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Color Names Have Become Too Confusing

Why is it so hard to find 'red' and 'green' in catalogs and retail websites?

By Caroline Mayer

As I age, I've taken a vow not to long for those good old days when life was supposedly much simpler. For the most part, that’s been an easy promise to keep: I like almost everything about my current life, and besides, I don’t think it was all that simple way back when.


Still, I do have my Jerry Seinfeld moments — you know, the times when you shake your head and ask: “What’s the deal with … ?”

This seems to happen a lot when I’m browsing catalogs or shopping online. I can find almost anything I want, in any fancy color I desire. What I can’t find is this: something called blue or green or red or just about any other familiar rainbow color.


Take, for example, the Orvis catalog and website, both popular places to shop for men and women in their 50s and 60s. Here are some of the colors that Orvis products come in: charcoal, mushroom, stone, sandstone, bark, tobacco and camel. And that just covers a range of neutrals from gray to tan. You'll also find clothes and accessories in ocean, key lime, elm, aqua sea and sea mist.


What's up with that? What do retailers and fashion designers have against no-nonsense words, like brown or green?


For the answer, I turned to Leatrice Eiseman. After all, Eiseman is often called “the international color guru.” She gives palette advice to companies hoping to develop successful products, logos and brands.




Caroline Mayer is a consumer reporter who spent 25 years working for The Washington Post, covering such issues as product safety, scams, and credit cards. Mayer has received several awards, including the Betty Furness Consumer Media Service Award. She has written for Consumer Reports, CBS MoneyWatch, Ladies Home Journal, Kaiser Health News and others. Follow her on Twitter @consumermayer Read More
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