Color Psychology: What Does the Color Purple Mean?

Color psychology suggests that colors can have a powerful impact on our moods and even behaviors. Each color is thought to have its own effect, but the feeling that each color produces can vary based on experience and culture. Purple is one color that can lead to differing feelings, emotions, and associations.

What does the color purple mean? How does the color purple make you feel? People often describe this color as mysterious, spiritual, and imaginative. Purple tends to occur rarely in nature, so it is viewed as rare and intriguing. If you're wondering what colors make purple, purple is a combination of blue and red.

Color psychology of purple

Verywell / Cindy Chung

So what are some of the most common associations people have with the color purple? Like many other colors, the feelings that the color purple evokes are often due to cultural associations.

Purple As a Royal Color

Because purple is so strongly associated with royalty, people often perceive it as being a very regal color. These associations with royalty were originally due to the fact that the Phoenician purple dye that was used in ancient times was very rare and extremely expensive. These associations with extravagance and aristocracy persist to this day.

Purple is the symbol of royalty and wealth. In ancient times, creating dyes to color fabric often required a great deal of effort and expense, especially for certain colors. Because purple is less common in nature, the resources needed to create a dye in this color were much harder to come by and much more costly.

The color purple became associated with wealth and royalty because, oftentimes, the rich were the only individuals who could afford such expensive items.

Around 1200 B.C.E., the city of Tyre (along the coast of ancient Phoenicia) began producing purple dye by crushing the shells of a small sea snail. The resulting color became known as Tyrian purple and was so well known it was mentioned in Homer's "Iliad" and Virgil's "Aeneid." Alexander the Great and the kings of Egypt also wore clothing colored with the famous Tyrian purple.

This connection with royalty was not just restricted to ancient times. Purple was the color of choice for the Purple Robe of Estate worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her way back to Buckingham Palace following her coronation in 1953.

The Color Purple Means Wisdom, Bravery, and Spirituality

Purple also represents wisdom and spirituality. Its rare and mysterious nature perhaps causes it to seem connected to the unknown, supernatural, and divine.

Different shades of purple have different spiritual meanings. For instance, light purples are associated with light-hearted, romantic energies while darker shades can represent sadness and frustration. In some parts of Europe, purple is associated with death and mourning.

In the U.S., the Purple Heart is one of the highest honors for bravery in military service. The award, originally called the Badge of Military Merit, was created in 1782 by George Washington to give to soldiers for commendable action. The color represents courage and bravery.

Purple Is Unique and Exotic

Since purple does not often occur in nature, it can sometimes appear exotic or artificial. For this reason, it tends to be quite a polarizing color. People tend to either really love purple or really hate it.

Visually, purple is one of the most difficult colors to discriminate. It also has the strongest electromagnetic wavelength, being just a few wavelengths up from x-rays and gamma rays. For this reason, it is often used in visual illusions such as the lilac chaser illusion.

In writing, the phrase "purple prose" is sometimes used to describe writing that is extremely imaginative or even prone to exaggeration, hyperbole, or outright lies.

Biology and Purple Color Meaning

When talking about purple color meaning, it's also important to recognize the role that various biological factors play in deciding what the color purple means. Several factors impact how the brain perceives the color purple, some of which include vision, light, and a person's own interpretation of what the color represents.

Additional factors that can contribute to how a person perceives the color purple are its hue, its level of saturation or purity, and how bright or dull the color is. All of these play into the frequency, wavelength, and energy associated with the color, which also changes how the eye and, subsequently, the brain perceive it.

What does all of this mean? One person's perception and interpretation of the color purple can be different than another's. So, when trying to answer the question, "What does the color purple mean?" the answer can vary based on the individual person.

A Word From Verywell

Responses to the color purple can vary considerably from one person to the next, but many feel that the color seems royal yet mysterious.

Notice how purple is used in the image that accompanies this article. Consider how the color purple makes you feel. Do you associate purple with certain qualities or situations? 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does the color purple mean spiritually?

    The answer appears to differ based on sex. Women who prefer the color purple are thought to constantly develop themselves spiritually. They seek peace, harmony, protection, and support. Men who prefer purple tend to be more spiritually expressive. They live life on their own terms, sometimes to the point of appearing vain or arrogant.

  • What are some famous examples of the color purple in history?

    In the far past, Roman emperors such as Julius Caesar and Augustus wore purple as a sign of power and wealth. Purple was also the chosen color for the women's suffrage movement in the early 1900s, representing freedom and dignity. One of the more recent famous examples is the award-winning novel The Colour Purple, written by Alice Walker in 1982 and later turned into a movie. The music icon Prince was also associated with this color, celebrating it in his song Purple Rain.

  • Where does the color purple appear in nature?

    Some fruits are purple, such as grapes and eggplant. (Yes, eggplant is technically a fruit.) Several plants also flower purple blooms. Lavender, lilac, morning glory, wisteria, and clematis can all be found in purple shades ranging from light to dark.

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11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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