Taupe is French for "Mole": Explaining Colors To Men

Updated March 05, 2016 4:06pm PST

I'll say it now so I'm not tempted to later: the politics around color and gender are not so black and white.

Part of my job as a graphic designer is to have an understanding of color theory—when working with color you have to use palettes that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but reflect the concept you're working on and create the response you want to convey. There’s a reason McDonald’s uses red and yellow on virtually everything in their restaurant, especially their kids meals—it stimulates appetite and creates urgency, a perfect combination for a fast food restaurant.

Over time, I have encountered thousands of variants of colors beyond your normal Roy G. Biv. There’s your macaroni and cheese and your PANTONE 15-0146 ("Green Flash”) and your periwinkle (like, a light bluish purple. The kitten from Blue’s Clues—look it up!). Basically every variant of the primary 7 colors of the rainbow have some sort of unique name (sometimes more than one). It, quite frankly, can be a mess designing with color.  

You've probably seen this meme floating your facebook feed, perhaps posted by your Aunt Judie, with some sort of quip saying this is definitely why Uncle Steve wore mismatched socks and pants to Christmas this year and men just can't dress themselves can they? But she loves him anyway, so it's okay. Wacky Uncle Steve.

That meme very likely started out as a visual aid to be used in conjunction with actual research articles that discuss, scientifically, why men and women view color differently. Basically, AMAB people (most of whom identify or are identified as men) have problems with hues and differentiating subtle color differences, whereas AFAB people (most of whom identify or are identified as women) are better equipped to pinpoint those subtle differences because yadda yadda neurons— it's not completely utterly proven, but scientists found something worth noting that everyone and their sister take as gospel to make fun of men and women for their lack or too much knowledge of color.

According to the National Eye Institute, AMAB people  are much more likely to be colorblind than AFAB people (8% to .5%).

Contending with that in addition to the "blue for boys, pink for girls," gender stereotypes we're still fighting in society, you can see why some people would have a hard time seeing a man in a smart salmon suit ("IT'S PINK!"), or why there is that potential for a never ending argument between you and your girlfriend over that turquoise sweater she wants you to wear to that double date this weekend. 

What the hell is turquoise anyway? Is it like purple? Why is she making me wear purple? Why is she trying to change me?

She isn't trying to change you, bro. She's just tired of seeing you wear that t-shirt with the holes in the armpits, and fashion is one of very few avenues for cisgender, heterosexual women to express creativity and aesthetic sensibility (and even then). 

In an attempt to broaden your horizons (and to make sure she doesn't dump you for the genderqueer sculptor with the lavender undercut and snazzy mauve bow tie), here are 5 colors explained to quell your fears of the Brand New:

1 and 2: Pantone’s 2016 Color of the Year: Rose Quartz & Serenity

Pantone is a company best known for their Pantone Matching System, a color standardized system used primarily in printing. It also is the go-to for forecasting color trends in the fashion industry, and annually chooses a “Color of the Year”--basically the result of some secret meetings in Europe with the world’s color experts, a job title made all the more ridiculous by how much you wish you had it, now that you know it exists.

This year, in response to the “societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity,” Pantone has chosen 2 colors: Rose Quartz & Serenity.

According to their website, it’s a “symbolic color selection; a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.” 

That’s really code for “this color is going to show up everywhere for the next year and you’re just going to have to deal with it. Sorry bro."

"Rose Quartz is a persuasive yet gentle tone that conveys compassion and a sense of composure. Serenity is weightless and airy, like the expanse of the blue sky above us, bringing feelings of respite and relaxation even in turbulent times.”

If this sounds like something out of your last yoga retreat and not at all about color, fear not: you’ve seen both of these colors plenty of times before. Fashion trends typically have a 20 year cycle. I was immediately reminded of the color scheme of my bedroom in 1996—in fact I’m fairly certain my walls were sponge painted these 2 colors. Rose Quartz is your run of the mill light pink, while Serenity is a light blue. Why we’ve chosen to go with blue and pink to celebrate gender diversity, I can neither fathom nor explain—you’ll have to ask those alleged color experts at the next secret meeting (don't forget it's your turn to bring chips). 

Both are going to be showing up a lot in your favorite shops, and I bet you won't even notice it.

At least you weren't until you read this article. Whoops.

3. Salmon

This is the color I hear the most when dudes bitch about color. Named after the color of salmon flesh, it falls within the range of colors in your pinkish orange family. You have your light salmon (with more orange tones), your salmon pink (the pinkiest, duh), and then your dark salmon, which looks like what would happen if you told salmon pink their favorite show got cancelled. The trouble with naming a color after an ever changing object (salmon flesh color varies depending on how rich their diet of krill and shrimp is) is that you’re going to have some variety.

My personal favorite salmon? The color of the amazing sports jacket donned by Mark Henry. And if the world’s strongest man can pull it off, so can you.

So tear away that internalized misogyny like Mark Henry tore off this door of a steel cage.

4 (and 5). Turquoise vs Teal

So, I lied earlier. There’s technically 6 colors in this article, not 5. But whenever teal comes up, turquoise isn't far behind. Throw in aqua and you have yourselves an all out war over what color we should paint the foyer in the beach house. Aqua just seems so gauche.

Turquoise and teal are similar; they’re kinda like cousins. Teal is that older cousin, a little more mature. Maybe already graduated from college, about to start that office gig. Turquoise is the more youthful, bright and optimistic cousin, before the cold reality of life has set in. It's not purple. Stop worrying.

Turquoise also has the benefits of being named after a real life gem, so it’s easy to picture. As with more colors, it also has it’s variants—light turquoise, turquoise blue, etc. All stay within the light blue end of the spectrum.Teal and it’s variants (teal blue) are always darker. Like Teal’s coffee as he gradually loses his lust for life, gazing listlessly into yet another PowerPoint presentation. 

6. Mauve

Mauve is one of those colors that just *sounds* boring. Go ahead, say it aloud. Mauve. Sounds like watching someone appraise a pencil case. 

Mauve is one of those colors you think you can picture, but then someone shows you a swatch and you’re like, “Ohhh. That’s not what I thought.” Named after what is actually the beautiful mallow wild flower (mauve is French for mallow), mauve is a pale purple color. Crayola has their own version of mauve, while Pourpre.com (a color list popular in France) has their own—French mauve. There’s also opera mauve(picture your great grandmother’s couch), mauve taupe (we’ll touch on taupe next) , and old mauve (a dark purple).

If you weren't aware by the way, purple has been associated with power and royalty for centuries  (the original dye was just crazy expensive). So when you see that person your girl's been eying rocking a mauve suit, you better pay attention–you might just get knighted by the King of “Cucked by Color Theory” Town. .

*Bonus* Taupe

Taupe is a dark tan color in between brown and grey. Like mauve, taupe is french for mole. Like mauve, Crayola has their own version which is slightly lighter. In addition to mauve taupe, there’s also rose taupesandy taupe, taupe gray, deep taupe, and taupe brown. 

Unlike the other colors described, a lot of these variations, especially sandy taupe, look very different from one another. Mostly just to confuse the hell out of you, as is the prerogative of European color experts.

So there you go--go out and try wearing something new this week, without fear!

You might just find the smart salmon sportcoat was inside you all along.

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"Kate Foray is a graphic designer based on the East Coast. She’s fond of wrestling (and is the creator behind the Raw Breakdown Project (rawbreakdownproject.com), cats, and tracking down delicious donut shops to visit. You can follow her on Twitterand online at www.heyheyitskateforay.com."