You’ve all seen it – in store windows, on your friends, under suits. It’s exciting to see purple for a change. Purple is an interesting colour, different yet close enough to blue that many men feel safe wearing it.
I’m delighted to see more and more men embracing this wonderful range of hues; I’ve been seeing men donning purple shirts, ties, and jackets, sometimes of the velvet variety (gorgeous!). Seeing a man in a purple dress shirt is relieving to me instead of the expectant ordinary white or light blue collar. If purple is indeed moving in on blue’s territory, I welcome this glorious transition.
Though purple isn’t too far a cry from blue, it isn’t too far away from the reds either. In fact, it’s right in the middle of the hot red and the cool blue on the colour wheel. There are varying degrees of purple, some more red, some more blue, some lighter and some darker. As a result, the range of purple is very diverse from very light lavenders to very dark aubergines, to violets, mauves, magentas, hyacinths and plums in between. To get a sense of the range of red to blue purples, click here for a good chromatic visual.
If you observe the colour wheel above, you can see that mid-way between red and blue is purple, and as you divide purple with red, you see red-purple and looking between purple and blue, you see blue-purple. The countless divisions between these colour markers which, when mixed with black, white, and grey, will give all kinds of new colours like fuschia, mulberry, burgundy, grape, indigo, slate blue, amethyst, iris, or royal purple, to name a few. A purple example you may see for spring 2011 is “barberry”, a deep fuschia, still technically purple, but closer to the red side.
I believe that the human eye loves colour but the human psyche is bothered by artificial social meanings that colour carries. In this case, purple being between red and blue does not carry the meanings that blue and that controversial tint of red carries (did you guess that I’m referring to pink? to be discussed in a future blog post), which makes it safe for men to appreciate and wear.
My clients know that I like to move them into colours they may never have considered before, and often we find shirts in the purple family that the clients fall in love with.
A little history
The first purple dye originated from a marine source in Tyre, Phoenicia (Lebanon). Through a very laborious process, liquid was extracted from a shellfish (Murex brandaris) that started out as white and gradually changed colour as it was carefully exposed to light. Later, more accessible types of purple dyes were discovered on the islands off of the north west coast of Africa in the form of lichen and also from the Dragon Tree which produced a red resin that made for an excellent dye. Because the dye was so expensive, few could afford it, and it was reserved for the very wealthy.
In Colour: Travels through the Paintbox, Victoria Finlay explains that “[t]he Persians and Jews liked purple greatly, but it was in the Roman and then later in the Byzantine approbation of this dye that it gained its real reputation – when emperor after emperor had their new clothes made from it.”
Finlay found that Cleopatra loved purple and introduced Caesar to this new colour (she loved it so much that the sails of her ship were dyed purple). Caesar brought stuffs of purple back to Rome and wore a “totally purple, sea-snail-dyed, full-length toga. An item only Caesar was allowed to wear.” Following this tradition, Roman and Byzantine emperors wore purple robes, and this chromatic exclusivity was carried into many kingdoms over time, turning purple into the colour of royalty.
More on purple
In modern times, purple, like any other dye colour is readily available and no longer exclusive, but there is something special about purple; I love to wear it and have made a point of collecting purple pieces to intersperse into my wardrobe. People often comment on it. Some artists have a thing for purple too and are associated with the colour:
–> Donny Osmond was famous for his purple socks as a teenager in the 70s. Apparently the socks had nothing to do with him liking the colour, but rather his mother found them on sale and bought him several pairs.
–> Prince, the Purple One, released the Purple Rain album and film in 1984:
–> In The Color Purple, African-American feminist writer, Alice Walker, uses purple symbolism in her story about Celie, a poor, uneducated black woman in the southern US during the 1930s. Celie was badly abused as an adolescent and lives a difficult life. She sees herself through other people’s eyes which keeps her from seeing the beautiful aspects of life.
Purple is associated with pain and suffering in the story. Her step-daughter-in-law, Sophie is beaten until her face is swollen and described as the colour of eggplant. Celie’s friend and lover, Shug, tells her when they are standing in a field of purple flowers to look at the flowers and embrace their beauty. “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” After learning this, Celie has a better respect for life and everything it has to offer.
–> Rock history: Purple Haze is a fantastic Jimi Hendrix song!
If you like purple and you’re into online shopping, I happened upon this great purple website for men’s apparel with all sorts of goodies from shirts to shorts to purple camouflage gear.
Everyone can, and indeed should wear purple; there’s something grand about it, it draws the eye and makes us stand out from the crowd. Try turning to purple when you would normally look for blue, gentlemen, feel good in your gorgeous new hues, and of course, rule your kingdoms well.