Are there 50 _ or thousands _ shades of gray?

SAMANTHA CRITCHELL AP Fashion Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Gray is, in fact, a gray area. There is such a wide sliding scale between black and white that it's hard to pinpoint the color.

You might guess there are 50 shades, thanks to the much-buzzed-about E L James book "Fifty Shades of Grey," but there are hundreds of versions -- maybe thousands.

"We have only touched the surface of gray," says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, the research division of Pantone Inc., which creates color standards for the fashion, beauty and home industries. "In our guide, you'd see gray on 'gray' pages, but you'd see some degrees of gray in the green families, in blues and browns. Gray is often on the cusp of another color."

Gray can be closer to black, like a charcoal, and it extends all the way to almost white. Rocks versus doves.

"In our word association study on gray, people are more apt to think of it in terms of environmental nature -- the rocks and stones as opposed to a flying feathery dove," Eiseman says, noting that it's common for people to place colors outdoors when asked to think about them.

There's a weather association, too, she adds. "I live in Seattle and we know gray! A lot of people think of gray as -- from their childhood -- standing against the window, nose pressed, and hearing your mother say, 'You have to stay inside.' And you would wait for gray clouds to disappear."

Some grays have more cool blue undertones, which are supposed to symbolize intelligence, and others are warmer and more beige, which will be more approachable.

Still, gray has a bit of a downer reputation and not too many people name it as a favorite color, Eiseman says. There are those, however, who appreciate its sophistication, especially people with expensive tastes, she explains. You'll see a lot of calming, soothing gray as paint in living rooms and in the closets of hip urbanites.

It works as a background for all of this year's popular brights, including hot pink, tangerine orange and turquoise. Personally, Eiseman likes the pairing of gray and yellow.

It might seem as if gray is being used more now that the book is so popular, but it's always been there, she explains. It's like when you buy a new car and suddenly it seems as if everyone else has bought the same one. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fashion designer or decorator who didn't already treat it as a must-have.

"Gray is a very solid color, it's not trendy at all," Eiseman declares. "It's something you can hold on to."