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For Pantone, colour is big business. The organisation’s colour guides are a bible for those that need to match colours with accuracy, and are a thing of beauty if you like colours, which I do. Despite the origins of Pantone’s Matching System in traditional print, it has successfully survived the transition online. Pantone’s app allows you to pull colours from the images on your smartphone and match them so they are reproduced as closely as possible on screen. Which is cool.

Pantone takes colour seriously, then, and for many years now it has revealed a ‘colour of the year’, a shade that the company believes captures the zeitgeist. Once confirmed, the colour of the year inevitably finds its way onto everything from pricey homeware to fast fashion. In 2019, the colour of the year was Living Coral, an innocent pink we are now forced to look back on with the cynicism of people who have since seen too much.


This year’s colour, Classic Blue, or PANTONE 19–4052 as it is not better known, was announced late last year. A gushing press release at the time claimed that:

“Classic Blue brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit, offering refuge. Aiding concentration and bringing laser like clarity, PANTONE 19–4052 Classic Blue re-centers our thoughts. A reflective blue tone, Classic Blue fosters resilience.”

Halfway through a year in which a global pandemic has left hundreds of thousands dead, and ravaged the world economy, I am tempted to simply bring this article to a close right here and leave that guff hanging in the air forever. Much like the acrid foulness of an unemptied dog poo bin, encountered on an otherwise pleasant lockdown walk.


Oh alright. I’ll continue. And where better than with that word “Resilience.” Yeah, I’ll take some of that. And here’s to anything – colourful or not – that can re-centre our thoughts beyond ‘why is that guy not maintaining a safe social distance?’ or ‘Keith! You’re on mute!’

“Refuge”, you say? Yes sir! And some hand sanitizer, a bag of flour and a bottle of vodka while you’re at it, please. Don’t worry about the “laser like clarity”, though, unless it leads to a clearly viable vaccine.

To be fair to the lads at Pantone, in selecting Classic Blue last year they acknowledged the challenging times in which we live. They based their selection on the comfort they believed this particular tone of blue provides, given that it is “associated with the return of another day.”

Let’s not be too critical, then. Governments around the world failed to spot COVID-19 coming around the corner. It seems harsh to blame Pantone for not foreseeing a virus passing from bats to humans, spreading around the globe in a few months, then revealing a massive hole in global preparedness and equally large holes in Olympians’ calendars.

Still, I think it only fair that we revisit the selection of Classic Blue as colour of the year (2020) in the light of the global crisis that the total bastard of a year has brought to date. In doing so, I have been guided by Pantone’s own election process, which is as follows: “To arrive at the selection each year, Pantone’s color experts at the Pantone Color Institute comb the world looking for new color influences.”

Well, I’ve been safely combing the streets around home for a few months now on daily walks, so let me suggest an alternative to Classic Blue. I think we can all agree that the real colour of the year should be the pale blue of the surgical facemask.

I reckon it’s close to Pantone 2975 C, as shown above. It’s a kind of blue, but not quite baby blue. I call it Facemask Blue.

Yes I know facemasks are available in other colours. An entire industry has emerged overnight to service demand for facemasks in paisley, gingham and stripes. But those don’t count, as their form outweighs their function. No, it’s blue for me.


That said, in making my decision I also considered alternative colours from the PPE toolkit, including the green of a surgical gown. Medical professionals apparently favour green as it sits on the opposite side of the colour wheel from the red of blood and gore, making it easier for surgeons to focus mid-operation on the job in hand. But green doesn’t seem the right tone for these times. It’s too, well, nice.

Hand sanitizer is colourless, so that one’s out. I very nearly went with another blue: that of the disposable gloves we now wear. But there doesn’t appear to be a uniform colour for gloves. Some are the blue of a cloudless summer sky in Juan Les Pins, which doesn’t seem to be appropriate at a time when many are still locked down or are fearful of going out.

Other gloves come in the purple of a swollen bubonic lymph node, which sounds more zeitgeisty, but is perhaps a little close to pestilence, Roman decadence, or what I imagine to be the colour of the curtains in the Papal boudoir. A friend has just acquired a box of black gloves, which again is tricky as it either evokes Rock and Roll, S&M or Matrix-style cyber-nonsense, depending on your world view. Maybe next year?


No, Facemask Blue it is. And, as facemask use is made mandatory around the world – with only mouth breathers holding out against their use because of tone-deaf, imagined breathing difficulties, FFS – expect to see a lot more of the colour as spikes of infection keep emerging.

The choice of Facemask Blue is a good one, I think. And to Pantone’s point, given that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere fast soon, I certainly associate a Facemask with the return of another day. Oh joy.

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