The Color Purple — History, Meaning and Facts

Purple is a regal color that symbolizes extravagance and wealth. It also has a mysterious side that provokes curiosity. Learn more about the facts, meaning and history of the color purple.

Facts About the Color Purple

Here are some facts about purple:

  • The term “purple” has roots in the Latin “purpura,” the Old English “purpul” and the Greek “porphura.”
  • In the United States, the highest honor for bravery in military service is the Purple Heart.
  • William Henry Perkin accidentally created mauve — and the world’s first synthetic dye — during a failed chemistry experiment.
  • The musician Prince often wore purple, so Pantone released a purple shade in his honor.

The History of the Color Purple

Around 3,000 years ago, the Ancient Phoenicians discovered how to make a rich purple dye that became more brilliant over time. Purple was worn exclusively by the upper class, and artists commissioned by the Catholic Church also depicted Jesus and the Virgin Mary in purple. This exclusivity made purple a rare color among commoners until the Age of Enlightenment. The symbols of the Church and State hierarchy were not as valued at this time, and synthetic pigments made purple more available.

Is Purple the Color for Royalty?

Purple as the royal color started with ancient monarchies. The color was difficult to produce, which made it expensive and available only to upper society. Rulers wore purple robes and used purple ink to sign their edicts. Some Roman emperors penalized their citizens by death for wearing purple garments. The use of purple among royalty decreased after the Byzantine empire fell in the 15th century.

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The Meaning of the Color Purple

As a once-royal color, purple symbolizes wisdom, power, spirituality, luxury, wealth and nobility. Since it is between red and blue, purple is known for the combination of red’s power and blue’s stability. The color purple also symbolizes independence and dignity. Purple isn’t common in nature, so the color can also be exotic and mysterious, inspiring curiosity.

A Look at the Psychology of the Color Purple

Purple stimulates the imagination, related to fantasies and dreams. As a result, purple can help people feel inspired and creative by getting them into the right mindset and sparking new ideas. Purple also has a physiological effect. It creates a feeling of calmness, lowering heart rate and blood pressure in some cases. However, excessive purple can cause feelings of frustration and aggravation.

How Is Purple Dye Made?

The first shade of purple produced was Tyrian purple, created from Bolinus brandaris sea snails. Dye makers harvested mucus from the shell and heated it in an alkaline solution. The dipped yarn in this solution and exposed it to sunlight, turning it purple. About 250,000 snails were required to make an ounce of purple dye. Tyrian purple was rare and expensive, making purple clothing costly. A pound of purple wool cost more than a year’s salary.

Today, purple dye is made from cochineal insects. They contain carminic acid, a crimson shade, which turns purple when alkaline substances increase the mixture’s pH level.

Measuring the Color Purple

Purple is the combination of blue and red. This shade occurs naturally on the visible spectrum. It has the strongest electromagnetic wavelength, close to that of gamma rays and X-rays. A spectrophotometer measures the color purple by using sensors to separate reflected and transmitted light beams into its component wavelengths.

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Learn More About Purple Testing at HunterLab

Contact us online for more information about analyzing purple samples with HunterLab.