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Symbolic Meaning of the Color Orange

Orange, like green, is a color that’s commonly found in nature. It’s the color of vegetables, flowers, citrus fruits, fire and vivid sunsets and is the only color on the visible light spectrum that’s named after an object. It’s a hot and vibrant color that comes in many shades and is either loved or detested by most people.

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the history of the polarizing color orange, what it symbolizes and how it’s used in the modern world.

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History of the Color Orange

orange shades

Orange is a color with a lengthy history that began centuries ago. The fruit orange was used as early as the 1300s, brought to the rest of the world by the French but the word ‘orange’ wasn’t used as the name of the color until about 200 years later.

Orange in Ancient Egypt

The Ancient Egyptians used the color orange for tomb paintings as well as for many other purposes. They used a pigment made of realgar, an orange-reddish arsenic sulfer mineral, which later on became widely employed throughout the Middle East.

The Egyptians also made the color from ‘orpiment’, which was another arsenic sulfide mineral found in the fumaroles of volcanos. Orpiment was highly popular, and used to poison arrows or as a fly poison. Although it was used so extensively, it was also toxic because of its arsenic content. However, the Egyptians continued to use it up until the 19th century.

Orange in China

For centuries, the Chinese ground orpiment and used it for making orange pigments regardless of the fact that it was toxic. The orange pigment was of fairly good quality and didn’t fade as easily as clay pigments. Because Orpiment had a deep yellow-orange color, it was quite a favorite with alchemists who were searching for a way to make gold in China. Its toxic properties also made it an excellent repellent for snakes apart from being used for medicinal purposes.

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Orange in Europe

In the early half of the 15th century, the color orange was already being used in Europe but it didn’t have a name and was just called ‘yellow-red’. Before the word ‘orange’ came into existence, the word ‘saffron’ was used to describe it since saffron is also a deep orange-yellow. The first orange trees in Europe were brought from Asia to Europe in the 15th and early 16th century, which led to the naming of the color after the fruit.

Orange in the 18th and 19th Century

With the end of the 18th century came the creation of synthetic pigments due to the discovery of lead chromate made by a French scientist, Louis Vauquelin. Also known as ‘mineral crocoite’, this was used to create the pigment ‘chrome orange’ as well as many other synthetic pigments like cobalt red, cobalt yellow and cobalt orange.

Orange became an extremely popular color with history painters and the Pre-Raphaelite. For example, Elizabeth Siddal, a model who had flowing orange-red hair became a symbol of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Orange gradually became an important color for impressionist painters as well. Some of these famous painters like Paul Cezanne, didn’t use orange pigments but made his own using touches of red, yellow and ochre to paint against a blue background. Another painter, Toulouse-Lautrec, found the color to be one of amusement and festivity. He often used different shades of orange to paint the clothes of dancers and Parisiennes in the clubs and cafes that he portrayed in his paintings.

Orange in the 20th and 21st Century

During the 20th and 21st centuries, orange had various positive and negative associations. Since the color is highly visible, it became popular for certain types of equipment and clothing. During the second world war, the US Navy pilots started wearing inflatable orange life jackets which could easily be seen from rescue and search planes. After the war, the jackets continued to be used on naval and civilian vessels as well as in aircrafts. Workers on highways and cyclists began to wear the color to avoid getting hit by vehicles.

What Does the Color Orange Symbolize?

orange saree indian

Orange is a color that combines the happiness of yellow and the energy of red. In general, it symbolizes success, encouragement, sexuality, joy, sunshine, heat and happiness.

Orange is happy. Orange is considered to be a color that’s both creative and joyful. It can grab attention immediately which is one of the reasons it’s so popular in advertising. People usually describe the color as happy, bright and uplifting.

Orange is a hot color. The human eye perceives orange as a very hot color so it can easily give the sensation of heat. In fact, it’s considered to be the ‘hottest’ color because of its association with the fire and the sun. If you try sitting in a room that’s completely orange, you’re likely to feel the heat in just a few minutes. However, it’s not quite as aggressive as the color red since it’s a combination of red with the calming color yellow.

Orange means danger. The color orange stands for danger and caution. It’s used to indicate areas where people should exercise caution and also for safety equipment. Since the color is easily visible against water or in dim light, it’s popularly worn by as uniforms by workers who need to be seen, well as for temporary road signs about detours or construction in the US.

Prisoners are often dressed in orange jumpsuits to ensure that they’ll be easy to see in the event of an escape and the Golden Gate Bridge is painted orange so that it would be more visible in the fog to avoid any accidents. If you see a black skull on an orange background, this usually means poison or a toxic substance so be careful and keep a safe distance.

Orange is strong. In heraldry, orange is symbolic of endurance, strength and courage.

Orange varies in meaning. There are over 150 shades of orange and they all have their own meaning. While it would take too long to go through the entire list, here’s what some common shades represent: 

  • Dark orange: this shade of orange represents distrust and deceit
  • Reddish orange: this color is symbolic of passion, desire, aggression, action and domination
  • Golden orange: golden orange usually stands for wealth, quality, prestige, wisdom and illumination
  • Light orange or peach: this is a more soothing and represents friendliness and calmness.

