BORN TO THE PURPLE

“A COLOR IS AS STRONG AS THE IMPRESSION IT CREATES”.          –– Ivan Albright

Imagine being told you couldn’t wear the color purple on pain of death. During the Elizabethan era, laws were passed to safeguard purple’s use and anyone found wearing the color faced the death penalty.  

The color purple identifies best with royalty and dates back to ancient times. The rarity of the purple dye made it worth a king’s ransom. It was made from the mucous of sea snails and took thousands of them to produce just one ounce of dye. The dyed clothes were brilliant and extravagantly priced. Only the very wealthy and powerful could afford them thus it became the color of the sovereignty. 

In Byzantine times, the empress would give birth in the purple chamber. The newborn emperor would be “born into the purple” thus insuring his the right to rule without force.
             
In 1856, a young William Henry Perkin was eighteen and trying to synthesize quinine, an anti-malaria drug in his parent’s home when he unintentionally dripped black residue while cleaning a flask. This residue resulted in a synthetic purple called Tyrion Purple and made the hue accessible to everyone. The color was renamed mauve and trended in fashion from New York to Paris to London in 1858. 

In our culture, mourning is associated with black while Hindus and Chinese wear white. Interestingly in Britain, purple was associated with mourning. The Victorians would replace black after the first year of mourning with purple trimmed with black.

Purple was once only for the powerful and wealthy representing greed and luxury. With the discovery of a synthetic dye it became a color for the masses. Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t be too happy about that today.