Symbolic Meaning of Yellow

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Yellow is the most luminous of all colors in the visible light spectrum. It catches our attention more than any other color. In nature, it’s the color of daffodils, bananas, egg yolks and sunshine and in our created world, it’s the color of Spongebob and the House of Hufflepuff at Hogwarts. But although this color is so popular, what does it really mean?

In this article, let’s take a look at the history of this brilliant color, what it symbolizes and how it’s used in jewelry and fashion today.

Symbolism of the Color Yellow

The color yellow holds a wealth of symbolic meaning. These include:

Yellow is happy! Yellow is the color of hope, sunshine and happiness. It’s a positive color that most people view as bright and cheerful and is often used by advertisers to draw attention and to evoke a feeling of happiness. It’s not a coincidence that smiley faces are all yellow.

Yellow is eye-catching. Yellow is quite popular in fast food logos along with red since the two colors are instantly eye catching. Yellow is believed to trigger feelings of happiness whereas red triggers appetite, hunger and stimulation which is why many fast food companies like KFC, McDonalds and Burger King use these colors in their logos.

Yellow denotes childishness. Yellow is usually perceived as a childish color and is perfect for children’s products. However, it’s not seen as a masculine color so using it to market products to wealthy or prestigious men has proved to be generally unsuccessful.  

Yellow grabs attention. Yellow easily grabs people’s attention and when it’s used together with black, the combination is one of the easiest to see and read from afar. This is why taxis, traffic signs and school buses are painted black and yellow. Human eyes are capable of perceiving this color instantly making it hard to miss.

Yellow is energetic. Usually viewed as a color that’s associated with energy, yellow is often used to increase energy or create excitement.

Yellow also represents cowardice, disease, egoism and madness. This is the negative side of yellow.

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What does the Color Yellow Mean in Different Cultures?

  • In Egypt, yellow was said to be eternal, indestructible and imperishable. The color also signifies mourning because bodies that were mummified had gold masks placed on them to represent the constant presence of the sun.
  • The Chinese see yellow as a color with strong cultural and historical associations. It symbolizes happiness, wisdom and glory in their culture and signifies one of the five directions of the compass – the middle direction. China is known as the ‘Middle Kingdom’ and the palace of the Chinese Emperor was said to be located right in the precise center of the world. In the traditional Chinese symbol of the female yin and masculine yang, yang is represented by the color yellow. In Chinese pop culture, a ‘yellow movie’ means anything of pornographic nature, just like the term ‘blue movie’ in English.
  • In Medieval Europe, yellow was a respected color. In many European universities, members of the natural and physical sciences faculty don yellow caps and gowns since it’s the color of research and reason.
  • In Islamic symbolism, yellow is a powerful color that’s associated with wealth and nature. It’s also used in many different phrases. For example, someone with a ‘yellow smile’ is cruel or mean. If someone has a ‘yellow eye’ it can mean that the person is diseased or ill.
  • The Ancient Greek gods were usually portrayed with blonde or yellow hair and the color was associated with Apollo and Helios, the sun gods.
  • The Japanese consider yellow to be a sacred color that stands for courage. It also denotes nature and sunshine and is popularly in gardening, clothes and flowers. Japanese schoolchildren wear yellow caps to indicate caution and increase their visibility to ensure their safety. If someone is said to have a ‘yellow beak’ in Japanese, it means that the person is inexperienced while the term ‘yellow voice’ means the high-pitched voices of children and women.
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Personality Color Yellow – What It Means

Girl wearing yellow color dress

If yellow is your favorite (or one of your favorite) colors, it means you have a personality color yellow and this can say a lot about who you are. If you love yellow, you’ll probably find yourself somewhere in the following list of traits.  You might also find that you exhibit some of the negative ones, but this is specifically when you’re stressed out. Here’s a brief list of common character traits found in personality color yellows.

  • People who love yellow are usually fun to be with and have a cheerful, positive attitude and happy disposition.
  • They are creative, usually being the ones who come up with new and unique ideas. However, they need help bringing the ideas into reality and this part often needs to be done by someone else.
  • They tend to analyse everything and are very methodical and organized thinkers.
  • Personality color yellows tend to put on a brave face in times of despair and prefer to hide their emotions.
  • They’re spontaneous and think quickly on their feet, as making instant decision comes naturally to them.
  • They’re very good at making money, but not as good as saving it.
  • They are smart at dressing up and always do it to impress.
  • They’re good at getting information from others. People who love yellow usually make great journalists.
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Positive and Negative Aspects of the Color Yellow

Certain studies have shown that the color yellow can have positive and negative psychological effects on the mind. However, this depends on the person, since not everyone will react to the color in the same way.

The warmth and cheerfulness of the color can increase mental activity and muscle energy. It also helps in activating memory, enhancing vision, building confidence, encouraging communication and stimulating the nervous system.

On the other hand, too much of the color can cause disturbing effects. Having too much yellow around you can cause you to lose focus and concentration, making it harder to complete tasks. It can also make people become more aggressive and irritated than usual. It’s believed that babies tend to cry more when kept in a room that’s painted yellow and this is probably because the color can activate the anxiety centre of one’s brain.

