about the ones that are “true blue.”

  6. I like the vicuña, and the color of the vicuña, I just have trouble pronouncing it!

  7. Oh, I hear you, Paprika! For me, this problem hasn’t really arisen when it comes to buying clothing, though, as I don’t buy off catalogue or online, but only in the shop. But choosing paint colours (like you find here – has often left us utterly bewildered – or giggling hysterically. Who comes up with some of those delightful descriptions? The problem with buying paint colours is that they seem to change the range so often… so when you return to buy more paint of the same colour, you’ll never get it again. 😦

    • I always expect the strange names with paint colors. Some of them are downright funny. My problem with paint doesn’t stem from the name. Once I get an entire wall covered with the color I have chosen, I feel like it isn’t quite the shade I was looking for. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at visualizing what that tiny swatch will look like on every wall in a room, but it still makes me nervous.

      • Oh I know! How is one supposed to visualize the whole room in that colour, based on a swatch about a quarter of the size of your palm…?! Not surprisingly, we tend to go for variations along the safe beige/bleached terracotta theme. We are always in awe of those home improvement shows, where the interior designer re-paints an entire wall – or even gasp! a room – in sunshine yellow or fuchsia red or sky blue … and it works! If we tried that at home… 😀

      • We’ve had some hits and some flops when choosing color.

    • I just checked out the link you sent, Reggie. There are some funky names. My favorite was freckle. At least that one was accurate.

  8. I love the creative names of cosmetics. I’ve come up with some that I may submit to Revlon: “Love’em or Leave ’em red, Take it or Leave it Pink, and Four Bits to the Quarter Blue.”

  9. Really clever blog, Paprika! I have noticed those obscure color names that give no hint at all to their color! Brava!

  10. I was looking for pink pants a couple years back (yeah, I know it sounds ridiculous even to me). I found something in a color called porcelain. Was it peach, beigy pink or what? Since I was responsible for return shipping if I didn’t like it, I passed and probably just used a nice tan. By the way there is no nice tan. It either has yellow tones or pinks tones and never matches anything I already have.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this post! Ive started following… looking forward to reading some more posts from you!


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