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Colors: Their Connotations and Perceived Meanings

Throughout the ages, colors have been used to evoke certain emotions, and an examination of the history of color offers fascinating insights into the human condition, as well as showing how different cultures have developed different attitudes about color. Here are a few examples of what various colors have come to represent over the years:


Red has traditionally been associated with courage and love in Western culture, but in China, red is the color of happiness and good fortune. In fact, white has traditionally been the color most preferred for wedding dresses in America, but the Chinese prefer to dress their brides in red.


Orange is considered a warm color, perhaps because it has evoked the feeling of fire, all the way back to mankind's earliest beginnings. Painting walls a subtle orange, leaning toward a warm brown, stimulates the appetite and can reduce tension. However, as the orange color becomes brighter, it begins to take on a high energy feel and can lead to anxiety.


Brown is another warm and comforting color, stimulating the appetite and actually making food taste better. That makes coffee brown, in all intensities, with or without the cream, an ideal candidate for dining rooms.


Since it's always been associated with the sun, yellow has traditionally been considered a cheerful color. Yellow is also the first color most people see in early spring, when the daffodils begin to bloom. However, there seems to be an East/West cultural difference when it comes to yellow. The Chinese revere yellow enough to have considered it the imperial color since the 10th century, yet several Western studies have shown that yellow is many people's least favorite color.


Green is another color that has both an up and down side. It's associated with the new growth of spring, prosperity, and clean, fresh air, yet it can also carry a negative connotation, in terms of mold, nausea, and jealousy. Throughout the ages, green has most often been considered to represent fertility, and during the 15th century, green was the most popular choice of for the wedding gowns of European brides.


Because it's associated with the color of the sea and the sky, blue has come to symbolize serenity and infinity. That's especially true of the more greenish shades of blue, such as aqua and teal. On the other hand, cooler shades of blue can have a tendency to cause feelings of sadness.


Over the millennia, purple has been associated with royalty in Western civilizations, due to the difficulty and expense involved in producing purple dye, which was made from a particular species of mollusk shell. Even today, when purple can be produced just as inexpensively as any other color, the use of purple is still considered to represent elegance and sophistication.

There are stories and connotations for every color, and different cultures assign different meanings to colors. For instance, American brides generally prefer white wedding dresses, while many Asian cultures dress their brides in black, reserving white for funerals. But regardless of what culture on is from, one thing is certain: colors will always have effects on human beings and should be carefully considered when decorating a home.

(c) Copyright 2004, Jeanette J. Fisher. All rights reserved.


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