Blue: A Colorful Glance into History and Influence

fashion events 2021 Schiaparelli Haute Couture Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020

Blue. It’s a color most known for its association with baby boys. At gender reveal parties across the globe, the expecting mother may see an aqua balloon or blue smoke to know that she is having a baby boy. As a result, many people associate this pigment with boys. But there is much more to blue! Not only is it historically known for being both a male and female color, but it also has a deep and rich history. Along with a strong association to sad emotions and a strong presence in nature from water up to the sky.

blue horizon mountains Photo by Alex Shutin
The beauty of blue in nature (Photo by Alex Shutin)

Blue hues have been a part of humanity since the dawn of time. There is science and an ever-changing social construct behind the color. Who would have thought that something so simple as navy dates back so far and has evolved even in the 21st century? Well, in this history recap, as well as decoding the “males only” perspective of blue, we will discover so many more truths behind this glorious hue.

While blue has been a part of human life in the way of nature, humanity has not always known about the color blue. Many scientists and biologists believe that early humans couldn’t see blue. Because Homer, the author of the Odyssey, called the sea a “wine-red”, many think they were color-blind to blue. So, while the shade has always been in front of our eyes, we have not always known. We do not know when humans could see blue, but we do know when it was recreated.

The Egyptian Creation

True kings of luxury were the Egyptians. They loved grandeur and all things new, hence their attempt to recreate blue. The Egyptians wanted more decoration like artwork, sculptures, and even the tombs of the pharaohs. It was difficult to make the color at the time. Because chemistry and things about chemical compounds were not known yet, the Egyptians had to combine limestone, sand, and a copper mineral. Glass is made and then ground up into a liquid with egg whites. And with that, the color blue is made. It was also named, “Egyptian Blue”. Very original indeed. Now we also know that Egyptian Blue glows in infrared light, and recent experiments show that finely ground Egyptian Blue can be used as a fingerprint dusting powder.

Photo from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan
Three stages of Egyptian blue. A lump of blue frit (upper left); the pigment in powder form (lower left); and as applied to an Egyptian mummy mask (right). (Photo from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan)

However, getting the creation of blue right was not always done perfectly. In fact, it was quite easy to get wrong. Because of the complex system, blue was mostly used for those who could afford it. Pharaohs wanted blue to adorn their tombs as a sign of wealth, and most others in the upper class did the same. Expensive pots and vases had blue to showcase to others that they could afford blue. According to scientists, Egyptian Blue is the very first blue that was recreated by humans. For the next centuries, blue will evolve from this shade but will remain difficult to get. Making Egyptian Blue a key element of the history of the color.

Ultramarine Is an Ultra-Expensive Color

Like gossip, ideas also spread. Instead of using the difficult process of limestone and sand, along with other things, Medieval Europe tried something different. Around this time, the gemstone Lapis Lazuli was being imported to Europe. It was named “Ultramarine” for its incredibly bright hue. It was also ultra-expensive, possibly another reason why the name fits. Some anthropologists claim that Ultramarine was as expensive as gold during Medieval times. Urban growth and a more sophisticated society were forming, so just about everyone wanted their hands on Ultramarine.

history of blue "Virgin and Child with Female Saints" by Gerard David 1500 (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)
“Virgin and Child with Female Saints” by Gerard David 1500 (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Only used for the most important paintings and artwork, ultramarine put many artists in debt. Because it was so striking and so beautiful, it was a necessity to make colors pop. Perhaps at the cost of a family fortune, but that’s nothing! It was renamed True Blue. True Blue, or Ultramarine, was the color of elegance, wealth, and beauty. It was also the color of purity and importance, as this pigment was only for the Virgin Mary or the King. Middle and lower-class folks could not wear blue because of both the cost and the reputation behind Ultramarine. The notoriety of the opulence of blue only continued, even though the shade changed over history.

spellbound cabinet by koket

Cobalt Color Wars with Porcelain

A few centuries later were the great Cobalt wars. Who would have thought that there would be so much jealousy over a color? While it may sound silly, and it is, it is certainly the truth. Originally, the Chinese made porcelain vases with cobalt and white. These vases depicted beautiful scenes, flowers, and even animals. It was delicate and perfect but also incredibly costly. The price of blue was STILL twice the cost of gold, but this porcelain was selling like crazy. The Chinese blue-and-white porcelain was so popular that they started calling it simply “china”. Obviously, “china” stuck. Cobalt porcelain was what everyone wanted, and they were willing to pay for the piece of artwork.

