NEW YORK, N.Y. - Gray is, in fact, a grey area. There is such a wide sliding scale between black and white that it's hard to pinpoint the colour.

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

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

Another colour trend of the year is coral.

Michelle Williams in Louis Vuitton, 2012
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"In our word association study on grey, 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 colours outdoors when asked to think about them.

There's a weather association, too, she adds. "I live in Seattle and we know grey! A lot of people think of grey 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 grey clouds to disappear."

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

Still, grey has a bit of a downer reputation and not too many people name it as a favouritecolour, 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 grey 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 grey and yellow.

It might seem as if grey 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.

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