Real Men Wear Purple

In one of the slowest responses since the inception of the internet and the concept of blogging, this post serves as a response to a comment/question posed by IBD friend Kelly Farrell. She made the comment on December 14, 2009, at 10:04 AM on the post Obnoxious Use of Color.

Yes, I know 2009 was last year. I am trying to think of a valid excuse of why it has taken us (uh, me) so long to get around to responding but I’ve got nothing. In the five months that I bypassed the content of this post, I focused my energy on the important nature, valuable content, and timely information put into other posts for our readers.

Posts on Catfish and Spaghetti, Baseball Opening Day, Unicorn Punching, Chex Party Mix, and Star Wars Stamps all seemed more important at the time. Now with hindsight, I should have written this post a long time ago. Emily, if you are still reading I still have your question stored in the IBD archives (a shoe box underneath my bed that also includes DVDs of the 2008 and 2009 World Series as well as a pristine collection of rub-off letters set in Helvetica, to be preserved in the event of the end of the world), and we (uh, I) should get around to your question soon (and by soon I mean within the calendar year). Kelly, I have actually spent the last five months researching this topic. Okay, I know you aren’t buying that one.

Here’s the comment/question from Kelly: “Can we get further IBD commentary on not only the use but the naming of colors to further an image or attitude? Words add so many layers of meaning to the perception of a color, e.g. Texas orange is “burnt” and Oklahoma haughtily insists their red and white is truly “crimson and cream.” Understanding how words and images and colors and meanings mix is at the heart of understanding interpretation.”

Note from editor: Shea is going to divide this into two posts, Real Men Wear Purple and a post that will appear between now and the end of the world on color names.

I love women who like to talk sports and sports teams’ colors with me—or talk to me at all. The answer to your first question is yes. Okay this was easier than I thought. My work is done.

I should elaborate. I really love women who like to talk sports and sports teams’ colors with me or at all.

In most cases the color associated with a team has been related to the team’s history. When most of those colors were assigned years and years ago the selection process was much different from that of a sports team going through the selection process today. Over time, emotional connections were built between the traditional colors and fans, leading to many of the nicknames or other associated elements. With teams such as the University of Texas’ burnt orange or Oklahoma’s crimson and cream the proper use of those specific colors comes down to identity.

According to Wikipedia, burnt orange has been a common name for that shade of orange since 1915 but the school was established in 1883. After an exhaustive search (okay, a Google search), I couldn’t find any data that explained when the University of Texas began using burnt orange or calling their shade burnt. It may just have been a trendy color at that time. There is no changing of either of those team’s colors now because of the tradition that has been established. But who really pays attention to college football anyway?

In some of the less traditionally steeped teams, like the Philadelphia Phillies, it is interesting to see teams change color schemes with current trends. The Phillies fell into this category when they changed to trendy 1980s  colors such as Black-eye Burgundy and Schmidt Sky Blue to eventually change back to more conservative traditional colors like red, white, and blue.

Expansion teams of Major League Baseball in the 1990s displayed a different approach. At the time the expansion teams wanted to stand out as being different and modern from the existing teams. So, the new teams went with the trendy colors at that time. You may have to think about how different things were back then to understand this approach with Beverly Hills 90210 on the entire decade, Jennifer Aniston’s hair being a hot topic and people still liking Tiger Woods.

In 1993 the Florida Marlins (black, teal, silver, and white) and the Colorado Rockies (black, purple, silver, and white) became major league franchises despite their connection to the National League. In 1998 the Arizona Diamondbacks (purple, teal, black, and white) and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (navy, Columbia Blue, white, and gold) came on board. All four teams had similar color palettes that represent the 90s. This was the baseball equivalent of choosing avocado green or harvest gold for the teams. In an attempt to stand out, each team had similar colors that were more representative of the era than the teams.

If you are having trouble picturing uniforms in these colors think about any episode to Saved by the Bell and you should be able to envision how they were being used. Since the establishment of these teams, there has been a shift away from the teal, blue, and purple elements with focus put on the less 90s colors. This shift has taken place in their logos, uniforms, and resale apparel.

The primary reason for the change is that most men (Paul excluded) won’t wear teal or purple. The Arizona Diamondbacks have now changed their team colors to Sedona Red, black, Sonoran Sand, and white. I think this was a smart move despite how many other MLB teams have red as a primary team color. Of course they are not just sporting red, it is Sedona Red. Interesting sidebar (to Paul and me), there have been name changes too. The Diamondbacks now also call themselves the D-Backs and the Devil Rays are now just the Rays.

So what does this have to do with interpretation of interpretive design? (Assuming that there are still any interpreters, or anyone for that matter still reading this post.) Is has to do with everything posed in your comment. “Understanding how words and images and colors and meanings mix is at the heart of understanding interpretation.” Colors carry meaning. While some have written songs about colors, gangs have killed over them. Sports fans find meanings and connections through rooting for their team. Wearing the colors, logos, and apparel of that team makes them part of a community. We can apply these principles to quality interpretive design and branding of our interpretive centers to help visitors better connect and feel as if they are a part of the mission.

I would just stay away from maroon and baby blue.