03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Oct 31, 2011

2010 Is The New...Year

I remember the first time I encountered the phrase "is the new." After watching her favorite morning television program, my mom came to me with a monumental style message:

Brown is the new black.

Finally!, I thought. At the midpoint of my painful adolescent sartorial career and as the proud owner of size six-and-a-half feet regularly relegated to purchasing shoes in any color other than the unassuming black that seemed impossible to find--finally, brown, synonymous in my mind with blech, was in. Not only was it in, it was The. New. Black.

Then fall turned into winter and winter into spring and suddenly the fashion forecasters were whistling a new tune: Pink is the new brown. I was a semi-impressionable youth, but, nothing--and I mean no thing rosy or even coral was going to touch my body. It was around that point that I dropped out of the "is the new" cult, but "is the new" had just begun to cultivate its cultural significance.

However, according to Wikipedia (the new encyclopedia, for those of you playing along at home), calling a specific color the next big thing came into play in the 1957 film "Funny Face," when Quality magazine publisher and editor Maggie Prescott goes wild with "Think Pink!" The phrase was further honed in the late '70s when mockingly musing about neutral colors (i.e. red/pink/pearl grey/[insert whatever hue you want here] is the new neutral), but it wasn't until 1983 that someone had the gall to come right out and say it:

Colors are slated to be somber and muted, say most of the designers who previewed their collections for Fashion83. For example, fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré says gray is the new black.

His words were well-documented in the Los Angeles Times' March 4 issue of that year and set off a sort of mini-linguistic craze, notes lexicographer Benjamin Zimmer on his Language Log. Some ensuing examples:

"There is a tremendous range to the color brown," says [textile and color specialist Elaine] Flowers, who expects brown to look updated because of the way it is paired with other colors, and used in varied textures. "It is the new black." (Washington Post, Mar. 15, 1984, p. D9)

"There is a tremendous range to the color brown," says [textile and color specialist Elaine] Flowers, who expects brown to look updated because of the way it is paired with other colors, and used in varied textures. "It is the new black." (Washington Post, Mar. 15, 1984, p. D9)

Navy is the new black in Paris; in London and Milan, brown is the preferred alternative. (Washington Post, Apr. 3, 1984, p. C6)

"We're very strongly navy for the season," he [sc. merchandising agent Joseph Martinez] said. "Navy is the new black." (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26, 1984, p. IV15)

Okay. So my mom was sixteen years late to the "is the new" party, but hey, better fashionably late than never. And it kind of seems that most people joined her on the delayed trend train. At the beginning of the aughties, "is the new" remained innocent enough, still referring to what color clothing we should rush out and buy. Then the "black" part fell by the wardrobe wayside, being replaced with pink (as I previously bemoaned), silver, and even orange. And then the phrase became inverted, beginning, "black is the new...." And "is the new" was the newest meta-modish motto.

And it didn't stop there. During the mid-aughties, "is the new" waved buh-bye to the runways and said hello to popular culture. Cue some noteworthy instances culled from Wikipedia:

2004: The tagline for the 2004 film Ocean's Twelve, the sequel to Ocean's Eleven, was "Twelve is the new eleven."

2005: One of the catch-phrases for Apple's iPod shuffle is "Random is the new order."

2005: Australian musician Ben Lee's album Awake Is the New Sleep.

2006: A movie review of Brokeback Mountain opined that "Gay cowboys are now the new penguins"[5] - a double reference to the surprise success of the love story (which supplanted the previous year's dark horse, the documentary March of the Penguins) and to the publicity given to gay penguin couples in zoos, which had recently been in the news.

The last one really illustrates "is the new" at its apex, in my opinion. Nothing tops a completely nonsensical comparison between Heath Ledger's (R.I.P.) homosexual acting debut and an adorable flightless bird. And soon arrived the age angle, as in, 50 is the new 30, 40 is the new 20, 25 is the new 24 is the new 23 is the new 22...and I'll spare you the rest of the confidence-boosting mathematics.

Since then, "is the new" has been laying low and been handed back to the fashion community provoking proclamations like green (nail polish) is the new black, fugly is the new pretty, thrift is the new fashion, Blake Lively's hair is the new "Rachel," grey is the new black (how retro!), underwear is the new outerwear, and of course, Michelle Obama is the new Jackie O.

So where will "is the new" go from here? Secretly, I hope straight to the catch-phrase cemetery. At this point, it's so clichéd, irritating to hear and haphazardly formulaic. Honestly, who is making her or his clothing decisions based on such reckless wisdom? Well, probably a lot of people. But perhaps it's time to leave old ways rise up against the arbiters of fashion who shuffle the modish masses along from one fad to another! I hereby resolve to make my own style decisions! And to potentially wear all black, even in the face of a new "it" color, and in front of the faces of puzzled passersby!

After all, 2010 is the new year.

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