Only Michelle Obama knows why she wore a yellow dress-and-coat ensemble for Tuesday's inauguration, but Leatrice Eiseman thinks it was an...

Only Michelle Obama knows why she wore a yellow dress-and-coat ensemble for Tuesday’s inauguration, but Leatrice Eiseman thinks it was an excellent choice.

“Yellow is the happy-face color,” says Eiseman, a Bainbridge Island color consultant. “It gives people some lift and a spirit of hope and optimism.”

The inaugural outfit, designed by Isabel Toledo, also seemed to confirm Eiseman’s prediction a couple of months ago that yellow would be the “in” color of 2009.

Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, sees yellow as an antidote to the bad economy, which she calls “the gray elephant in the room.”

She spoke Wednesday at the Pacific Market Center in Seattle, where local retailers sought tips on using color to more effectively order and display merchandise.

That the first lady, known for mixing high-end designer labels with mall mainstays, chose yellow for the swearing-in ensures it’ll soon turn up on everything from handbags to bedspreads.

“We know we’ve been in a downward spiral as far as the economy is concerned, and people need that ray of sunshine,” Eiseman says.

A. Liengboonlertchai, who owns Simplicity Décor in downtown Kirkland, says customers tend to think of yellow as “kitcheny,” meaning appropriate for tableware, but not decorative pillows and blankets.

Tuesday might have changed that, though.

“I think we’ll now see a lot more yellow, for sure,” he says.

As for the white gown that Michelle Obama wore for Tuesday night’s balls, Eiseman offered up this possible explanation: “It’s purity, a whole new start. It’s wiping the slate clean.”

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com