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You may not spend a lot of time thinking about colors and what they mean, how they are perceived or their historical relevance. Who does, really? Most of us throw on a t-shirt and a sports headband and head out the door, without too much thought. But you may be surprised to find a deep historical background to your favorite color that you never knew existed. By further exploring their history and meaning, we can give greater significance to the colors we wear every day. The color white has a vast and varied history throughout the world for centuries and still holds great meaning for us today.
The Mystery History of White
White is considered an achromatic color, a color without hue. Yet is is widely present in nature, in art, fashion and nearly every area of our lives. In nature, we find white as the color of sunlight, the color of milk, and the color of many minerals such as limestone and chalk. And who can deny the stunning beauty of exotic white sand beaches? Clouds and snow appear to be white because the water droplets or ice crystals reflect the (white) sunlight. From tropical to antarctic, white abounds in the pristine landscapes of nature.
The color white has been widely used in art as a symbol of good, purity, innocence and even royalty. Often used in contrast to black to symbolize opposites, such as good and evil, it has remained a staple in artists' palettes for centuries. It is a popular color for use in modern art and architecture for its clean, simple look.
While largely viewed as a symbol for purity, chastity and newness, in certain cultures, primarily Asian ones, white is the color of mourning. In China, white represents death and illness, lending a very different tone to a color mostly thought of as bright and clean.
Our simple color white is not so simple after all. It is one full of symbolism from one end of the spectrum to the other. Not bad for a color without hue!
The Meaning of White
As touched on before, the color white can be representative of many different ideas and emotions. In our western culture, white is primarily thought of as symbolizing innocence, purity, wholeness and completion. White pigment is an absence of hue, while white light is a combination of red, green and blue light at equal intensities. This interesting dichotomy reveals more to the color than one may think.
For the average person, white represents purity and innocence. This is why brides in our western culture wear white. It is also worn by the Pope and religious leaders in other countries, as well. We dress babies in white for communions, both symbols of innocence and purity.
It is thought of as clean, explaining why it is worn by so many in the medical profession. Chefs, bakers and other food professionals often wear white as well. It is a popular color for sheets, underwear and other garments and items worn or used close to the body. Even many objects that are thought of or desired to be clean are often white, including sinks, toilets, dishes and towels.
From a psychological viewpoint, white is the color of new beginnings. It is a clean slate, a starting point (or starting over point) that can be written on with whatever we choose. This is often why new homes are mostly white on the interior; it is a canvas to build your life upon. Many animal eggs are white, representing new life and white is often worn during baptisms, another symbol of new beginnings.
While most connotations of white are positive, there are those that feel white is dull and uninteresting. Some view white as overly sterile and not stimulating. Usually, though, this has more to do with the environment it is in or the association surrounding it. For instance, an all white hospital room may seem uncomfortable, but it is most likely due to the proximity of sickness and injury, not the color itself. Or a blank computer screen that may be associated with writer's block or a wiped out file, etc.
What About Me?
So, what does all this mean for us? Must we do a complete color analysis every time we get dressed? Of course not, wear what you want. But considering the meaning of the colors that you wear is not without purpose. Take our white sweatbands, for instance. You may want to choose white to symbolize a new beginning. Say you are taking steps to be healthier and work out more or lose those twenty pounds you've put on over the last few years. A white headband or a white wrist sweatband can be a great reminder of the new you that you want to become.
You can also wear white as a symbol of equality. Remember how white is the combination of equal amounts of red, green and blue light? It makes sense, then, that white should represent equality. A white basketball headband at a neighborhood game can represent your belief in unity of neighbors and equality of all involved.
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And, hey, there's nothing wrong with wearing a certain color because it reminds you of something good. A white sweatband may remind you of the innocence of your young children or your own youth. Maybe you just like the clean, simple look of white and that puts you at ease. Whatever the reason, and there could be many, choose what works for and what has meaning to you.
Whether you are trying to make a fashion statement, a life statement or you just like the color white, you have many good reasons to choose this non-hue color. It is a strong force in nature, a prominent component of art and architecture and filled with meaning everywhere else it is used. From brides to babies, white has a significant place in our culture and always will. It is the color of innocence, of purity, of light and of equality. Choose white for any one of these reasons or for your own, but rest assured, it is so much more than just a neutral color; it can help you make a statement without saying a word.