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Wedding ColorTrends and Inspirations: Past, Present, and Future

Updated on September 10, 2011
Color boards are a wonderful inspiration for wedding planning.
Color boards are a wonderful inspiration for wedding planning.

The Right Wedding Colors Create Atmosphere

One of the first steps in planning a wedding is to determine the color palette. While some brides may have a clear idea of their favorite colors from day one, most brides struggle a bit before finally settling on wedding colors that suit the season, the venue, and most importantly, their personal taste. Then there is the desire to choose colors which feel current, but not overdone, or unique without being too off-the-wall. These are wedding color trends and inspirations, from vintage color palettes to recent hits to the up-and-coming trends for 2011.

Interior decorating boards like this 1946 bedroom designed by Armstrong Cork Co. are a great source of unique color palette ideas.
Interior decorating boards like this 1946 bedroom designed by Armstrong Cork Co. are a great source of unique color palette ideas.

Vintage Color Palettes Are A Great Source Of Inspiration

Vintage and retro inspirations are very popular for weddings right now. Looking back to a previous decade is an excellent way to find a wedding style that is cohesive and intriguing, yet will not look like what every other bride is doing this season. There are also quite a few vintage inspired bridal gowns on the market right now, from classic 1950s ballgowns worn with pearl bridal jewelry to festive flapper-style shifts to slinky gowns which evoke the Golden Age of Hollywood. It is only logical that a bride might take her color palette from the era which inspired her gown, even if she is not doing an all out retro wedding.

When looking into the color palettes of decades past, a bride should not limit herself to perusing old photographs of bridal parties. For one thing, a lot of the older pictures will be in black and white, which is not exactly helpful when trying to put together the perfect color board. Even more than that, it can be somewhat limiting. Unless you are trying to put together a truly authentic vintage wedding costume, it is not necessary for your bridesmaids or bouquets to be in the exact hue that was most popular in, say, 1948; the idea is to use an overall palette that evokes an era. Or not – it could just be that vintage design offers a fresh perspective on what colors flow well together. In any case, home decorating magazines and websites tend to offer the most abundant images of historical color palettes.

Soft, feminine Victorian colors are popular for vintage weddings.
Soft, feminine Victorian colors are popular for vintage weddings.

Victoriana: Feminine And Masculine

Victoriana has long fascinated brides, ever since Queen Victoria popularized the white bridal gown back in the 1800s. Of course, the color white is an important part of any Victorian inspired wedding palette, but generally the flowers will be more colorful. The hues that immediately come to mind are romantic and feminine shades like mauve, dusty rose, soft peach, purples, and perhaps touches of pale blue (to represent fidelity). Dove gray is also a signature color from that time period, and would be an excellent choice for the groom's attire.

While these are the most expected hues for attire, it can also be fun to delve into some of the popular colors which were used in Victorian home décor. They were rich, deep sumptuous colors which were intended to look expensive. Picture a sitting room or parlor done in deep red, amber, emerald green, and dark brown. The deep colors had a masculine edge to them, which is an interesting counterpoint to the softer ladylike hues like mauve. A combination of deep red, emerald, and amber would be exquisite for an autumn wedding. It would be particularly handsome for a reception in an historical mansion with details like mahogany wainscoting and grand fireplaces.

Hand-tinted wedding photo from the 1920s. The ice blue and light green shades are nicely anchored by the deeper hues.
Hand-tinted wedding photo from the 1920s. The ice blue and light green shades are nicely anchored by the deeper hues.

Freewheeling Jazz Age Colors For Weddings

The 1920s are an especially popular decade for vintage inspired weddings. The silver and ice blue of the Art Deco movement work wonderfully for wedding attire, decorations, and cakes. Of course, the real appeal of the 1920s is the freewheeling spirit epitomized by the flappers in the Jazz Age. Beyond blue and silver, there were many other appealing colors which were popular in the '20s. Light hues such as lavender, spring green, butter yellow, gray, white, and tan were other trendy colors of the decade. These colors would tie together beautifully for a spring wedding in virtually any setting. For brides who are not planning a retro wedding, a color palette of lavender, spring green, and butter yellow would have the advantage of not being an obvious reference to a specific decade. Remember that it is not necessary to plan a period wedding to use a vintage color palette as your inspiration.

Late 1930s colors were rich and deep - a great palette for an autumn wedding!
Late 1930s colors were rich and deep - a great palette for an autumn wedding!
Note the military inspired green in this hand colored 1940s photo.
Note the military inspired green in this hand colored 1940s photo.

Sophisticated, Understated, And Patriotic Hues From The 1930s and '40s

Colors in the 1930s tended to be cozy neutrals and warm pastels. Somewhat muted tones were in fashion, which reflected the national mood during the Great Depression. The 1930s, however, were also considered to be the Golden Age of Hollywood, and women loved glamor, which offered them an escape from the dreary reality of life during the Depression. Popular colors of the day included cream, dusty peach, lavender, smoke blue, robin's egg blue, dark mauve, golden yellow, and buff. The trendy hues were both personal and sophisticated. In the late 1930s, Victorian inspired colors like dark green and maroon came back into fashion, which just goes to show how every generation of design borrows freely from the past. The lighter hues like smoke blue would look spectacular for bridesmaid dresses in the slinky charmeuse dresses which would evoke the glamorous side of the '30s. Pair with cream calla lilies tied with mauve watered silk ribbon for an understated elegance. Or combine a softer hue like mauve with a deep maroon for a wedding color palette which will be sophisticated and unique.

