What colour are you? A focus on grey

We start with problems over the name – is it grey or gray? Either way, it’s a colour between black and white. However, it is achromatic, meaning literally that it is “without colour”.

The first recorded use of grey as a colour name in English was around AD 700. Although ‘gray’ was commonly used in the UK until the mid 20th century, now ‘grey’ is the dominant spelling in the UK whereas ‘gray’ is the preferred American spelling.

In the Middle Ages, grey was the colour of undyed wool, and therefore was the colour most commonly worn by peasants and the poor. It was also the colour worn by monks as a symbol of poverty. Franciscan monks in England and Scotland were commonly known as the Grey Friars and that name is now common in many places in Great Britain.  Many people are familiar with the story of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh.

Grey is also associated with mourning. In the 19th century, if a member of your family died, you wore black. But if, for example, a member of the royal family died, you were expected to wear grey.

During the 19th century, bright colours disappeared from men’s fashion, and were replaced by a black or charcoal grey frock coat in winter, and lighter greys in summer. In the early 20th century, the frock coat was gradually replaced by the lounge suit, which was usually black or charcoal grey. So although styles changed, the colour remained grey.

In the late 1930s, grey became a symbol of industrialisation and war. It was the dominant colour of Picasso’s famous painting Guernica, about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.

business_1100010651-012914-intAfter the war, the grey business suit became a metaphor for uniformity of thought. However, during the 1950s and 1960s the grey suit was also worn by film stars and politicians.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the style was beginning to change; grey was considered monotonous and without character. Gradually the dark blue suit became popular. Take a look at recent meetings of world leaders, and you’ll see that nearly every head of state is wearing a dark blue business suit.

Grey is a very common colour for animals, birds and fish, ranging in size from elephants to mice. It provides a natural camouflage and allows them to blend with their surroundings. Surprising perhaps, considering the size of an elephant!

3d pixel brain sign as conceptThe brain is sometimes referred to as grey matter, or ‘the little grey cells’, hence the association of grey with intelligence. Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot referred frequently to his ‘little grey cells’.

In ethics, grey is either used to describe situations that have no clear moral value; ‘the grey area’.

Grey is the colour of conformity – not having any personality of its own, it adapts to any other colour. It will look either dark or light, depending upon the colour next to it.

In Europe and the United States, surveys show that grey is the colour most commonly associated with conformity, boredom, uncertainty, old age, indifference, and modesty. Only one percent of respondents chose it as their favorite colour.

Grey is rarely used as a colour by political parties, largely because of its association with conformity, boredom and indecision.

It indicates neutrality, to the point of indifference. A preference for grey suggests you keep your feelings under wraps.

Positive associations include: reliable, dignified, impartial, professional, mature, intelligent, classic, solid, stable, calming, reserved, elegant and dependable.

More recently, grey has become popular in a huge range of products and fashion. Everywhere from shop floors to walls to wardrobes, grey embodies the spirit of the decade and is now seen as chic.

In 2014, sales of grey T-shirts rocketed by a third on Asos, while sales of grey paint have also risen significantly in recent years. No longer seen as drab and depressing, today, grey is associated with sophistication. It sits well with other colours, without dominating, representing quiet confidence.

Take a look at Farrow & Ball, with colours including Mole’s Breath, Lamp Room Gray and Manor House Gray. These are aspirational paints and many of the names are trademarked or registered.Young Boy In Suit Doing His Tie

And finally, Alberto Giacomettii, the Swiss sculptor and painter is quoted as saying “If I see everything in gray, and in gray all the colours which I experience and which I would like to reproduce, then why should I use any other colour? I’ve tried doing so, for it was never my intention to paint only with gray. But in the course of my work I have eliminated one colour after another, and what has remained is gray, gray, gray!”

Not bad for a colour that is supposedly ‘without colour’.

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