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How Color Meanings Change Around the World


Colors are used as symbols because they speak directly to our emotions, but their meanings can vary greatly from culture to culture…


In lots of countries across the world, red is often associated with exciting emotions like passion, love and energy. The color of blood is considered a lucky color in China and along with black/blue, green, white and yellow, are related to the five elements of Chinese mythology. Red represents fire. However, for some African countries like South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire it is the color of mourning. Red can also be linked to things like anger (see the character from Inside Out) or warnings across the world.


The national color of the Netherlands, is also considered spiritual as it has strong historical ties with several religions. It is important for Hindus, Buddhists and Protestants. Priests of the Theravada branch of Buddhism wear saffron robes that symbolize simplicity and detachment from material possessions. Apparently, it was the only dye available at the time and eventually became a tradition. In China in particular, orange was historically seen as the color of transformation.


Like its cousin color orange, yellow can also stand for fun and good times, but it sometimes has connotations of gentleness, optimism and spontaneity, as well. For the Chinese, yellow represents Earth and is the color of happiness and harmony — similar to many Middle Eastern countries. Thai people consider it a lucky color, and it also relates to royalty. In African countries, this hue is usually reserved for high-ranking people.


As a color found in beautiful natural surrounds all over the world, it may not be headlining news that green often represents the environment and nature. It can also stand for wealth, freshness or fertility. Sometimes it can even be luck! All pretty good stuff so far.

Still, overall green is generally considered a positive color in most cultures.


White often represents the opposite of black, so in Western cultures it generally means purity or goodness. It can also stand for neutrality or cleanliness, as well as honesty. Brides often wear white in Western countries, as well as in Japan. But it can also be a mourning color, like it is in some African countries and in China.


This is a pretty classic choice around the world, as it has lots of positive meanings in lots of places. For Europeans and North Americans, blue conveys peacefulness, trust, authority and security. In countries like Greece, Turkey and Iran, you’ll find blue amulets to protect the wearer against the evil eye. Eastern European countries often associate blue with health-promoting activities. And let’s not forget the blue-skinned Hindu god Krishna, who represents divine joy and love.


Another divisive color! In many Western countries, black is strongly lined to death and mourning, as well as evil and bad luck. But in some Eastern cultures, it can sometimes represent wealth and prosperity. In many African countries, black means age and wisdom.

Still, when it comes to clothing, black is considered a classic and stylish choice. It’s also slimming!


About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!

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