Is color status?

4 August 2018

Color used to be everywhere in the Middle Ages, and the more people wore bright colors, the more prosperous they were considered to be. The reason is pretty straight forward. Those who could afford to wear bright dyes were the only ones who wore them: red, purple, green, blue were some of the rich colors that were obtained from them. Medieval scholars actually believed that seven colors were to be considered: white, yellow, red, green, blue, purple and black.

Green was considered the middle color and was considered soothing. Though it may have been ambiguous in history (it represented arsenic, elfs or hope at the same time), in the Middle Ages green was worn by brides since it symbolised fertility. Green turns like the wheel of fortune. Green is also nature.

The black knight was the one who wanted to hide his identity (think Tristan or Lancelot). In the same way, though monks robes were more colorful originally, they eventually became black or brown so as to be more sober and go unnoticed.

This makes us think that if you want to be invisible or to disappear, those are the colors to choose (imagine all the dark colors you wear each day, what a pity not to wear color!).

But those that prospered wore color and it was a symbol of their status. My questions is, what happened to society for all these colors to disappear? In the US, people generally tend to wear more color than in Europe. Most south American and Asian countries tend to wear color also. Some say it is linked to the sun. The more sun you have, the more you tend to wear color.

In the Middle Ages black was the color of mourning and repentance, and  was only worn by aristocracy in the 14th century. It then became the symbol of “chic” with Chanel and Givenchy, but today black is not chic most of the time. It is everywhere in different tones and qualities of material. Black can also be an expression of poor quality and fashion.

Yellow was basically negative all over Europe. It was the color of the traitors, Hebrews and Muslims, but eventually became the balance of red and white. On  the other hand, in Ancient Rome it was the preferred color for weddings.

Red: Red was originally the color of feasts, kings and power, and was said to keep illness and evil spirits away.

Blue is today one of the most favored colors in the occidental world. It is so neutral that when people say it’s their favorite color, it means people to not engage themselves in terms of color. In the Middle Ages it became fashionable. The tones are inspired by the skies and gradually became more and more prosperous rivaling with red.

Purple was a rare color because of the complex technique for creating the dye, and worn only by European royal families in the Middle Ages.

So remember, to wear color is to make a statement. Don’t take it for granted, and remember that color says something about you and wearing the right tones will illuminate you!


View Michel Pastoureau’s video from the Louvre Museum to learn more about it.