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retrotempo | Retro Colours and Colour Combinations - retrotempo

Retro Colours and Colour Combinations

Retro Colours and Colour Combinations

Truism of the day: “Fashions change”.   That is the whole point of fashion.  But there are certain colours or colour combinations that say retro 70s or retro 80s to me.  The same can be said for certain retro colours and  combinations from the 50s, 60s and 90s.  In reality, I accept that almost every other colour combination was used somewhere in retro design, so this is perhaps not an attempt to define a decade in two colours, just the way I saw it at the time or see it as I look back at retro design.

Retro Colour Combinations of the 50s

The colours that stand out for me are pale green, pale pink and pale yellow.  The Pastel Shades.  For example, pale green and yellow was used extensively in kitchen design.  Whereas, in product advertising, the great 50s colour combination was Light Blue and Brown.  While it’s true to say that there were brighter colour combinations used in “Robot” and “Atomic” themes, these were not choices used in decoration for the everyday household.

Retro Colour Combinations of the 60s

In the 60s, (and not counting the relatively minor use of psychedelic colour combinations used in pop advertising) it was common to see just pale blue with white.  Or pale blue with pale orange.  Indeed pale colours combinations were “hip”.    Adverts were designed with pale blue backgrounds and white lettering.  Private buses were white or cream with pale blue highlights.  Pale blue was so common, that I used to think at the time that there must have been a surplus of pale blue paint from the war.   But what I really remember is the pale blue doors.  People would paint their garage door with pale blue.  It must have been cheap paint, because as it aged in the sunlight, it often cracked, peeled and flaked away – a sorry sight.  Now bathrooms have a colour life all of their own.  In the 60s baths were still plain white.  Tiles were white and blue.  And walls were painted pale blue!

Retro Colour Combinations of the 70s

In the 70s, some brighter colours appeared, perhaps influenced by psychedelic colours of the 60s.  But the mainstream colour combination was Brown or Orange, with Black or Cream – and often using the Squircle design theme.  I had a cream and brown sleeping bag which I thought just wonderful!   It was even acceptable to wear a brown suit with an orange shirt.   Even baths were orange.  Remember the famous “whiskey” colour?   Brown and orange was the standard colour combination for council flat curtains and carpets throughout the 70s and they would persist as symbol of some neglect through to the middle 80s, till the economy picked up.  I chose the colours brown and orange for the Retrotempo logo from the range of colours originally available for the 70s Triumph Spitfire:

Sienna Brown and Saffron Yellow

retrotempo logo square

Retro Colour Combinations of the 80s

In the 80s, the predominant colours were black and red with angular graphic design.  It was common to see bedspreads and carpets in black and red diagonal stripes, sometimes with a grey highlight.  Even “Match of the Day” used a Black and Red graphic theme.   Spectacles were red, braces were red – and I owned a thin red leather tie.  Architects began to use back and red -with chrome- in standard building design.  The outcome of this can clearly be seen in the Docklands, where the facades of buildings are red and black.  Meanwhile, the 80s colour of choice for baths was “Pampas”- a kind of sage green.   Of course, for every active trend there was a reactive trend.  Do you recall those Dulux “White with hint of” emulsion paint shades?

Retro Colour Combinations of the 90s

90s colours were muted by comparison.  Remember John Major Grey?   Suits became grey.  “Grey was the new Black”.  People wore grey stone washed jeans.  In the 90s, Bathrooms became white with chrome or gold fittings.  We are still in the only white phase, but surely this is about to change again?   And suddenly, in the 90s, it seemed that all cars became Silver or Grey – a trend that is still, depressingly, with us as you look along the rows and lines of cars on the M25.   Let’s hope car manufacturers (and consumers) will be braver in their colour choice this decade.

By Paul Bates (thepaulbates)

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