Cultural Color

Cultural Meanings of Color and Color Symbolism


An understanding of cultural color and symbolism is essential to anyone doing business with other countries and other societies. These associations with color have been a part of many societies for centuries and you must be aware of both the positive and the negative implications of using particular colors when marketing to these societies.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, there is a narrowing of the differences in meanings of colors between different cultures and countries; however, if you are marketing to a particular ethnic group it is wise to take into account their color associations to maximise your impact. By mixing appropriate amounts of different colours however you can often neutralize inherent negative cultural connotations.

The following is a basic list of some symbolic color meanings throughout the world. It is by no means a comprehensive list. I suggest you do your own research about the country or culture you are working with, to establish what colors are currently acceptable.

Times change and old associations may be slowly altered over the years. Western cultures have adopted some Eastern color uses while some Eastern cultures have adopted Western ideas. The Internet has allowed people to learn about other cultures and to adopt what they like from these cultures.


Cultural Color Meanings of Red:

Western:

  • energy, excitement, action
  • danger
  • love, passion
  • a warning to stop
  • anger
  • Christmas combined with green
  • Valentine's Day


Eastern:

  • prosperity
  • good fortune
  • worn by brides
  • symbol of joy when combined with white


China:

  • the color of good luck and celebration
  • vitality, happiness, long life
  • used as a wedding color
  • used in many ceremonies from funerals to weddings
  • used for festive occasions
  • traditionally worn on Chinese New Year to bring luck and prosperity

India:

  • color of purity, fertility, love, beauty
  • wealth, opulence and power
  • used in wedding ceremonies
  • a sign of a married woman
  • also color of fear and fire


Thailand:

  • color for Sunday


Japan:

  • life
  • anger and danger


Cherokees:

  • success, triumph


South Africa:

  • color of mourning

Nigeria:

  • usually reserved for ceremonies
  • worn by chiefs

Russia:

  • associated with the Bolsheviks and Communism,
  • means beautiful in Russian language
  • often used in marriage ceremonies


Australian Aborigines:

  • represents the land and earth
  • ceremonial color


Hebrew:

  • sacrifice, sin


Christian:

  • sacrifice, passion, love


Cultural Color Meanings of Pink

Western:

  • caring and nurturing
  • love and romance
  • feminine


Eastern:

  • feminine


Europe:

  • feminine color
  • baby girls


Belgium:

  • pink is used for baby boys


Japan:

  • well-liked by both males and females


Thailand:

  • color for Tuesday


Korea:

  • trust





Cultural Color Meanings of Orange

Western:

  • affordable or inexpensive items
  • Halloween, combined with black


Eastern:

  • happiness
  • spirituality


Thailand:

  • color for Thursday


Ireland:

  • religious color for Protestants
  • appears on the Irish flag along with white for peace and green for Catholics


Netherlands:

  • color of the Dutch Royal Family


Hinduism:

  • Saffron, a soft orange color, is considered an auspicious and sacred color


Cultural Color Meanings of Yellow

Western:

  • happiness, joy
  • hope
  • cowardice
  • caution, warning of hazards and hazardous substances


Eastern:

  • sacred
  • imperial


China:

  • sacred
  • imperial, royalty
  • honor
  • masculine color


India:

  • sacred and auspicious
  • the Symbol of a Merchant


Thailand:

  • considered auspicious as the bright yellow flower "cassia fistula" is a national symbol.
  • represents Buddhism.
  • yellow is considered the royal color, the color of Monday which is the King's birthday

Egypt:

  • color of mourning


Burma:

  • color of mourning


Israel:

  • used to label Jews in the Middle Ages


Middle East:

  • happiness
  • prosperity


Japan:

  • courage
  • beauty and refinement
  • aristocracy
  • cheerfulness


Europe:

  • happiness, joy
  • cowardice, weakness
  • hazard warning


France:

  • jealousy


Greece:

  • sadness


Africa:

  • Usually reserved for those of high rank


Buddhism:

  • wisdom


Jewish:

  • yellow star badges of the Middle Ages and post war Germany and Poland


Cultural Color Meanings of Green

Western:

  • lucky color in most western cultures
  • spring, new birth, regeneration
  • nature and environmental awareness
  • color for 'go' at traffic lights
  • Saint Patrick's Day
  • Christmas combined with red
  • jealousy
  • greed


Eastern:

  • new life, regeneration and hope
  • fertility


China:

