This story involves Richard. He tells many stories about colour and clothes, related to himself and near relatives. His grandmother did not appreciate anyone wearing green. Her reason was simple, understandable and emotional. All of her bridesmaids wore green at her wedding, and all died within a year of it. They were all victims of tuberculosis, as was Richard’s aunt, who died in childhood. His grandmother, Jane, escaped the north of England and moved to Canada in 1911, because of this disease. His grandfather had arrived a year earlier. Richard’s mother, Janet, was born in Canada in 1916.
Janet enforced Jane’s unwritten rule. Green was not worn. Richard can’t remember anyone in his family wearing green much before his grandmother’s death in 1972. The one exception was that Richard had acquired a green sweater, knit by his first flame, Joy, in 1966.
In addition, Richard remembers that he was prohibited from wearing black. Black would have been acceptable at funerals, but as a child he was not allowed to attend funerals. All of his shoes were brown, yet his dress trousers were grey. They did not seem to match, but no one else seemed to notice. This mismatch has bothered him for sixty-five years. There was also an over-abundance of powder blue in his childhood wardrobe: mostly shirts, but also sweaters and socks, and one pair of Hush Puppy shoes. He felt strangely content wearing blue shoes. He regarded their purchase as a measured act of rebellion, one that unified a wardrobe consisting of blue and grey. When he outgrew his original Hush Puppies, he was irritated that he could no longer buy blue shoes.
As he grew older, beige and brown were added to his wardrobe. With these he felt that his brown shoes were no longer so out of place.
After he completed secondary school, one of his first acts of clothing defiance was to buy a black outfit: shirt, jeans, socks and shoes. He thinks the under garments were still white. Unfortunately, the quality of these black clothes was not especially good. The shoes soon wore out, and white started to show through the jeans. This taught him that jeans were not the ideal material to project a colour preference. His next clothing adventure was to purchase what he referred to as a jazz shirt. It was black, probably synthetic, but with colourful, large geometrical patterns.
At his wedding to Trixi, he wore a light blue suit, her favourite colour. She wore an off-white gown, with purple trim, suitable for a person entering a second marriage. Afterwards, he acquired an increasing number of clothes, that Trixi made for him. In particular, he remembers the khaki leisure suits that she sewed for their adventure to Europe. Later, she helped him dye white jeans to transform them into pastel coloured jeans: mainly green, blue and yellow. Gradually, the variety and intensity of colours has increased. Through the years, Trixi has knit him innumerable sweaters, socks, tuques and other garments.
Richard’s favourite suit was tailored by Kevin & Howlin, Dublin. It was made almost thirty years ago of Donegal tweed, green with distinctive lines of red. Today, it is not worn often, so it should last another thirty years!
Richard became a late convert to a range of reddish colours, in clothing. If asked for a rational explanation, he would probably resort to mentioning something about crimson representing tests and sacrifice. He would also suggest that red is the colour of blood, a product necessary for animal life.
In his early seventies, Richard discovered All Birds, shoes that were available in a wide variety of colours. This was through the help of his daughter, Sharon, who had suggested this brand, and a few other colourful brands. He bought pink All Birds, but referred to them as salmon coloured to carnivores, or peach to vegetarians/ vegans, to make the colour more socially acceptable. He is awaiting another pair to arrive, in a deeper red.
As he aged, Richard also extended his colour preference more towards purple. He thinks of the purple trim on his bride’s wedding gown, and suspects that this too has had an influence on colour choice. Now, his favourite reds include: carmine, a saturated red, with wavelengths longer than 600 nm, close to the extreme spectral red; crimson, another deep red colour that combines some blue/ violet, so that it approaches purple; madder, named for a dye produced from plants of the genus Rubia; He would not object to any one referring to some of these colours as maroon, but tries to avoid its French chestnut origins, that emphasize the muddiness of brown.
Richard takes an interest in sports. Yet, he is not interested in playing any games, or even in being a spectator. Rather, he is interested in the symbolism, used by teams: names, logos, flags, uniforms, souvenirs and effects. In terms of soccer/ football, Richard was an enthusiastic supporter of Canada’s women’s soccer team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, held in 2021. Canada’s final game was held just hours before this post was published. In a conversation with his nephew, Brian, Richard commented on the deep red, with white, uniform of the Canadian team, that personify his current personal taste in clothing. He told Brian, “I never watch sports, because I get too emotional when the wrong team scores.” Brian replied, “I understand. It’s stressful. It’s more enjoyable sometimes when you don’t care as much.” After the game ended, giving Canada a gold medal, Brian commented, “This is one of the most entertaining/stressful games I’ve ever seen. Stephanie Labbé is a certified legend.”
