The Most Forbidden Color

The Most Forbidden Color

The fiery color red has long been controversial — so controversial, in fact, that it is commonly banned outright lest it inflame strong emotions, spark revolution, kindle anger, inspire boldness, instigate bloodshed, arouse lust, or provoke pain. Is it preposterous to think that a single color can be dangerous to society? Consider the following examples of forbidden reds from modern to ancient times. Then ask yourself: do you dare to use or wear the color red today? Is red worth the risk of arrest, imprisonment, or even a death sentence? Ultimately, is red (or any color) worth championing?


Director Michael Mann banned the color red from appearing in his film Miami Vice, as he has a personal dislike for red and other earth tones. (Source: New York Times.)

The American Civil Liberties Union reported the first known instance of an educational institution reacting to gang fears by banning a primary color. In reaction to school vandalism and the threat of violence, "officials at Round Rock High School in Texas banned the color red. ... Apparently the gang responsible for these incidents wore red—about forty students wearing red items were sequestered in the library, and the parents were called." (Source: Leland Gregory, Hey, Idiot!: Chronicles of Human Stupidity.)


In 1887, Chicago police banned the color red from labor union advertisements of the Knights of Labor. This was a colorful example of the anti-Communist "red scare." (Source: Economic History Encyclopedia.)

Daniels Farm Elementary School in Trumbull, Connecticut banned its teachers from using red ink to grade student homework. Apparently, parents objected to red as being "too stressful" and symbolic of negativity. "The disillusionment with red is part of a major shift in grading, and three top pen manufacturers have heard the complaints. As a result, Bic, Pilot Pen, and Sanford (the manufacturer of Papermate and Sharpie) are producing more purple pens in response to rising sales. According to Pilot Pen’s vice president of marketing, school leaders are 'trying to be positive and reinforcing rather than being harsh. Teachers are taking that to heart.'" (Source: Lisa Orlando, "The Ink That Teachers Use To Grade Papers Has Parents Seeing Red.")


The government of Saudi Arabia banned the color red around Valentine's Day, in a move to discourage Muslims from observing the Western holiday. Red flowers, plush hearts, wrapping paper, and other red items were illegal to sell. As a result of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered. (Source: Saudi Gazette.)

In Israel, the color red was banned from kosher clothing stores. (Source:


Warren S. Jeffs, "the man revered as the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," banned the color red from clothing when he took power in 2002. (Source: Newsweek.)

The government of Zimbabwe denied banning the color red from television, though AIDS activists reported being told to remove their red ribbons before filming. (Source: BBC News.)


In traditional funerals in Japan, red was forbidden because it is "a celebratory color." (Source: Pikatto.) Similarly, in China red was forbidden during periods of mourning. (Source: Beverley Jackson, Splendid Slippers.) And in Estonia, the color red is traditionally forbidden from funerals and other important rites of passage. (Source: Science Direct.)

Medieval Spain banned the color red from garments due to its association with blood, the devil, and witchery. Spaniards reportedly began wearing red under their clothes, giving rise to the popularity of red underwear. (Source: Why Fashion?)


On the Cook Island of Mangaia, "anything red was forbidden ... as being offensive to the gods." (Source: James Frazer, Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead, Vol. 2.)

At the New Jersey College for Women in the 1920s, the red clothing was forbidden to freshmen. "Only sophomores and up could wear red." (Source: Rutgers.)


In 1990, the United States Food and Drug Administration banned carcinogenic Red Dye No. 3 in cosmetics and topical drugs. (Source: BNET.)

Though red is hard to beat in terms of controversy, other colors have found themselves on the chopping block. Following are a few brief examples.

Forbidden Yellow:

President William McKinley's wife banned the color yellow from the White House. (Source: Jane O'Connor, If the Walls Could Talk: Family Life at the White House.)


Forbidden Orange:

The Dutch Patriot Movement of the 1780s banned the color orange. (Source: Peter Boticelli.)


Forbidden Green:

Voyage, a New York City Caribbean bistro, banned the color green from its decor. (Source: The Village Voice.)

Early Christians banned the color green due to its pagan connotations. (Source: Rolling Rainbow: Color Matters.)


Forbidden Purple:

The founder of the Woman Suffrage Party, Carrie Chapman Catt, banned the color purple from parades to dissociate her movement from the militant National Woman's Party. (Source: Heritage.)


Forbidden Brown:

Students at Molloy Alternative High School in Lowell, Massachusetts were forbidden from wearing the color brown, due to the emergence of the "Brown Mafia," a teenage gang. (Source: WHDH.)


Cover img by evilnick.

Craig ConleyAbout the Guest Author, Craig Conley
Craig is an independent scholar and author of dozens of strange and unusual books, including a unicorn field guide and a dictionary of magic words. He also loves color: Prof. Oddfellow

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Showing 1 - 18 of 18 Comments
this is fascinating! I didn't know people have made such a big deal over colour!
loved the article! ;)
didn't know red was such a big thing! bit of a crazy deal, right? i mean, most people who would read this would think "it's just a color." when of course it's not: color means EVERYTHING. you have no idea.
Very cool!
Chestnut is the Crayola color that used to be "Indian Red".


The politically correct griped about disparaging American Indians. It didn't matter that the color was named for the dyestuff found in southern Asia, i.e. India. The color was changed anyway so it wouldn't "offend" anyone. I haven't heard the opinion of the dyemakers.

The local residents found in America were named "Indians" because the explorers mistakenly thought that they had reached India. D'oh!
Of course red is worth championing! Its the best colour! But seriously - there are times its dangerous around my school neighborhood to wear red. We have a lot of gang activity. Its either red or blue. Once I was home sick and the substitute teacher let the kids steal all my blue markers. There wasn't a single blue marker in the room! Kids asked for them for their projects and all I could say was, "Too bad. The crips got them." I've even noticed that many of the houses in the area have their bases (the brick around the basement) painted red. There are too many, I think, for it to be a style trend. I think its a form of profiling - 'I painted my house your colour so you know I'm on your side and you'll leave my house alone.' - almost like passover... almost.

As for teachers not using red ink as a means to keep things positive - get over it! if you did a crappy job why should your teacher mollycoddle you? we do that waaaaay too much, then they grow up and get a job where they don't do it and the kid is now upset when asked to function in the real world alone.

okay. i'm off my soap box now.
this kind of relates to the blog...

forbidden colours
I knew some of those, but sure not all of them. Fascinating read, as always! :)
And I meant to add - I love how you find appropriate colors on CL with related names and it all goes together. Of course, you're probably bribing people "backstage" to create those colors and name them in a way that suits your next article...! ;)
Very interesting. Thank you so much! This is my favorite blog yet :)
Love it! So fascinating!
retsof said:
"The local residents found in America were named "Indians" because the explorers mistakenly thought that they had reached India. D'oh!"

And the reason they got the nickname "Red Skins" was because the Beothuks (Newfoundland native people) used to rub themselves with ochre... literally painting their skins red. So it is culturally insensitive to call any Native American a red skin, but it isn't a derogatory comment.
excellent article!
this is so0 interesting!!
Great article! Some new reasons to love the "forbidden" colors even more!
Personally in my colourworld, GRAY is the-most-forbidden-colour!
I absolutely despise it; too cold, hard, dreary, colourless, lifeless, flavorless, loveless, lonely.
all i see are jails, prisons, misery, harshness.

(i know, i know, all you graylovers are going to come down on my head with a gray sledgehammer,
but thats ok, you have a right to your own colourlove) :-)

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