Having too little yellow around you can cause you to experience feelings of fear, isolation, insecurity and lower self-esteem and it’s said that a complete lack of yellow can make a person become more cunning, rigid, defensive or possessive. Therefore, it’s best to keep a balance between using too much of it and having nothing at all.

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The Use of Yellow in Fashion and Jewelry

Due to its ability to attract attention and give off positive vibes, yellow is quite a popular color used in both jewelry and fashion nowadays.

Yellow tends to look best on warm skin tones but can be too pale or washed out on cool skin. Different shades of yellow look great on different skin tones so there’s always something for everyone.

Mustard yellow, dark lemon yellow and other pale yellow hues suit pale skin tones while lemon yellow or chartreuse tend to look lovely on olive or medium-dark skin.

However, the luckiest are dark skin tones, since they can wear practically any variation of the color and still look gorgeous.    

yellow amber

There are also many types of gemstones used in jewelry designs that showcase shades of yellow. Of these, the most popular are:

  1. Yellow Diamond – The most common and affordable of all the colored diamond varieties, yellow diamonds are durable, prestigious and easily available.
  2. Yellow Sapphire – Second in hardness only to diamonds, yellow sapphire comes in a variety of shades from pale to vivid. It’s an affordable alternative to yellow diamonds.
  3. Citrine – The quintessential yellow gemstone, citrine is known for its yellow to golden-brown colors. It’s hard enough for daily wear with excellent transparency.
  4. Amber – An organic gemstone, amber is essentially the petrified sap of pine trees. It’s unique in its smell, feel and texture, giving it a special place in the world of gemstones.
  5. Golden Pearls – The most valuable golden pearls are South Sea pearls, known for their large size and spherical perfection.
  6. Tourmaline – Yellow tourmaline is rather rare and difficult to find in local stores. The stone often contains visible inclusions but has beautiful brilliance.
  7. Yellow Jade – Compact and hard, yellow jade is perfect for carvings and cabochons. It’s often designed into bohemian or rustic styled jewelry.
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Yellow Throughout History

While we tend to take colors for granted, it’s interesting to note that colors also have had their historical journeys. Here’s how yellow fared.

Prehistory

The color yellow is said to be one of the first colors used in cave art in the prehistoric times. The earliest known painting done in yellow was found in the Lascaux cave near the village of Montignac in France. It was a painting of a yellow horse dating back to over 17,000 years ago. Back then, yellow pigments were made from clay which meant they were quite common and easily available. Yellow ochre is a naturally occurring pigment that’s found in clays and is non-toxic.

Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt, yellow was used extensively for tomb paintings. The ancient Egyptians used either orpiment, a deep, orange-yellow mineral or yellow ochre for the purpose of painting. However, orpiment was found to be highly toxic since it was made of arsenic. Although this was the case, the Egyptians still continued to use it regardless of its toxicity. It’s not clear whether they were aware of the harmful effects of the mineral or whether they simply chose to ignore it.

Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome, yellow was a commonly used color in wall paintings in Roman towns and villas. It was often found in murals from Pompeii and the famous mosaic of the Emperor Justinian was created using yellowish gold. The Romans used an expensive dye made from saffron which was rich and less prone to fading than the clay pigments used by the Egyptians. They used this to dye their clothing and found it to be of much higher quality than other dyes and pigments that were previously used. 

Post Classical Period

During the period from 500 CE – 1450 CE, known as the ‘post-classical period’, yellow was the color of Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Apostles and the man who betrayed Jesus Christ. However, it’s not clear exactly how this conclusion was made since Judas’ clothing was never described in the bible. Since then, the color came to be associated with jealousy, envy and duplicity. During the Renaissance period, non-Christians were often marked with yellow to denote their outsider status.

18th and 19th Centuries

With the 18th and 19th centuries came the discovery and the manufacturing of synthetic yellow dyes and pigments. These rapidly replaced the traditional dyes and pigments which were originally made from substances like cow urine, clay and minerals. 

The famous French painter Vincent van Gogh loved the color yellow, likening it to the color of the sun. One of the very first artists to make use of commercial manufactured paints, Van Gogh preferred to use traditional ochre as well as cadmium yellow and chrome yellow. He never made his own paints unlike many other painters at the time. Sunflowers in a vase is one is one of his most popular masterpieces. 

In the 20th and 21st Centuries

In the early 20th century, yellow became a sign of exclusion. This was the time when Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe had to sew yellow triangles (called ‘yellow badges’) onto their clothing with the star of David on it, to set them apart from the Germans.

Later on, the color became valued for its high visibility. Since yellow can easily been seen from great distances even when moving at high speeds, it became the ideal color for road signs. Yellow was also extremely popular for use in neon signs, especially in China and Las Vegas.

Later on, in the 21st century, people began to use unusual technologies and materials to create new methods of experiencing yellow color. An example is the ‘Weather Project’ by Olafur Eliasson.

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In Brief

While yellow is a color that’s loved by many people who claim that it makes them feel joyful, some people tend to find it annoying and hard on the eyes. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance and always use the color in moderation. A little yellow goes a long way and it makes for an excellent accent color.

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