Building the World



The rainbow celebrates the beauty of natural variety and inclusion. Image: “Double Rainbow” gif by Zanthius. Creative Commons 1.0, public domain. Included with appreciation.

The rainbow, symbol of Pride Month, will appear on flags and fashion during the month of June.

“Pride Flag Parade in Katowice,” by photographer Silar. Creative Commons 4.0 Included with appreciation.

The array of colors in the Pride flag sends the message of inclusion. Gilbert Blake, the rainbow flag’s creator, developed the theme and symbol.

“Yellow ribbons as a memorial for the victims of the sinking of the MV Sewol” by photographer Piotrus. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

In the United States, this week began with Memorial Day. The holiday’s official color is yellow, referencing the tradition of a spouse wearing a yellow ribbon while their loved one is away at war or held hostage. During the hostage crisis of 1972, when 52 Americans working in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were held for 444 days, Penne Laingen, spouse of Chargé d’Affaires Bruce Laingen, led a yellow ribbon campaign for their safe return. Countries using the yellow ribbon symbol, as a sign of hope for safe return, include Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, and the United States.

“Portrait of a Rabbi with Prayer Shawl” by artist Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921). Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

White and blue are often seen in sacred prayer shawls of Judaism. The shawl’s white background with patterns of blue may be seen at Hanukkah. Blue and white are also the traditional colors of Nigerian sacred cloths like the Ukara. White is seen in the Judeo-Christian tradition as the color of baptismal robes. It’s also the color of papal vestments, a tradition begun in 1566. When Muslim faithful observe lhram, the color is white. And many a bride has walked down the aisle in a white wedding gown.

Princess Diana in a white wedding dress. Image: wikimedia, fair use. Included with appreciation.

Kwanzaa, the holiday founded in 1966 that honors the days from 26 December to 1 January, each dedicated to a community value, is symbolized by black, red, and green. Black is for the beauty of the people, red symbolizes struggle, and green is victory, hope, and future.

Kwanzaa Candles of red, black, and green. Graphic design by Nesnad, dedicated to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand, ordained Buddhist monks wear kasaya, saffron-colored robes. On the other side of the world, sports fans in the Netherlands don orange. There’s even a word for it – Oranjegekte (“Orange Craze”). Orange is scientifically proven to stimulate action. Another “hot” color is yellow: during China’s Song Dynasty, only the emperor was allowed to wear that hue. Association of red with the heart (including the celebration of Valentine’s Day) is universal.

Gautama Buddha in saffron robe. “Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita Victory Over Mara” circa 700ce. Courtesy of Asia Society. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Colors can raise awareness and represent a cause. Many are familiar with pink ribbon symbolism, seen often during the month of October to symbolize breast cancer awareness and quest for the cure. When Cambell’s Soup supported the cause by redesigning two of its soups (chicken noodle and tomato) with a pink ribbon on the can, sales of those two varieties doubled during the month of October. The pink ribbon was developed for an awareness campaign designed by Evelyn Lauder of Estée Lauder and Alexandra Penney of Self Magazine, in 1992. It has remained a powerful symbol.

“Pink Ribbon” symbol for breast cancer cure. Image graphic by MesserWoland. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Pantone creates a Color of the Year, a tradition begun by Leatrice (Lee) Eiseman to mark the millennium in 2000. Since then, each year has been characterized by a specific color. Designers have noted an increase in sales when they match their collections to the Pantone color during that year.

The importance of color is apparent in the world’s flags, chosen with symbolism of values. The night before the new country of Panama was announced in connection with the Panama Canal, founders prepared a new flag. Flags were one way for soldiers to identify their unit in the clash of battle. The British tradition of “Trooping the Colour” began in the 17th century and now marks the official birthday of the sovereign. This year, the ceremony will take place on 17 June 2023 with newly crowned King Charles III officiating.

“Trooping the Colour” is a British tradition. Newly crowned King Charles III will officiate at this year’s ceremony on 17 June 2023. Image: “Trooping the Colour” by photographer Carfaxw, 2012. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Color is an instant communication that goes beyond words. It’s part of nature’s sensitive signal system. Birds, and bees, see colors that humans cannot. Insects and fish have highly developed color sensing systems. Many animals use color messaging for essential interactions. Color communicates.

“Peacock Plumage” by photographer Jatin Sindu, 2015. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

As the world comes together to respond to climate change, how can we use color to raise awareness? We often speak of “green energy” – should there be a day of the week when one might wear green to convey support of clean, renewable energy? One of the first ways we are experiencing the consequences of climate change is through water – floods and drought alike. Fashion designers could create blue collections with fabrics and materials using sustainable water production practices. A portion of the purchase would benefit water sustainability.

Blue fashion could honor water sustainability. Image: “AUW Inter-Versity Debate Championship 2020 in Chattogram, Bangladesh” by photographer Moheen. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

What are your creative ideas for ways that cultural, and environmental, values could be strengthened through the use of color?

Blake, Gilbert. “Pride Flag Creator Gilbert Blake on the Rainbow’s Meaning.” 29 July 2016. CPS Radio.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “The Power of Color” pages 132 ff. Renewing the World: Water. 2022. ISBN: 9798985035919.

Goldman, Jason S. “What Makes Bird Feathers So Colorfully Fabulous?” 4 March 2016. Audubon.

Morgan, Thaddeus. “How Did the Rainbow Flag Become the Pride Symbol?” 12 June 2019.

Pantone. “Color of the Year”

Parsons, Gerard E. “Yellow Ribbons: Ties with Tradition” 1981. Library of Congress, The American Folklife Center.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 U

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar