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 in the Netherlands, but the funny thing is it has an opposite meaning. The US Democrats are blue and the Conservatives red. The Dutch right wing is blue and the left one 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.
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 had 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.
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 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, as 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.
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 deeply impacts 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 colour of rusting iron.
Red is called ‘warm’ in the colour theory and is 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.
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.
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.
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.