In the 1940s, popular colors ran the gamut. There were patriotic colors like red and blue (not necessarily used extensively for wedding colors then, but certainly one could now). Then there were colors which reflected the reality of World War II: khaki and olive green. In general, restrained colors were the most widely used due to the somber nature of world events during the '40s. Serious colors like mahogany and old gold co-existed with softer hues like peach, lavender, and ivory. Cerulean and spruce were two other colors seen in the World War II era. The above image of a 1946 bedroom shows how these seemingly disparate greens, golds, mahogany, and rose tones could be combined. While the style of the room might feel overdone by modern standards, the colors are interesting. Note the balance between the masculine and the feminine, which was a perfect allegory for the way in which World War II era women retained their feminine allure while taking on traditionally male roles in factories. Maybe you would like to show your feminine yet powerful side with a peach, lavender, and spruce wedding color scheme!

Kitschy and fun modern interpretation of 1950s colors.
Kitschy and fun modern interpretation of 1950s colors.

1950s Wedding Color Palettes Are Optimistic

The 1950s were a time of relentless optimism, which was reflected in the popular colors of the day. White, pink, peach, sunrise yellow, and cerulean blue all came into style in mid-Century America. Bright colors such as flamingo pink, turquoise blue, and chartreuse green also make the occasional appearance in clothing and homes. Traditional check patterns in black and white, as well as the picnicy red and white were also in style. Translating mid-Century optimism to a modern wedding is really quite easy. A color palette of black and white and pink feels both current and retro. Of course, black would have been strictly taboo in 1950s weddings, but black and white together definitely captures the general vibe of the decade, and is currently a very hot color pairing for weddings. For a more classic, 1950s ladylike style wedding, stick to a delicate pink and white palette. Dress your bridesmaids in pink silk faille dresses just as Jacqueline Bouvier did for her 1953 wedding to John F. Kennedy (minus the Tudor caps!). Pink and white works beautifully for the wedding flowers too. Jacqueline Bouvier carried a bouquet of pink and white spray orchids with gardenias, very classic '50s flowers.

Another approach to using 1950s colors for a wedding would be to play up the retro, kitschy flavor of the decade. Cherry red, pink, and baby blue, perhaps with black and white accents would be the perfect palette. It is interesting how “clashing” colors like red and pink can in fact work very well together. Keep in mind that this does not have any resemblance to the weddings of the '50s, which were decidedly decorous and proper. This fun retro color scheme plays on the upbeat pop culture side of the decade. It is for brides who are more Marilyn Monroe than Donna Reed!

Note the bright colors of the bridesmaid dresses in this 1969 pattern - gotta love the matching colored veils!
Note the bright colors of the bridesmaid dresses in this 1969 pattern - gotta love the matching colored veils!
Martha Stewart's interpretation of the vibrant 1960s color palette would be fantastic for a spring or summer wedding.
Martha Stewart's interpretation of the vibrant 1960s color palette would be fantastic for a spring or summer wedding.

Popular 1960s Colors Range From "Mad Men" Chic To Psychedelic!

The 1960s were an era of great change in every conceivable aspect of society. The chance in decades ushered in new popular colors as well. Vivid colors like citron yellow, day-glo orange, acid green, and bright magenta purple captured the psychedelic spirit of the decade. When used all together, the results would be truly eye-popping! Not quite the thing for a formal wedding, perhaps, but then the 1960s were not all that formal a time, were they? Weddings which took place during the decade certainly maintained some tie with the traditional white palette of the past, but the flowers were brighter, citron yellow instead of pastel pink. The bridesmaid dresses were brighter too, in all of the popular colors of the day, like bright yellow, magenta, cheerful green, and turquoise blue. The really exciting part was when the bridesmaid dresses featured small caps with veils in matching colors! That is one vintage detail that is best left in the past.

As of late, there has been a renewed interest in the fashion of the early part of the 1960s, thanks to the hit television show “Mad Men”. Brides everywhere have been inspired by the cool cocktail era of the early '60s, which in many ways had more in common with the late 1950s than it did the latter half of the “flower power” 1960s. The color palette was tamer than in the end of the decade. Think seafoam green, princess pink, and a rich yellow. Accents of pale gray (especially in the men's attire) can help to pull the cheerful colors back down to earth. It would be a wonderful choice for a sophisticated retro cocktail party wedding.

In 1976 earth tones were very popular - an idea that could be updated for an eco-friendly wedding today.
In 1976 earth tones were very popular - an idea that could be updated for an eco-friendly wedding today.
1982 - the year of the rainbow pastel bridesmaids!
1982 - the year of the rainbow pastel bridesmaids!

