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Red Color: its Meaning, Symbolism, and Psychology

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I need your attention!

I need your attention!

Red For Alertness

Red is not very often in nature. It's standing out of the background too often to be considered safe for the animal or plant in that color. Yet several mammals and birds use red to attract the attention of the opposite gender. When you are exposing yourself in red you are showing your courage. You also look stronger and more dangerous.

In the world of vegetation, red calls for attention as well. Red apples, red berries, and other kinds of fruit are trying to trick the animals to pick them up and distribute seeds inside. But it's not so simple. In some cases red still means danger. Poisoned berries and mushrooms, for instance, can be red-colored too.

Red is a very powerful color. It instantly makes an influence to an observer. Its effect is widely used in many areas of life. Whatever you want to tell, it will sound more important, if you underline it with red. The company balance report traditionally presents losses in red. We often say: XY is in red numbers what means it's in trouble.

Traffic signs with red color are the most demanding of all - they require immediate action. The red color in traffic lights wants you to stop. The stop sign and the sign for the wrong way (do not enter) are also dominated by red. Prohibitory traffic signs and the speed limits are encircled with red. In short - red is for danger. When you see this color you need to pay attention!

Several well-known brands use this fact to their advantage. Red is very popular in the food industry because it stimulates appetite. The fashion industry loves it. Several surveys (Buytshirtsonline, 2015; University of Rochester, 2008; etc.) came to the same conclusion - everybody looks better wearing red or black. But beware - too much red can make you bigger, more threatening, so it's definitely not the color you should wear on meetings where peaceful agreements should be achieved. And if you have an extra pound, a red sweater can give you a few more!

A Quick Tip

When in doubt - use red as an accent only.

Did you know Football club Liverpool (nicknamed Reds) changed their outfit to all red in 1964, and the trophies started to come to Anfield right after that?

Their first opponents simply described the players in all red strip as 'bigger than others'.

More Meanings of Red

Red is the color of blood, so it's closely associated with life and death, love and lust, romance, and sensitivity. Obviously, we can't use only one shade of red for all these meanings. Dark red is loved in gothic culture. Just think about Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and her emotional rollercoaster in a red room. She associated the color with major obstacles in her life when being locked in. She even believes she feels the presence of the ghost.

Red is inseparably connected with blood as a fluid and unreliable representation of life, often on the edge of death. The first book with Sherlock Holmes is titled A Study in Scarlet, insinuating the trail of blood and shreds of evidence of murders in this powerful color.

Red in one of its many shades is a presentation of sin as well. The best-known example is The Scarlet Letter, of course. If the author wanted to write an ordinary romance book, he would probably choose pink or another gentle hue of red, but with scarlet, he practically yells: "Sin!"

Literature for children uses the color red in very similar ways. Charles Perrault was the first who used color red for the hood of the little girl carrying the basket to her granny in the wood. Red Riding Hood became a symbol of life force, connected with blood (because she is becoming a woman, it may even be menstrual blood), but also a symbol of eternal life (she is symbolically reborn after the wolf ate her and the hunter opened his stomach).

Perrault, who was very well-read and familiar with symbolism, very likely look at red mostly as the color of sin. A decent woman in his times never wore red. And, let's not forget - there is no hunter in his version of the tale. The girl simply dies in the end.

Another author who saw red as the color of sin was H. C. Andersen, who loved to mix real people and events with fiction, wrote Red Shoes as a sort of biography of his stepsister. The main character wears red shoes as a symbol of disrespect and irresponsibility. In the end, she is cruelly punished for that, losing her legs and eventually her life.

Less bloody are stories where red is used just to emphasize the energy and life force of the character. Such an example is The Little Red Hen, who tirelessly runs around from morning to night constantly reminding her friends to help her. In the end, she punishes them all for their laziness. She was daring and energetic (both red) and everybody else was just waiting for a free lunch.

Did you notice? All presented examples of color red in literature are connected with punishment!

Different shades of red for different meanings

Different shades of red for different meanings

Some Red Related Idioms

* being in/out of the red - being in/out of debt

* catch somebody red-handed - catch somebody at the moment of stealing

* get a red card - to be excluded

* get a red carpet treatment - being treated like a royalty

* red flag - something is suspicious, wrong

* red-letter day - a very important day, holiday

* red tape - administrative obstacle

* to see red - to be very angry

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Historical View On Red

When linguistics studied the development of different languages all over the world they found an interesting pattern. Every language named colors with black and white at first (it's actually debatable if they are true colors) and red right after that. This means it's the oldest color of all. Traditionally red color became a symbol of joy and happiness in Asia. Many brides still wore red for increased fertility and good luck. And it's a part of the tradition to walk down the aisle on the red carpet

In Europe, the access to red pigments of god quality was scarce at first, so the color stayed reserved for aristocracy for many centuries. Connected with the red blood of Christ it became a signature color of the Catholic cardinals' robes. Some of its prestige is still present today in Louboutin's shoes with characteristic red soles. These got its color by an instant inspiration. The creator was looking for something extra at already designed pair and saw red painted nails of his assistant - so painted soles of the shoes in red.

Due to its attractiveness red became a color of choice for earliest painters - in caves. Later, with access to better (and sometimes very expensive pigments) red was sometimes used only by special permissions. It was not only costly (often exceeding the price of gold of the same weight), but poisonous too. With the development of synthetic pigments, red became more accessible and some artists specialized in specific tones of red.

John William Waterhouse: Psyche opening the golden box

John William Waterhouse: Psyche opening the golden box

Painters like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais were almost obsessed with redheads. They portrayed so many women with red hair, using models to present some of the most famous scenes from mythology, redheads somehow became a synonym of so-called fatal women!

Numerous studies were made about redheads in recent years, some focusing on the genetic treats, other on intolerance, and almost all at least a bit on the reason for their attractiveness. Why are so many men fascinated with redheads (and red cars)? Part of the answer is probably the same as in nature. They are relatively rare. At least natural redheads. This means they are standing out, just like a red berry in the green bush.

Color of red hair is associated with greater aggressiveness and several surveys claim redheads have a much more interesting love life. That stands for women with artificially colored hair too! So if you are aiming for a change in your life, or just want to be noticed, the color red is probably one of the best bets to start with.

As you can see, the meanings of red can be quite different, depending on the context, but something is for sure - red is never boring.

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© 2020 Tolovaj

What Does Color Red Mean to You?

Tolovaj (author) on May 31, 2020:

It's always a pleasure to see you, Treathyl FOX. I hope you are doing well and thanks for stopping by!

Tolovaj (author) on May 31, 2020:

Thanks, Peggy Woods, for your comment. I appreciate it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 06, 2020:

Your analysis of the color red with all of its meanings was interesting to read. Thanks for assembling it.

Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on May 05, 2020:

So glad to see this article. Red is my favorite color. Always has been. Always will be. All I can tell you is that it makes me happy! :)

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