College of Design

Goldstein Museum of Design

A Bright Idea: Neon in Fashion

A mini-exhibition featuring neon fashions and furnishings now on view at the Goldstein celebrates the dramatic re-emergence of neon colors in contemporary design.

Goldstein Fall 2012_neon.jpg

Although most often associated with the 1980s, neon colors have added visual pop to decorative arts, textiles, and fashions since the invention of aniline dyes in the mid-nineteenth century.

Here are some bright spots in the history of neon:

  • The term "neon" was coined in 1898

  • Technology for neon lights was developed in 1910

  • Elsa Schiaparelli popularized "shocking pink" fashions in 1937

  • By the 1960s, neon colors were prominently featured in everything from Andy Warhol's screen prints to the Beatles' day-glo band uniforms pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

  • The 1980s revival saw neon colors used for everything from pencils to jackets

NeonGoldstein Fall 2012_2.jpg

Today, neon is once again on trend, appearing in countless forms of apparel and interior furnishings. The ubiquity of neon fashions - exemplified by the popularity of the vivid yellow tennis shoes worn by many 2012 Olympic athletes - has spread to the red carpet, where Julie Bowen wowed in a chartreuse Monique Lhuillier gown at the 2012 Emmys.

Top Image: (orange and pink dress) Stephan Sprouse [American, 1954-2004] Two-piece tank dress, 1984 Silk Gift of Kim Koshiol
(yellow dress) Pauline Trigere [American, 1912-2002] Scoop neck shift dress, 1960-69 Linen Gift of Barbara Sims
(textile) Jack Lenor Larsen, Inc., New York Ambiente, 1968 Cotton Gift of Jack Lenor Larsen
(chair) Ron Arad [Israeli, c. 1951] designed for Kartell Binasco Milan F.P.E (Fantastic Plastic Elastic) Chair, 2002 Plastic, Aluminum Museum Purchase
(long sleeved dress) Stephan Sprouse [American, 1954-2004] Sheer knit maxi dress, 1983-4 Synthetic Gift of Kim Koshiol


The history of these colors is fascinating. The vivid “Sgt. Peppers” and Peter Max colors of the late 60s especially feature bright orange, a fixture of 60s plastics as well (example, the Nesso Lamp). Many of these colors reemerged in the 80s. Interesting how these decades bookend the 70s, with omnipresent, and comparably drab brown, harvest gold, and avocado green. That long sleeve dress on the right, wow!

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