This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The relationship between color cycles in home furnishings and apparel, 1969-2009




Johnson, Olivia

Type of Degree



Consumer Affairs


The dynamics of fashion are present in many product categories, and color can be an important component in customers’ selection decisions, including for apparel and home furnishings products. Color makes an emotional connection with customers, grabs their attention, and may increase purchase intention (Brannon, 2005). Color forecasters predict color direction and trends because research has found consistent change in color preference in all design fields which exhibit distinct cycles (Hope & Walch, 1990). Color trends have been said to move from apparel and accessories to home fashions and then to automobiles (“A Source,” 1985). Linton (1994) said that apparel color cycles changed every two years and interiors cycles every seven to twelve, but with fast fashion and shorter product development times, color cycles now have shortened and overlap more between product categories. Little scholarly research on color cycles exists; the few studies there are have looked at buildings and their interiors. Although color is an important component of fashion, and there is well established methodology for studying fashion cycles, there has been no research linking color and that methodology. Koppelmann and Kuthe used German interior design magazines to explore color sequences (Linton, 1994). Oberascher (1994) elaborated on that research, identifying sequenced waves of color preference in living areas from 1972-1992. The purpose of my research was to explore the relationship between color cycles in apparel and home furnishings by applying the fashion cycle research methodology launched by Kroeber in 1919,. Four research questions were explored for the years 1969-2009. For apparel and home furnishings, they asked if (1) there were parallel color trends; (2) the lengths of color cycles were similar; (3) there was a time lag in the patterns of color change; and (4) the lengths of color cycles changed. Content analysis was used to identify color cycles found in pictures from 160 issues of two interiors magazines (Better Homes and Gardens and Architectural Digest) and 155 issues of two apparel magazines (Cosmopolitan and Vogue). Within each pair, one magazine was geared to a fashion forward audience and the other viewed more by mass fashion followers. Quantitative and qualitative content analyses were used to identify and then assess the colors found in 2,236 magazine pictures. Selected images exhibited a dominant color in one of 10 categories: yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, green, brown, grey, black, and white. Color classification was defined using the Pantone color system. All colors were not seen equally in apparel and home furnishings. Black and red were observed the most in apparel, and brown and white in home furnishings. Blue was the only color seen comparably in both sectors. The least shown colors were orange in apparel and grey in home furnishings. Colors seen the most showed the longest cycles; those seen the least had the shortest ones and could disappear entirely. Observed cycles of 2-27 years led to categorization of 70 short cycles (up to 4 years), 28 medium cycles (5-9 years) and 11 long cycles (10 or more years). Long cycles could suggest designations as classics; some short cycles in less seen colors looked fad-like. Although some colors in apparel and home furnishings appeared to trend towards shorter cycles nearing 2009, others could be trending longer or show no directional pattern. Fashion in color did not seem to be moving faster overall. There was no clear, consistent evidence of parallel trends between apparel and home furnishings color cycles. Also, assessment of cyclical time lags did not support the general idea that trends move from apparel to home furnishings. Although there were some cases where this was suggested, there were others where the opposite was indicated. It did appear that when a color had a high, extended presence in apparel or home furnishings, it influenced its introduction or presence in the opposite category. Overall, this research showed that color cycles in these large consumer product sectors are complex phenomena that deserve more research.