  • new life, regeneration and hope
  • fertility
  • disgrace - giving a Chinese man a green hat indicates his wife is cheating on him
  • exorcism
  • studies show it is generally not good for packaging


India:

  • the color of Islam,
  • hope,
  • new beginnings
  • harvest
  • virtue


Thailand:

  • color for Wednesday


Japan:

  • eternal life
  • youthfulness
  • freshness


Indonesia:

  • a forbidden color


Ireland:

  • religious color for Irish Catholics
  • color symbol of Ireland - the Emerald Isle

France:

  • not good for packaging


North Africa:

  • corruption and the drug culture


Egypt:

  • hope
  • spring


Middle East:

  • color of Islam
  • strength
  • fertility
  • luck


Saudi Arabia:

  • wealth and prestige


South America:

  • death


USA:

  • money
  • jealousy




Cultural Color Meanings of Blue

Generally the safest color to use world wide

Western:

  • trust and authority
  • conservative,
  • corporate
  • peace and calm
  • depression,
  • sadness
  • "something blue" bridal tradition
  • masculine color
  • baby boys


Eastern:

  • immortality


China:

  • immortality
  • associated with pornography and 'blue films'
  • feminine color


India:

  • Lord Krishna
  • national sports color

Japan:

  • everyday life


Korea:

  • color of mourning


Thailand:

  • color for Friday


Belgium:

  • color for baby girls


Cherokees:

  • defeat, trouble


Mexico:

  • mourning
  • trust
  • serenity


Iran:

  • color of mourning
  • heaven and spirituality
  • immortality


Israel:

  • Coat of Arms


Egypt:

  • virtue
  • protection - to ward off evil


Middle East:

  • protection


Colombia:

  • associated with soap


US Politics:

  • liberalism


UK & European Politics:

  • conservatism


Religious Beliefs in Many Cultures:

  • Christianity: Christ's color
  • Judaism: holiness
  • Hinduism: the color of Krishna
  • Catholicism: color of Mary's robe


Cultural Color Meanings of Purple

Western:

  • Royalty
  • spirituality
  • wealth and fame
  • high ranking positions of authority
  • Military Honor (Purple Heart)


Eastern:

  • wealth


India:

  • sorrow
  • comforting


Japan:

  • privilege
  • wealth


Thailand:

  • color of mourning for widows
  • color for Saturday


Brazil:

  • death and mourning


European:

  • Royalty


Catholicism:

  • mourning
  • death, crucifixion


Cultural Color Meanings of White

Western:

  • brides and weddings
  • angels
  • hospitals, doctors
  • peace - the white dove
  • purity and cleanliness


Eastern:

  • death, mourning and funerals
  • sadness


China:

  • death and mourning
  • virginity and purity
  • humility
  • age
  • misfortune


India:

  • unhappiness
  • symbol of sorrow in death of family member
  • traditionally the only color a widow is allowed to wear
  • funerals
  • peace and purity


Japan:

  • White carnation symbolizes death


Thailand:

  • white elephants are considered auspicious,
  • white symbolizes purity in Buddhism


Korea:

  • purity, innocence,
  • morality,
  • birth and death


Middle East:

  • purity
  • mourning


Cultural Color Meanings of Black

Western:

  • power, control, intimidation
  • funerals, death, mourning
  • rebellion


Eastern:

  • wealth, health and prosperity


China:

  • color for young boys


India:

  • evil, negativity, darkness
  • lack of appeal
  • anger and apathy
  • used to ward off evil


Japan:

  • color of mystery and the night
  • may be associated with feminine energy - either evil and a threat or provocative and alluring


Thailand:

  • unhappiness,
  • bad luck, evil


Judaism:

  • unhappiness,
  • bad luck, evil


Middle East:

  • evil
  • mystery


Africa:

  • Age and wisdom


Australian Aborigines:

  • ceremonial color
  • commonly used in their artworks


Cultural Color Meanings of Brown

Western:

  • down-to-earth, practical
  • comfortable
  • stable, dependable,
  • wholesome


China:

  • In Chinese Horoscopes brown is the color for earth


India:

  • Color of mourning


Nicaragua:

  • Sign of disapproval


Cultural Color Meanings of Magenta

Western:

  • Creative, innovative and artistic
  • Imaginative and outrageous
  • Loving, compassionate and kind
  • Encourages emotional balance
  • Spiritual yet practical
  • Non-conformist


Spain:

  • Official color of the Union Progress and Democracy political party


Netherlands:

  • Used by the Amsterdam based Magenta Foundation in support of anti-racism




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