However, the Europeans were quite jealous of the boom of industry happening in China. They tried very hard to recreate the ever-popular cobalt color, but they could not. The secret of how they created cobalt in their porcelain was kept for many centuries. The secret? Cobalt ores. Asia had many cobalt ores underground, which they mined to create the color that all of us are familiar with. But alas, these mines were not in Europe. The only hue that came close to cobalt was jasper, a lighter and paler color. It wasn’t cobalt, though. Not only were these porcelain vases and plates uber-popular in Asia, but they also were everywhere. Everyone wanted to know the secret, making the color blue just that much more desirable during this phase of its history.

history of blue Cobalt Powder (Photo via Wiki Commons)
Cobalt Powder (Photo via Wiki Commons)

Blue Jean Baby

As textiles and trading became more popular, so did the creation of blue clothing. It was much cheaper to dye fabrics blue than it was to create artwork and statues with it. Once blue clothing became cheaper to make, civilians wanted to wear as much of it as they could. Blue clothing was a way to show others that you had money without necessarily having that kind of funds. The reputation of the color was still quite present, so it gave middle and lower-class workers the same boost in confidence. This did not last very long, as blue’s position decreased greatly. However, this process of dying fabric made the color more common throughout society, therefore making blue a common color to see. Both men and women wore blue, but this was going to change in the next coming centuries.

Unknown Artist in 17th Century Italy "Master of Blue Jeans" Photo by Wiki Commons
Unknown Artist in 17th Century Italy “Master of Blue Jeans” (Photo by La Tribune de l’Art via Wiki Commons)

A New Hue For Blue

Yves Klein, a famous artist from the 1940s to the 1960s, decided that monochromatic was all the rage. But how was he going to create something original? By creating a new color of blue. Trademarking his new color as “International Klein Blue”, Klein wanted the color to be “extra-dimensional”. By this, he wanted the viewer to look at the color and be transported outside of the canvas and into the world of blue. Whether he achieved it or not, we can’t say. What we can say is that this blue is awe-inspiring. International Klein Blue is deep and rich. It’s dark enough not to be pastel but not too dark to be a navy color. Either way, it went big. Klein made over 200 pieces using only this color. In his own “blue period”, Klein made a new color for art that was rich, tasteful, and refined.

history of blue "IKB 79" by Yves Klein (Photo by Tate Modern)
“IKB 79” by Yves Klein (Photo by Tate Modern)

Accidental Pigment

In recent history, there has been a new blue tint discovered. It was merely accidental, but we appreciate it all nonetheless. In 2009, chemists accidentally made YInMn Blue. YInMn Blue was made by combining inorganic chemicals, but it was originally intended for technology. Dr. Subramanian at Oregon State University was working with his graduate students to make materials for technology. It was merely experimenting with something practical. When this incredible blue shade came out of the oven, it was something that they had never seen before. Once Dr. Subramanian saw this new shade of blue, he knew that it was the first of its kind. Now, YInMn Blue is not used for technology but artwork instead. It was decided that the color was just too beautiful to be used on technology and not on something people would see. You can actually buy YInMn Blue paint if it suits your fancy.

history of blue YInMn Blue (Photo by Wiki Commons)
YInMn Blue (Photo by Wiki Commons)

Blue for Boys? Or…?

Now that the history of blue has been gone over, it must be discussed how we associate blue with men. There has been no direct link, so why is that always in our brains when we think of blue? As said before, the connotation of the color blue is one of elegance and regality. It was associated with both kings and the Virgin Mary. Before pastels and all things 19th century, there was no real gender associated with the color like today. However, it was in the 19th century that pastel colors became popular, and genders were assigned. The baby blue that we know now was first associated with girls because it was seen as a softer color than pink. Pink was seen as more aggressive and, therefore, masculine.

In the 20th century, it was reassigned. Pink belonged to girls because it was closer to red. Red is meant to be a more emotional color; therefore, it MUST be assigned to women. Blue was now seen as calmer, which is how it got assigned to boys. Even though we now think of teal as a masculine color, this was only established in the last century.

Gender Reveal Party (Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr via Pexel)
Gender Reveal Party (Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr via Pexel)

Loving Blue? Bring the Color Into Your World!

Well, now that you know just how great the color blue is, all about its fascinating history, as well as the feminine power behind it, you must want to add more blue to your home and wardrobe?! Depending on the shade of blue, the color can induce all sorts of emotional reactions. Some statistics point to aqua’s power to bring happiness when used in your home, and of course, we all know the memorable impression a blue power suit can make. So, how do you incorporate a color of history like blue? To start, it matches with just about every other color, so mismatching really cannot happen. In particular, blue makes a fabulous accent statement, so keep the color in mind when looking to make a color splash at home or in your outfit.

Words by Alison Morrison
Feature Image: Schiaparelli Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on January 20, 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

More to Love!

30 Beautiful Blue & White Rooms to Inspire Serenity at Home
Room Colors & Mood: Home Colors Used in Interior Design Can Affect Your Mood