Symbolism of Orange in Different Cultures

Girl wearing orange dress

Orange is heavy with symbolism, with differing perspectives based on culture. Here’s what the color symbolizes in various cultures around the world.

  • In China, orange represents spontaneity, change and adaptability. In the philosophy and religion of ancient China (known as ‘Confucianism’), orange symbolized transformation. The word was derived from saffron, the most expensive dye that was found in the area and due to this reason, the color was of extreme importance in Chinese culture. The Chinese see it as the perfect balance between the power of red and the perfection of the yellow.
  • In Hinduism, Lord Krishna, one of the most popular and widely revered divinities is commonly depicted in yellow orange. Orange was also worn by the ‘sadhu’ or the holy men in India who have renounced the world. The color also represents fire and since all impurities are burnt by fire, it symbolizes purity as well.
  • Orange is symbolic of illumination in Buddhism which is believed to be the highest state of perfect. Buddhist monks wear saffron colored robes which were defined by Lord Buddha himself and they represent renunciation of the external world, just like the holy men in India.
  • In Western cultures, orange denotes harvest, warmth, autumn and visibility. This is because during this time of the year, color changes occur turning leaves to orange and it’s also the color of pumpkins which are associated with Halloween. Therefore, orange represents changing seasons and because of its association with change, it’s usually used as a transitional color to denote change or transition of some sort.
  • In Europe, orange is mostly associated with frivolity, entertainment and amusement. In mythological paintings Dionysus, the god of wine, ecstasy and ritual madness is portrayed dressed in orange. It’s also typically the color of clowns’ wigs since children usually love the color and find it attractive.

Personality Color Orange

Girl with orange dress

According to color psychology, your favorite color can say a lot about you. There are many character traits commonly found among those who love orange (or personality color oranges). Of course, you’re not likely to exhibit each and every one of these traits but you’ll surely find that some of them are applicable to you. Here are some of the most common characteristics and qualities in all personality color oranges.

  • People who love orange are as flamboyant, warm, extroverted and optimistic as their favorite color.
  • They tend to be determined and assertive. Although they tend to be very agreeable, you can’t mess around with a personality color orange.
  • They enjoy socializing, partying and planning all kinds of social events. They’re also usually the life of the party.
  • They love outdoor life and adventurous sports like hang gliding or sky diving.
  • Personality color oranges are free spirits and don’t like being tied down. They’re not always loyal in their relationships and can sometimes find it hard to commit to one.
  • They tend to be rather impatient and can also be domineering and forceful when they’re under stress.
  • They don’t like keeping house all that much, but they love to cook and are good at it.
  • They’re risk takers in different areas of their lives.

Positive and Negative Aspects of the Color Orange

Orange accent color

The color orange is said to invigorate and stimulate mental activity by increasing the supply of oxygen to your brain. Since it’s associated with healthy food, it can also stimulate appetite and make you hungry. It aids in decision making and enhances confidence, understanding and happiness. People generally respond to orange with heightened emotions, increased awareness of the surroundings and increased activity as well.

The color of creativity and joy, orange can promote general wellness as well as emotional energy that can be shared like passion, warmth and compassion. It can even help to brighten the mood and help to recover from disappointments.

However, orange does have negative associations in instances where it’s overused. Too much orange can be overpowering, and many people claim that from all the colors on the color palette, it’s their least favorite.

Having too much of it around you can cause self-serving and self-centered qualities such as pride, lack of empathy and arrogance whereas too little of the color can lower self-esteem, resulting in loneliness and lack of motivation.

Orange is great as an accent color in interior decoration, as this balances its positive and negative traits, offering just the right amount of color. However, it’s important to balance orange with the right neutrals and other accents.

The Use of Orange in Fashion and Jewelry

Amber bracelet

Since orange is associated with danger and has attention-grabbing properties, most fashion designers tend to use the color sparingly.

In general, orange suits all skin tones, because it tends to warm up the skin. Having said that, it tends to flatter those with warm undertones. For people with cool undertones a lighter shade of the color would work better than darker ones.

Some people find it tough to pair up orange clothing items with others. When it comes to choosing complementary colors for orange, there’s no one color that matches ‘best’ but there are several that go quite well with it. If you’re having trouble trying to match up your orange clothing with other colors, try using a color wheel as a guide.

Orange gemstones make for avant-garde, unique jewelry. They’re perfect in engagement rings as the center stone or simply to add color as accent stones. Some of the most popular orange gemstones include:

  • Orange diamond
  • Orange sapphire
  • Amber
  • Imperial topaz
  • Oregon sunstone
  • Mexican fire opal
  • Orange spinel
  • Orange tourmaline

In Brief

Although it’s found everywhere in nature, orange isn’t most people’s first choice when it comes to picking colors. While the symbolism of the hue changes according to culture and religion, it remains a beautiful and important color used extensively in the contemporary world.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.