The colour blue in all cultures always signified always the same thing: peacefulness, life, and serenity.
In ancient Egypt, the colour blue symbolized initially truth. Mummies were wrapped in blue coloured clothing. The wigs of gods, pharaohs, and queens were depicted on frescos of that time in blue. Hierophants (priests) and rulers wore blue clothing. Many Egyptian temples were decorated in blue. And the main gemstone was lapis lazuli (lazurite). The Egyptians’ love of blue could be easily explained; their lives fully depended on the River Nile. The Egyptians generally used the dark blue dye indigo.
In ancient China, the colour blue symbolized immortality. There was a persistent belief in ancient oriental medicine that the colour blue cured diseases of the face and lung. However, ancient Chinese doctors didn’t advise overuse of blue, because they believed it could lead to depression, although, of course, at that time that term did not exist. Chinese doctors described the condition as “lifeless power”.
In ancient Rome, people didn’t really like the colour blue. Usually it meant that the person was mourning. Light blue was regarded as a very sharp and unpleasant colour; dark blue was regarded as frightening and mysterious. It had strong associations in people’s minds with the afterlife. The dislike of the colour blue was so strong that even blue eyes were considered a physical flaw.
In Europe, the colour blue only came into fashion in the 12th century. It happened thanks to the French King, Louis VII. He initiated the use of blue in royal insignia and robes. This marked the start of a trend for blue colour in fashion. What was remarkable was that the use of blue went hand in hand with the use of red; red – the colour of festivity, blue – the colour of peace and ecclesiastics. Red was regarded as a female colour, blue was regarded as a male colour.
Since ancient times, fabrics were dyed in Europe using woad (this plant is related to cabbage). It grew in Germany, England, and France. In Asia, the main blue dye was indigo; it was developed from the plant indigofera. But in Europe, dyers were prohibited on pain of death from using indigo. That dye was regarded as the food of devils. That was the case until the 16th century. After that, indigo was accepted in Europe. The dye was brought into Europe from India, and woad lost its popularity.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the dyer Diesbach (Johann Jacob), who lived in Berlin, by pure accident, created a blue pigment of incredibly bright hue. In reality, he was trying to create a red dye from an infusion of cochineal. However, the seller gave him poor quality potash (potassium carbonate), and Diesbach called the dye iron azure. For a long time he kept his recipe secret. Years later, this dye became known as Prussian Blue.
Prussian Blue completely ousted woad from the European market, and blue colour reached its peak popularity. It was used in everything, – men wore blue suits and cloaks as well as blue uniforms. Women wore blue dresses and accessories.
Until the 19th century, fabrics were dyed either with Prussian Blue or indigo. After that, in 1870, synthetic indigo dye was developed. Very durable, and very strong in colour, it replaced all other blue dyes. Indigo’s peak popularity coincided with peak popularity for jeans. But that’s a different story.
Today, blue is very much in fashion. Sometimes it’s referred to as sapphire, symbolizing serenity with a note of melancholy. The colour blue is ideal for summer outfits because it combines beautifully with other colours of various tones. Generally, it combines with universal white, gray, beige, and black. Another classic combination is blue and yellow which recalls the fashions of ancient Greece.
Today, putting on something blue or sapphire will exhibit elegance and mystery with a touch of melancholy.
Author: Marina Sobe-Panek