Colors are imbued with meaning and symbolism. In a world filled with an endless variety of tints and tones, different hues are used to convey emotions and moods, or to invoke a particular sentiment. Though the meaning of a color can vary from one nation to another, or even from one decade to the next, in Western civilization, a color's meaning remains relatively constant as colors are strongly associated with elements found in the natural world.
White is the color of clouds and newly fallen snow, and is often associated with the heavens, purity, peace and cleanliness. As a result, christening gowns, the traditional bride’s gown, the truce flag, and the physician’s coat are white. Additionally, white is often added to more vibrant hues to tone down both the color and the meaning. For example, red is the color of passionate love, while pink is the color of affection and friendship.
Any fashonista worth her salt knows black is the one color that goes with everything. Chic, elegant and timeless, black clothing tends to make people look thinner, and many women consider the “little black dress” a wardrobe staple. However, while black may be fashionable, it also can be depressing and gloomy. Black is the color of mourning and death. It also is strongly associated with the unknown and the paranormal. Most scary movies are filmed with dark backgrounds or at night. It also symbolizes evil and black magic. Consequently, it is a color commonly used in Halloween costumes and decor.
The blood that runs through the body is red, so is the face when flushed. Therefore, the color red is strongly associated with emotions that get the blood pumping, so to speak. It is the color of passion, energy, anger, excitement and aggression. From bouquets of red roses to “seeing red” when angry, there is no denying the power of this sultry color.
Like the sun itself, the color yellow is connected to feelings of warmth and optimism. Cheerful, energetic, bright tones of yellow are often used in summer celebrations, while pale pastels are used during the Easter holiday, to herald in the arrival of spring. Oddly enough, yellow also is associated with caution and cowardice. Traffic signs are painted yellow, in part, because they get the driver’s attention, but also to warn drivers of upcoming hazards. In the military, yellow ribbons show support for deployed soldiers, but a soldier who refuses to fight is called “yellow.”
The sky and the ocean are enduring, vast and deep; accordingly, the color blue stands for stability, tranquility and calmness. Many people choose blue suits when interviewing for a job or when trying to make a positive impression, as the color implies depth and endurance. In Western cultures, blue is a masculine color and is often gifted to baby boys, but women also wear blue, as it is flattering to most skin tones. However, blue also can be used to portray sadness, as when one says they are "feeling blue."
Though green is created by combining blue and yellow, the meaning of the amalgamation is not connected to either of its contributors. Green is the color of grass, spring leaves and growing plants. As a result, the color green symbolizes new growth and nature. Green is used on the packaging of many products that are safe for recycling, made from renewable resources and items that are environmentally-friendly. Green also has negative connotations, as it can be used to symbolize illness and envy.
Purple may be made from mixing red with blue, but the resulting hue has a meaning all its own. It is unusual to find true purple in nature, outside of the occasional spring flower. The rarity of the color implies value; therefore, purple is associated with majesty, wealth and nobility. While purple is not commonly used by adults, it is a favorite among children and is said to help promote creative thinking and imagination.
Created by blending red with yellow, orange represents the best of both colors. The color orange symbolizes warmth (as in red) and energy (as in yellow), without being hot and angry or overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The color of autumn leaves, carrots and pumpkins, orange is often associated with healthy foods and the fall harvest.
- Princeton Online: Incredible Art Department- Symbolism of Color: Using Color for Meaning
- "New Complete Guide to Gardening"; Susan A. Roth; 1997
Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.