How to describe colour? Crayola knows. The Associated Press does not.

The American Prospect points out a stupid comment made with regards to the colour of the gown that Michelle Obama wore recently, namely, AP said:

First lady Michelle Obama chose to wear a gleaming silver-sequined, flesh-colored gown Tuesday night to the first state dinner held by her husband’s administration.

Now if you look at what I underlined and then you look at this photo:

You can see it is not “flesh” colored, at least when it comes to the skin tone of Mrs. Obama. AP should know better.

AP mistakes aside, what this article did point me to was this page on the history of Crayola Crayons. I found it fascinating to see how they started with 8 basic colours in 1903, only to expand out to 48 colours in 1949. At that time, they retired Prussian Blue to Midnight Blue based on requests of teachers, and they replaced Flesh with Peach in 1962, “partially as a result of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement”.  Later on, the replaced Indian Red in 1999 with Chestnut. And in 2003 they replaced a number of other, less controversial, colours.

So there: I think it is entirely accurate to talk about the peach-coloured gown of Michelle Obama.

I am curious though about the controversy about Prussian Blue, since I believe Prussian Blue is still a paint colour that artists use. Was there some anti-Prussian sentiment that drove this change? Regardless, the Crayola page is interesting to anyone who has used one of their crayons (which is Canada and the U.S., probably everyone!)


3 responses to “How to describe colour? Crayola knows. The Associated Press does not.

  1. I think I read somewhere that Prussian Blue is a pigment that was originally popularized in Germany/Prussia/Eastern Europe. Maybe I’m making that up.

    • smartpeopleiknow

      That’s right! According to this,, “Prussian blue is a dark blue pigment ā€“ one of the first synthetic pigments ā€“ which was synthesized for the first time in Berlin around the year 1706”. Then Berlin was part of Prussia, which makes the name make sense.

  2. Flesh by definition is “The soft substance consisting of muscle and fat that is found between the skin and bones of an animal or a human.” When you say the dress does not match Michelle Obama’s skin tone is because you are only looking at her skin color, which is only visible on the outer dermis. Flesh is below the dermis, where all humans have the same peachy color. The outer skin has melanin in it which varies from person to person, thus the numerous skin tones that occur from person to person. But, remember on the inside, that is not visible to the human eye- we are all the same.