Throughout the centuries, colors have been used to evoke certain emotions, and an examination of the history of color offers fascinating insight 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 preferred color for wedding dresses in the United States, but the Chinese prefer to dress their brides in red.


Orange is considered a warm color, perhaps because it has evoked the sensation of fire since the beginning of humanity. Painting the walls a subtle orange, leaning toward a warm brown, stimulates the appetite and can reduce stress. However, as the color orange becomes brighter, it begins to take on a high-energy feeling and can be anxiety-inducing.


Brown is another warm and comforting color, which stimulates the appetite and makes food taste better. That makes brown coffee, at all strengths, with or without the cream, an ideal candidate for dining rooms.


Since it has 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 a cultural difference between East and West when it comes to yellow. The Chinese revere yellow enough to have considered it the imperial color since the 10th century, yet various Western studies have shown that yellow is many people’s least favorite color.


Green is another color that has ups and downs. It is associated with new spring growth, prosperity, and clean, fresh air, but it can also have a negative connotation, in terms of mold, nausea, and jealousy. Throughout the centuries, green has most often been considered to represent fertility, and during the 15th century, green was the most popular choice for wedding dresses for European brides.


Because it is associated with the color of the sea and sky, blue has come to symbolize serenity and infinity. That’s especially true of greener shades of blue, like aquamarine and teal. On the other hand, cooler shades of blue can have a tendency to cause feelings of sadness.


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

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

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

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