A Passion for Purple

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I’ve been curating a new wardrobe for myself. Right now I am focusing on casual summer tops to wear with shorts. All I have are tank tops and a couple of $5 t-shirts I got on sale at Michael’s. Functional, yes, but not really stylish nor necessarily the coolest thing for hot Texas summers.

I went to a couple of thrift stores (I pledged to only buy my clothes secondhand. The fashion industry is one of the largest polluters and I don’t want to contribute to it anymore. There are more than enough used options around, at least if the thrift stores in my area are any indication). Since I wasn’t able to try anything on, I did get a couple I’m not totally in love with but for the most part, I found some real gems. And a pattern emerged. The majority of stuff I bought had a definite bohemian vibe – Indian-like prints and embroidery. No big surprise there. Also, there were a lot of blues and purples.

I love color. I have always been attracted to it yet haven’t had a lot of it in my wardrobe. Maybe because black and grey were just an easy option. I have another theory though. My wardrobe and it’s lack of cohesion, color or style has been an outer manifestation of an inner confict. How could I possibly develop a personal style when I was flip-flopping around, trying to be what everyone else expected me to be? If I didn’t know who I was how could I dress her? Only now that I am learning to listen to and trust my authentic self have I been able to see my true style emerge.

And purple in all of it’s glorious forms, is definitely on the menu!

What is Color?

I’m not going to pretend to understand how color works optically (apparently it has something to do with how different wavelengths of colored light combine and how cones in our eyes percieve it or something like that) but I do know from elementary art class that purple is a mixture of red and blue. Mix in more red than blue and you get purple. Mix in more blue than red and you get violet. This analogous color scheme (red, purple and blue) is my favorite so it’s no wonder that I now have quite a collection of it in my wardrobe. (I would extend that range to teal blues also. Not only do I love these jewel tones, they look good on me.)

Purple Dyes

The color purple as a dye has an interesting history. Apparently purple is rare in the nature (though it doesn’t seem like it thanks to having everything at our fingertips these days). Even if we don’t live in an area where lilacs, grapes or eggplant are indiginous, we still know what they are.

The color purple as a dye has been around since biblical times. The most important dye originally came from what is now known as Lebanon. It was extracted from a snail – mucus of a snail to be exact (the history of dying is quite fascinating and also a little gross – maybe it’s the grossness that makes it fascinating…) which had to be dried out in the sun for a particular amount of time to get the right hue. The reason purple is considered the color of royalty was because it took about 250,000 of these snails to produce one ounce of dye, making it extremely expensive but the color was deep and long lasting. If you wanted to display your wealth, wearing purple spoke volumes.

There were other natural sources for purple including purple moss, blackberries and mulberries but these created colors more on the red side and weren’t as colorfast.

Synthetic purple dye didn’t become prevalent until the mid 1800’s when William Henry Perkin, who was trying to produce synthetic quinine, created the first aniline dye instead. It was known as mauveine and shortened to mauve. He took full advantage of this discovery, set up a factory and it became readily available (i.e. affordable) to the masses.

Meaning of Purple

I’m a sucker for symbolism so naturally I’m interested in what meaning people have attached to the color purple. According to the website Color Matters :

purple symbolizes magic, mystery, spirituality, the sub-conscious, creativity, dignity, royalty – and it evokes all of these meanings more so than any other color.

I find the link to royalty rather interesting given my life archetype is The Empress. (I’m a sucker for these type of personality quizzes. And whether or not you believe any of it, I strongly identify with everything about my archetype.) While it doesn’t state a particular color, purple is definitely an empress color.

Am I drawn to purple because it is such a rare color? That it evokes “deep mystery? Because of its “royal” heritage? Or because my skin tone has a reddish undertone so the coolness of purple keeps me from looking like a beet?

I confess the idea of being mysterious and rare does sound better than being an outcast and weird, which is kind of how I felt my whole life. Being a little older and wiser, I’m no longer concerned about fitting in. Actually I’m okay with being weird. What’s the other option – normal? When I was younger I did everything I could to be like everyone else – to be accepted – but now that sounds so…boring. And life is so much easier and enjoyable embracing my weirdness instead of trying to hide or erase it, like it was something to be shameful of.

So yeah, color me purple.

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