Reflecting on football/ soccer in Cascadia, Richard is uncertain if he could ever be a Vancouver Southsider, a supporter of the Whitecaps, who are encouraged to wear white and/or a darkish blue to differentiate them from Seattle Sounders FC Alliance supporters, who could be encouraging people to wear lighter blues and/or lighter greens. The distinction between light and dark is important because arch rival, Portland Timbers Army use a darker green, with yellow as a contrasting colour. Rose City Riveters, and other supporters of the Portland Thorns, women’s soccer team, may want to wear red. Richard, in fact, is such a supporter. He chose the Thorns as his team based on his colour preferences. , rather than starting with a team, and then wearing their colours.
Today, Richard wears a variety of colours, including blue and even beige, but seldom grey. Yet, every time he puts on something green, he thinks of his grandmother, her loss and the ravaging of tuberculosis. He is very happy that the world has vaccines to prevent disease. With good friends who have suffered their entire lives from the effects of polio, Richard is a pro-vaxer, seeing vaccinations as a cheap and effective means of preventing misery in the world, especially now in these Covid-19 times. He is impressed at the speed with which vaccines have been developed to reduce deaths during the current pandemic.
Colour in Context
Does biology have much to say about colour preferences? While there are two genders that often show some distinctive/ differentiated colour preferences, this may be attributed more to socialization than to biology. At a more general level, people who wear a particular colour influence other people. If one identifies in some physical way (age, gender, eye/ skin/ hair colour, body size) with someone else, and that person wears particular colours, these will in some limited way become acceptable. If one differentiates oneself from that person, these colours will in some limited way become less acceptable. Fertility may play a role in encouraging some people to select colours that signal this, or give them higher visibility, although not necessarily in the form of high-vis vests.
There are also temporal issues. People are impacted by seasons and the time of day. Sometimes, even the day of the week may influence colour choice. These may be related to thermal considerations. It may be prudent to wear black, and darker colours, in a cold, snowy landscape, or white, and lighter colours, during periods of extreme heat.
Social markers are commonly used to identify a person as belonging to a particular group, for lack of a better word. Social class, education, occupation, sports and cultural interests and dozens of other affiliations may influence colour choices at particular times. Thus, the high-vis vest, previously mentioned, may be important in an occupational context. Pink is often cited as an inappropriate colour in a business context. Janet, Richard’s mother, had bought him a blue school sweater with white stripes, possibly because she liked that colour combination the best. What she seemed to have missed was that the school Richard attended had black and orange as its school colours.
In 2018, Quartz had an article about black as a fashion’s favourite shade. This title is both technically and politically correct, in that black is not a colour, but its absence. However, black has been a significant factor in the design and production of clothes.
Closing Comments on Colour and Clothing
If this weblog post has any purpose, it is to encourage people to wear colours that make them happy!
One example of a colour Richard appreciates could be described technically in any of three ways, as Hex: #7A0019; as RGB: (122,0,25); or as CMYK:(0,27,76,0). A colour picker is a tool that could help people visualize colours. On the same site, other tools are shown on the left. Color RBG, for example, allows one to input RGB colour codes, and see the result. It should be pointed out that buying fabric by colour code is a risk sport.
NRK = The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, featured a story about Hanna Breivik, from Steinkjer. Now, in 2021, she is 28, but has had serious problems with glaucoma since her birth. In addition, she has synesthesia. For most of her life she tried to remain invisible by wearing grey clothing. About five years ago, she went in a totally opposite and more colourful direction. She is now referred to as the rainbow woman.
There are a lot of questions that can be asked, regarding clothing colour and age. Do colour preferences shift/ transition with age? If they do, Why? If it is associated with other tastes and preferences, Why do tastes change? That, in turn begs the question, Why do colour tastes/ preferences emerge in the first place? How much does an individual’s childhood, culture and the imposition of arbitrary rules have to do with it? Do identical twins raised in divergent environments, develop the same colour preferences? What about non-identical twins of the same or different genders?
Note: all names in this weblog post have been changed to protect privacy.