What Are the Symbolic Values of Red and Blue?

What Are the Symbolic Values of Red and Blue?

Years ago I was watching the elections in the States and I noticed that red and blue had a symbolic value for the political parties.

So they have over here in the Netherlands, but the funny thing is it has an opposite meaning here. The US Democrats are blue and the Conservatives red. The Dutch right-wing is blue and the left loves red.

As I am interested in every aspect of colour I decided to look more closely into the symbolic values of red and blue in general, not just in politics.

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The symbolic values of red and blue

The symbolic values of red and blue are not everywhere the same. It depends highly on culture and habits. Although some meanings are worldwide known, like red for love and blue for calmness.

Blue

Red and blue
Red and blue next to each other seem to be in different layers (warm-cold contrast)

In general, blue is linked to peace, harmony, loyalty, friendship and faith. Have a look at expressions and meanings in different countries:

  • In the USA ‘True Blue’ signifies someone who is loyal;
  • A bride in England wears ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’, where the blue stands for loyal and faithful;
  • In the Catholic tradition blue is associated with purity or fairness. The blue dress of a female indicates that the person is Mary, the divine mother.

In the Anglo-Saxon countries blue also means melancholy or sadness – feeling the blues.

Blue, and especially ultramarine and lapis lazuli were the colours of the rich (who have blue blood by the way). Those were expensive materials with a rich appearance. If you ever saw the mosaics of Ravenna, Italy, in reality, you will know what I mean.

Yves Klein has dedicated his life to the search for a specific shade of blue and eventually took a patent on a specific hue of blue he has made himself.

Blue is for boys (pink is for girls).  Blue stands for solemn, trustworthy and reliable. Uniforms are often blue. Most banks have blue as their corporate colour.

warm cold colour contrast
Blue is a very spatial colour, the further away, the bluer the shades and tones are

In Holland ‘those blues’ was an abusive term for people from Indonesia, a former colony of the Netherlands. Two musicians took it as a name of honour and called themselves “The Blue Diamonds”, reversing the meaning for the better!

Blue is called ‘cold’ in the colour theory and is for instance used as a symbol of the cold water tap.
It’s a very spatial colour as you have no doubt experienced yourself by looking at paintings or pictures of landscapes. The further away, the bluer the shades and tones are.

Blue is the political colour of the VVD, the Liberal Party in the Netherlands. But in the USA the blue states are the states that vote for the Democratic Party.

Red

Red tulips

Red is the political colour of the PvdA, the Labor Party in the Netherlands while in the USA the red states are the states that vote for the Republican Party.

Red is the colour of warning and alarm. The red fire trucks, the red traffic light. Negative numbers are usually marked in red. When our bank account is negative, we are In the Red.

When soccer players make a really bad mistake they receive a red card.

Red is a fiery colour, the colour of love, red roses. The red heart, but also the red light district.

The colour of luxury. The red carpet at official events and celebrations of the nobility. The seats in the opera houses and theatres are usually red.

Red is the colour of humanity, opposed to the divine blue. In the Middle Ages, Christ was usually portrayed with a red robe. And the cardinals wore red or scarlet.

Sinterklaas, a Dutch traditional figure, and Santa Claus, an American traditional figure, have red clothes. In China, red is the colour of happiness and celebration.

And red is the colour of sacrifice, the martyrs who gave their blood. The red of the crusaders. The red rosette, that soldiers wear on their uniforms – the blood of a wound – makes it clear that they had been brave.

warm cold contrast
Monument Valley, Utah, USA. Looking in awe at these magnificent structures

In most religions, red is a sacred colour. Most likely because our blood is red. It is a shade that is abundant in nature and has a deep impact on how we feel.

  • The red sun when it rises in the morning or sets in the evening;
  • The red ochre in the soil;
  • The red color of rusting iron.

Red is called ‘warm’ in the colour theory and is for instance used as a symbol of the hot water tap.

It’s a very spatial colour. The closer by, the more red the shades and tones have.

Local stuff

If we order sparkling water in the Netherlands we say “Can I have a Spa Red, please?” Belgium is only 7 miles from my house, but a waiter over there would have no clue what I was talking about. And Spa is a Belgium village!

The reason is that the sparkling water comes in bottles with a red brand. The bottled still water of the Spa company has a blue brand. And you guessed right: we order a Spa Blue at times as well.

Related: 7 Ways to Use Colour in Photography Creatively and Differently

Red and blue

Red and blue are 2 of the 3 primary colours. Both colours are used a lot, even more than the 3rd primary colour, yellow. In graphic design and advertisements. In men’s fashion, think of a blue suit with a red tie.

Related: What is a Great Theme Photography Idea for a Holiday Abroad?

I was triggered by the red and blue states in the US, because of the opposing meaning. Leading me to the Spa Red or Spa Blue story. So I am wondering, do you have local stories that have red and blue with a specific local meaning?

This article is an update. Originally published on 19-01-2013.

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4 thoughts on “What Are the Symbolic Values of Red and Blue?”

  1. Very interesting text. Red and blue are also symbolic for me, because they are on the flag of my country. We all have different angles of looking at the world, the color blue reminds me of the sea and the sky, to infinity. Red reminds me of love, life and peace in the world.

    Reply
    • Talking about the blue sea: the Aboriginals seem to not have a word for blue because they never saw a sea and their sky is always white because of the heat. I don’t know if it’s true but the story made sense to me.

      I guess blue and red are the most common colours on flags. Like they are the most common chosen colours in corporate styles for companies.

      Thanks for your comment, Bojana, and have fun.

      Reply
  2. I never knew about the significance of these two colours. I just knew that blue represents peace and loyalty and red mainly signifies danger or love (pretty ironic). I never thought a colour can signify so many emotions as well.

    Although now if I think about it, red is also the auspicious colour for Hindus (as I am also a Hindu from India). A red powder (called sindoor) is used in all our auspicious poojas and even after marriage the bride wears a pitch of the red powder to signify her marriage (there is a lot of spiritual reason behind this).

    Reply
    • This is such a great addition, Hari, thank you so much. Of what is this sindoor made from? If I recall well, it looks a lot like henna to me. The patterns that are often painted on the hand in India are so wonderful. I always love the pictures of those.

      LOL, you are right, it is pretty ironic that red is both danger and love. I never thought about that before either. 😀
      Thanks for your comment, Hari, and take care.

      Reply

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