Spring (technically) began a month ago, but its beauty and charm are on their way to the top.
This season signifies revivals and new beginnings, and we all need a healthy dose of optimism. This is when pastel comes in.
Pastel colors (like soft blue) are born when their original color (blue) is diluted with white. This new color becomes a softer, more mellow representation of the original, making it the perfect palette to mark new beginnings.
The birth of pastel
"Pastel" has two meanings: pastel the art medium and pastel the color chart. As an art medium, the original pastel was a powdered pigment mixed with a binder like gum arabic or glue derived from animals like fish. It was thought to have originated in sixteenth-century Northern Italy. Back then, there were only three colors of this art medium: black, white, and red. Now, there are about 1,600 colors.
Pastel the color chart grew in popularity sometime in eighteenth-century Europe when the Rococo style in art and fashion took over. Fashion-wise, this was a turning point from the vibrant and rich fabric-dye hues associated with the upper class. Architecturally speaking, Rococo marked the beginning of a softer, more feminine, and sensual color palette, a contrast from its predecessor, the more masculine Baroque.
Madame de Pompadour (the influential mistress of Louis XV) was credited to help birth this movement as she was the patron of many Rococo-style painters, like François Boucher. However, it was Marie Antoinette (wife of France's King Louis XVI) who became more closely associated with pastel colors, and therefore their downfall.
The death and rebirth of pastel
It was after all Marie Antoinette who notoriously (and allegedly) said, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" or "Let them eat cake" when she was told sometime in 1789 that her French subjects had no bread or food to eat. This quote, whether true or not, highlighted the disconnectedness of the French royalty from the regular citizens. The French Revolution overthrew the Royals and everything associated with them, including Rococo art and architecture, and pastel colors.
It wasn't until the roaring twenties that pastel made a comeback, and it decided to stay.
Under the dripping bare lilac-trees a large open car...stopped. Daisy's face, tipped sideways beneath a three-cornered lavender hat...
In the Great Gatsby (published in 1925), F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about lilacs and lavenders, pastel colors associated with the frivolity of the rich, mimicking their Rococo heyday.
The power of pastel lasted and reached its cyclical peak in the fifties after the war. Pastel become the dominant color palette in advertisements as they convey youth, joy, warmth, and optimism. It was visible in all aspects of life, from fashion to architecture to... toilet paper?
But through it all, it was the popular 80s television show Miami Vice that arguably truly cemented the popularity of pastel, thanks to its main character, James “Sonny” Crockett's affinity for pastel tees, sports jackets, and suits. Pastel reigned over neon colors and no longer became a feminine color.
Nowadays, we acknowledge the power of pastel colors in our lives. They're calming and soothing without dominating. They can both mellow down and pep up the mood. Pastel has gone through many deaths and resurrections that they're no longer just the figurative representation of rebirth, they've become its literal symbol. And as such, they're perfect for spring.