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What colour are you? A focus on Purple and Violet

Are you a dreamer, hate responsibility and have high, perhaps unobtainable standards and goals? Yes? Then you are likely to express a preference for shades of purple and violet. You may also be sensitive, display great taste and appreciate music and the arts. On the downside, you have a tendency to be temperamental.

But what if you hate violet? Well, you probably don’t like close relationships and dislike all forms of conceit, pretence and vanity.

So where do the phrases ‘born in the purple’ or ‘born to be purple’ originate from?

Possibly from the tradition of wrapping babies born to the Byzantine imperial family in purple robes. This, along with the difficulty and high cost of producing purple dye from the Murex Brandaris shellfish, ensuring that purple clothing was only available to those of the highest rank, may account for purple being synonymous with wealth, luxury and royalty. In Japan, purple is also the colour of privilege and wealth, associated with the Japanese aristocracy.

vector-horoscopes_sagitariusPurple is associated with the birth sign Sagittarius. It is also the colour most often associated with royalty, magic, mystery and piety. Ageing, death, depression, disease and loneliness are all associated with pale grey violets.

In Britain, purple is sometimes associated with mourning. In Victorian times, close relatives wore black for the first year following a death (“deep mourning”), and then replaced it with purple or dark green trimmed with black. And it’s not just Britain: in Thailand, widows in mourning wear purple.

The wearing of purple vestments by Christian clergy during Advent and Lent reflects purple’s link with sanctity and spirituality.

In China, purple represents spiritual awareness, physical and mental healing, strength and abundance. A red purple symbolises luck and fame. In Chinese painting purple represents the harmony of the universe because it is a combination of red and blue (yin and yang).

Purple haze refers to a state of mind induced by psychedelic drugs and gave its name to the 1967 song by Jimi Hendrix, although Hendrix apparently denied that the song was about drugs.

Purple is thought to impart energy and provide inspiration and yet is often thought to be a difficult and disturbing colour to live with. It can be seen as ‘edgy’ and ‘dangerous’.

mauvine-dressPurple is seen as the colour of good judgement whereas violet is the colour of purpose. Whilst they may appear similar, there is an important difference. Purple is a composite colour made by combining red and blue, while violet is a spectral colour, with its own wavelength on the visible spectrum of light.

Purple is associated with ambiguity. Like other colours made by combining two primary colours, it is seen as uncertain. It’s also seen as an ‘edgy’ colour – something a little dangerous and unsettling which might upset the status quo. So use with caution if you’re decorating your house!

In the Middle Ages, those who dyed blue fabric and red fabric were members of different guilds, and were forbidden to dye any other colours than those of their own guild. Most purple fabric was made by the dyers who worked with red, and who used dye from madder or cochineal, so Medieval violet colours were inclined toward red.

From the Middle Ages onwards, purple and violet dyes were often made from the blackberry or other red fruit or from the mulberry. All of these dyes were more red than blue, and faded easily with washing and exposure to sunlight.

mauvine perkinIt was in 1856 that William Henry Perkin, a true innovator of his day, discovered a colour that changed the world. At 18 years of age, it was his failed attempt to synthesise quinine from aniline that led to the invention of the first synthetic dye (mauveine). Perkin’s recognition of the potential of mauve as a dye, coupled with his iron determination to commercialise it, was the spark that launched the modern synthetic chemical industry. Nowadays, Perkin is commemorated in a number of ways by several bodies involved in the chemical industry, including the SDC with its Perkin House headquarters and its prestigious Perkin Medal. To find out more about him, take a look at the Perkin timeline on this blog.

So historically purple was worn by only an elite few, but what about more recently? Is it underestimated and overlooked? Why is it so difficult to wear? Many associate purple with hippies, goths and glam rockers, and the artist sometimes known as Prince. It’s often seen as an unconventional fashion choice, not that easy to wear, and best kept to small details and accessories, although it will certainly make a strong statement. You need to be careful what you combine it with. Too much purple will be seen as cheap and flashy. However ‘on trend’ it may be, do fashion and purple ever really mix?

This is part of a series of blogs focusing on different colours.  Check out our blogs on orange, blue, green and red.

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