The '70s And '80s Color Trends Ranged From "Rec Room" To Laura Ashley

The 1970s are not known for being an era of beautiful colors. Many of us remember the painful avocado green, harvest gold, rust, and brown colors which dominated everything from home décor to fashion in the '70s. Brides who were too young to have lived through it firsthand have still likely developed an aversion to the drab colors of the 1970s by watching reruns of old television shows or spending time in someone's outdated wood-paneled basement “rec room”. All that said, the inspiration for the 1970s colors were actually ones which can be appreciated by many brides today: the environment, natural materials, and non-WASP ethnic/cultural traditions. With just a bit of tweaking, the core green, gold, orange, and brown of the '70s can be updated to a very natural feeling wedding color scheme which is fresh, not tacky. Lighten things up with a pale olive green, deep coral, light gold, and cream for a wedding palette which takes the best of the 1970s while losing all the associations of avocado and harvest gold kitchen appliances.

The 1980s left the colors of the '70s behind in a hurry! Out went the drab earth tones, and in came bright colors like teal and coral (together). Rich jewel tones were stylish for formal occasions. Shocking colors like lime and hot pink were also fashionable for accents (more in clothing than home furnishings), but there was also a return to soft and feminine hues. Soothing colors such as soft peach, smoke blue, seafoam green, mauve, and bisque which had not been popular since the 1930s made a huge comeback. Unfortunately, sometimes all these colors were used together for a rainbow effect of bridesmaid dresses, something which is not recommended for the modern bride! If you grew up loving your Laura Ashley bedroom, you might just find that peach and smoke or mauve and seafoam would be soothing colors that will bring up nostalgic feelings when planning your wedding. Update the look by taking the original English countryside style in more of a “shabby chic” direction and avoiding the ultra “matchy-matchy” aesthetic of the original.

Remember how popular Tiffany blue weddings were just a few years ago?
Remember how popular Tiffany blue weddings were just a few years ago?

Recent Popular Wedding Colors

Popular colors in the 1990s included cobalt, chambray, periwinkle, terra cotta, amethyst, and dark green. The pastels of the 1980s were replaced by warm earth tones, like you might have seen in a Ralph Lauren ad in a magazine. Colors like periwinkle, pink, and sage were popular for bridesmaid dresses, and classic pink roses were in style for wedding flowers. Although it has been twenty years since 1990, it still feels too recent to revisit as a vintage time period. The colors were lovely, but may seem a bit “safe” from the vantage point of today's brides seeking a unique color palette.

In the 2000s, a number of color trends for weddings have come and gone. It seemed as though a color combination would come along that felt fresh and new, then it became wildly popular to the point of being too common, and just like that, it was “over”. Sage green remained popular in the early part of the decade. That was followed by a craze for Tiffany blue weddings, right down to the wedding cakes designed to replicate the jeweler's famous blue gift boxes. As the Tiffany blue and white scheme started to feel overdone, brides helped the color to hang on by introducing a contrasting accent color, such as Tiffany blue with pops of red, but eventually the trend died out. Hard on the heels of Tiffany blue was the chocolate brown and pink combination, and then the powder blue and chocolate brown wedding palette. Though lovely, those color palettes seemed to reach their saturation point fairly quickly, and by 2010 brides had moved onto something new. Black and white was very hot for 2009 and remained so into 2010. Other color trends for 2010 weddings have included purple, cobalt blue, charcoal gray with yellow, and coral. If there is one overwhelming trend, it is the desire that brides have to choose wedding colors which are not common.

Whimsical hues like apple, lilac, and hot pink are up-and-coming for 2011 weddings.
Whimsical hues like apple, lilac, and hot pink are up-and-coming for 2011 weddings.

2011 Wedding Color Trends

So, what is on the horizon for 2011 wedding color trends? These days, wedding fashion colors follow the rest of fashion fairly closely. One place that brides can turn to see the color forecast for an upcoming season is Pantone, the company that has been forecasting color trends for fashion and home furnishings for industry for decades. Brides have also found that paint stores offer great services for color-coordinating accent colors to their favorite signature color. As for the up-and-coming colors for 2011 weddings, one trend is for bright and whimsical hues like apple, lilac, hot pink, clementine orange, and yellow. The vivid hues are tempered with accents in mocha, pine green, and medium slate gray. The other primary color trend for 2011 weddings is towards vintage, earthy, sunwashed shades: brick red, khaki, pear, dark tangerine, oyster gray, and myrtle green. Dark accents like chocolate, charcoal, and deep blue help to anchor the color palette. These colors would lend themselves well to a fall or winter wedding, while the light and bright nature of the first collection definitely has a spring / summer appeal. Perhaps the best part about wedding colors right now is that the only wrong thing you can do is to pick something unoriginal. Other than that, anything goes, and creative expression is the name of the game for the modern wedding.


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    • RunAbstract profile image


      6 years ago from USA

      Nice Hub! My son and his girl are planning to be married next October, and she is leaning toward a burgandy color theme. His only request is that orchids be part of the floral arrangements. Which should suit well with her chosen color.

      Again... Nice Hub. Voted up and more.

    • PaperNotes profile image


      10 years ago

      The 1960s color palette looks vibrant and lovely.


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