The REAL colors of mid-century America

Today it struck me how easily it is to get the wrong impression about the true color palettes of mid-century modern fabrics and upholestry – and the era in general due to the passage of time.


Today came across some great swatches of late 1950’s mid-century abstract fabric and it demonstrated something interesting.  I found two examples of the same fabric, one was a pillow case used for years, the other was a swatch that had been stored and never used.  Therefore, the pillow’s fabric had faded over the years via the sun, wear and washing. The other unused swatch was pristine, almost like the day it came out of the store. The color difference between the two is striking.

The faded muted colors of the used piece are a far cry from how it was intended to look, had I not found the pristine piece it would have been easy to assume the faded piece was close to the original colors. The pristine piece clearly shows a bright gold background with rich browns, blacks, lime green, bright orange and white.  The used piece has a off-white beige like background, with very muted (almost earth tones) brown, green, yellow and black (the white is totally gone). One is neutral and anemic, the other is vibrant and colorful. It’s fascinating to see the difference when compared side by side.
I think due to the passage of time, and so many of the film and photographs of the era being in black and white, we sometime assume the color palette of the mid century era was muted.  But, in reality the mid century era was usually brightly colored and used some very experimental hues and color combinations. Unfortunately unless we find well kept color photographs or pristine examples of materials its easy to assume otherwise, or get the wrong impression, due to the weathering, fading and the passage of 60 years.


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