Why is purple just so fabulous?

Image credit: Sofa.com

There’s a moment in Alice Walker’s wonderful novel 'The Colour Purple' when the main character, Celie, identifies the colour purple as incontrovertible evidence that God is good:

‘I think it pisses God off when you walk past the color purple in a field and don’t notice it. 

People think pleasing God is all God cares about.  But any fool living in the world can see it is always trying to please us back.’

And she is by no means alone in seeing the mixture of red and blue as the most beautiful of hues. 

Throughout history, purple has been associated with royalty, magic, mystery, piety and power. 

Roman Emperors and magistrates wore it and Roman Catholic bishops still do.  It is synonymous with luxury, wealth, entitlement and the power of God and his anointed ones. 

The Emperor Caligula is said to have murdered the King of Mauritania just to take his sweeping Tyrian purple cloak. 

And it may not just have been for its beauty: in a modern day experiment to recreate Tyrian purple, made of extractions from the spiney dye-murex snail.

It took 12,000 of the little molluscs to produce 40 grams of dye – about enough to colour a handkerchief.  The cost comes in at around £70,000, so the King’s cape would have been literally worth a King’s ransom.

And maybe that’s one of the reasons Tyrian purple died out (if you’ll forgive the pun). 

For centuries purple could only be worn by the extremely rich.

In fact that didn’t change much until the mid-19th when a teenage chemistry student called William Henry Perkin tried to synthesize an artificial quinine and instead came up with a purplish dye he called mauviene – quickly shortened to mauve – which was cheap and manufactured by the ton.

Queen Victoria wore a gown dyed with it to the Royal Exhibition of 1862 and it instantly became the height of fashion. 

In the 20th century purple has remained associated with royalty, amply demonstrated at the coronation of our current Queen.

Queen Elizabeths Coronation Robe

Image credit: Coronation robe

But it also became associated with suffragettes.

And later the counterculture movement with the likes of Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze.

Purple Haze

Image credit: Purple Haze

And the rock gods Deep Purple

And of course, latterly by His Purpleness himself, the magnificent late Prince.


Image credit: Prince

For purple inspiration in decorating it doesn’t come much higher brow than the Purple Room, in which Byzantine Empresses traditionally gave birth.  It gives rise to the phrase ‘born to the purple’. 

Now maybe you don’t plan to have a baby in a purple room.

But maybe you can borrow a bit of the magic and let your youngsters ‘sleep in the purple’ with Emperors.  Or at least Emperor Penguins. 

Which Came First silver wallpaper

Image credit: 'Which Came First' wallpaper

Victoria x

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