Color spotlight: Why so blue?
Blue is everywhere and universally loved. Ask people their favorite color and chances are they’ll pick blue (though men tend to prefer it more than women. No, it's not obvious – blue was considered softer and more suited to girls until around World War II and some parents were still dressing Junior in pink as late as the 1980s.) Experts who study color psychology tell us blue signifies openness and tranquility, stability and confidence, intelligence and faith.It’s part of our language, symbolically and emotionally.
In the business world, blue says: Trust me.Respect me. You can believe in what I’m offering you. It’s the most commonly used color for corporate identity. Think Ford, Disney, IBM, HBO and Facebook. It conveys authority without seeming threatening. The deeper the blue, the greater the clout. Wear that dark blue business suit when you want to land a job or secure a raise. But be careful driving home: Sorry officer, I didn’t realize I was speeding.
Not bad for a hue that was apparently invisible for most of human history.
Do you see what I see?
Blue was never really invisible. Physically – scientifically – our eyes can perceive blue. On the spectrum of visible light, blue falls between violet and green with a wavelength between 450 and 495 nanometers. Higher frequency blues have a shorter wavelength and gradually fade into violet; those with lower, longer wavelengths eventually look greener. Right in the middle, pure blue clocks in at 470 nanometers.
Language, not physiology, is what blinded our forebears to blue. In his epic work “The Odyssey,” Homer looked at the sea and described it as “wine-dark.” The oddity puzzled William Gladstone (a prime minister more than once under Queen Victoria), who started counting the color references in Homer and other Greek texts. Guess what he found: no blue. He thought the peculiarity was limited to the Greeks, but a few years later, Lazarus Geiger, a philologist (someone who studies language in written historical sources) broadened the research and discovered that no ancient works made reference to blue.
So he started looking at when names for color appeared. Black and white (or light and dark) showed up first in every language he studied, followed shortly by red. Yellow and green were next. The last color – in every language – was blue. The Himba people of Namibia still have no word that distinguishes between blue and green and can’t perceive differences that would be glaringly obvious to most of us.
The exception was the ancient Egyptians, who possessed the technology to produce a blue dye. They also used lapis lazuli for the eyebrows of King Tut’s funeral mask.
Woad you look at that?
Early dyeing techniques – and a flowering plant called woad, a member of the mustard family – may have helped elevate blue as a concept and make it possible for people to finally “see” it. The Celts were using woad for body paint in Roman times. By the Middle Ages, the poor were wearing woad-dyed clothing. The nobility, secure in their red and purple, paid little attention to poor, neglected blue.
Everything changed between 1130 and 1140 when Abbe (or Abbot) Suger, a French statesman, churchman, historian and early patron of Gothic architecture, rebuilt the Basilica of St. Denis in Paris and installed stained glass windows colored with cobalt. Combined with the light from the red glass, the cobalt gave the interior of the church a bluish hue. People marveled.
Twelfth-century artists also changed how the Virgin Mary was depicted, throwing out her dark, somber robes and replacing them with blue ones, which soon became associated with holiness, humility and virtue.
Once blue found the spotlight, it never left. Woad eventually gave way to indigo, which fell to synthetic indigo, which finally was replaced by other synthetic dyes. Through it all, blue gained in popularity. Dark blue became the color of military uniforms and, in 1829, of the London Metropolitan Police; bobbies these days wear a lighter blue. The New York City police department adopted blue uniforms in the 1840s.
Though we think of people who do manual labor as blue collar, we also believe blue means business. The modern blue business suit has its roots in 17th-century London. After the plague of 1665 and the great fire of 1666, King Charles II ordered his courtiers to simplify their wardrobes and their color palettes. Blue, gray, white and buff became the rage among London merchants and English country gentlemen, and the colors still dominate menswear style today.
What color is the sky?
We perceive the sky as blue because air scatters short-wavelength light. Blue, which is on the short end of the visible spectrum, becomes more dispersed in the atmosphere. The result is that our eyes see blue when we look up into a sunlit sky. We see the sea as blue for the same reason. Sorry, Homer.
Concentrating on color
The experts at the Solutions Center understand the latest trends in color and how to make them work for your brand. From finding the right color to matching an existing brand identity, Plastics Color offers industry-leading formulations and color concentrates to meet your product specifications. Contact Plastics Color (plasticscolor.com) today for more information.