The Colour Purple

Purple is the imperial colour of power and sovereignty, vanity and decadence. But purple also symbolizes loneliness, grief, seclusion and magic. It is the unconventional colour of creativity and extravagance.

Purple flowers
Purple flowers

Regal, extravagant, wholesome…

There are various words for this colour, each with its very own origin. Violet is named after these beautiful, fragrant little flowers, violets. Lilac instead refers to the Lilac (Syringa), also a pretty, woody plant with beautiful flowers, but taller. We know the Spring Lilac and the Summer Lilac. Last is also known as Butterflytree, because in Summer, lots of butterflies are gathering at the flowers. And last but not least the colour purple, which refers to the dye of a species of sea snails called Hexaplex trunculus.

roses are red
violets are blue
sugar is sweet
and so are you
but roses are wilting
the violets are dead
the sugar bowl’s empty
and so is your head

  • Ha! I just found out, that the word lilac is an Arabic loanword.

Purple dye

Purple dyes made from these snails, Hexaplex trunculus, are still the most expensive dyes in the world.

Hexaplex trunculus
Hexaplex trunculus | photo: (cc-by-sa) Hanay

The exact hue…
… is lost in the mists of time. Because you can create different nuances from the indigo-like dye of these snails, also the colour is changing over time. An effect, that was used to symbolize the growing wisdom and experience of rulers: The new king got a freshly dyed coat, green or blue. With age, the king became wiser and the coat became darker, turning towards red.

Krönungsmantel aus der weltlichen Schatzkammer in Wien
Krönungsmantel aus der weltlichen Schatzkammer in Wien | photo: (cc-by-sa) Aiwok

Myself, I usually call the brighter colours lilac, the darker, blueish ones violet and the dark reddish ones purple.

Orchid | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox


Magenta is a very bright, intense, kinda pink colour. It is used in printing techniques as primary colour in the CMYK mode (cyan, magenta, yellow, key).


Wind Wheels in a Park in Shenzhen
Wind Wheels in a Park in Shenzhen | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

Meaning and Associations

Lilac, violet and purple commonly refer to extravagance and creativity. In fashion design, violet coloured parts are not so common, because they are not easy to combine with other colours. Tender lilac nuances however, are quite common nowadays.

In many cultures purple works as some kind of link – between the body colour red and the spirit colour blue and symbolises holism.

A deep, luscious violet or purple is a colour in which we may lose ourselves. It is also the mysterious colour of magic, occultism and profundity.

Spiderweb with purple bokeh
Spiderweb with purple bokeh | photo: (cc-by-sa) Frank Fox

Overview: Purple

  • Purple (in the subtractive colour mode) is a mix between red and blue
  • Violet (in the additive colour mode) is the light with the shortest light waves (violet/ultraviolet)
  • We seldom use pure purple for bigger surface areas
  • 2009, lilac fashion styles were quite in
  • True purple dyes are very expensive and made from certain species of sea-snails
  • With adding red or blue, we can shift the appearance to warmer and cooler hues
  • The alkali metal Rubidium burns with reddish-purple flames
  • In fashion design, the colour represents power, uniqueness, creativity and inviolability
  • Dark, mysterious violet may represent occultism and magic
  • It is the colour of penitence (catholic)
  • Violet is extravagant
  • The hue is located between red and blue, therefore it represents transcendence and holism