As fashion models glide down the catwalks during this month's fashion shows around the world in brightly-hued frocks in traffic-cone orange and school-bus yellow, should retailers who make clothes for the rest of us be worried?
Yes and No.
A new study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology shows that most people would rather be safe than sorry. The test asked 142 shoppers to chose from up to a dozen colors to decorate seven parts of a sneaker on the NikeiD website. The majority, it turns out, wanted combinations of similar and monochromatic shades — not boldly or even moderately contrasting ones.
So a Shock Orange and Ice Blue pairing may never make it from the runway to the sidewalks. But Ice Blue and Twilight Blue, or Canteen and Linen may.
"The greater the distance between two colors, the less likely people will choose them together," says Xiaoyan Deng, lead researcher and assistant marketing professor at Ohio State University. "Consumers may differ on what color they want to emphasize," Deng says. "Once they choose, their palette tends to be restricted."
In an exception, a large minority — 47 of the shoppers —-- craved clashing color to highlight the small "shox," or shock absorbers, in the heel and middle of the sole, reports January’s Journal of Consumer Psychology.
"Some consumers wanted this signature part of the shoe to stand out," Deng says. "They saw the rest of the shoe as background for one contrasting color. "
Sneaker makers agree with the findings.
"Gray and black shoes are driving sales, based on necessity in this economy," says Reebok merchandise marketing chief Kristen Olson. Nike and adidas Outdoor shoes are similarly hued, with white thrown in. "Right now, women aren’t buying 10 pairs of athletic shoes, so they want something that goes with everything."
The same holds for men's footwear by Nike and adidas Outdoor, notes the latter's managing director, Greg Thomsen. "But if everybody makes black or white shoes, it looks boring," he says.
Adidas’ strictly recreational kicks — such as Boat CC shoes — are the boldest, with 10 color combos.
"They go to the beach and kayaking, not to work, so they’re riskier with bright color," he says. "They can have brown, orange and yellow on the same shoe. Out of 75 styles, they’re our No. 1 because they’re fun."
He envisions an eventual move to the bright side, despite the latest study. "There’s a new generation of color-oriented outdoors people. The days of all navy or brown are over."
At Reebok, genders still divide at pink and purple for women and navy and red for men, says Olson. "Our color palette for men and women is vastly different."
But never say never — especially since tween-idol Justin Bieber wore all-purple hi-top sneaks in his recent bio flick, says Leslie Harrington, executive director of the Color Association of the United States.
"He alone can spike a trend," Harrington says. "And we’ve seen the line blurring between what are considered men’s colors versus women’s."
Expect, too, a wild one in every bunch, such as Nike’s crimson-topped, yellow-bottomed Lunar+ or Air Jordan’s latest pairings of red/blue and gray/red/gold for 2011.
"We always try to do eye candy — a little more aggressive two-three color blocking or all-over purple," Olson says. "We don’t sell as much, but there’s still a need because there’s always a consumer who likes more color in their footwear."