What’s In A Color?

College Penants

Years ago, at Thanksgiving, I was chatting with my niece, a junior in high school, about college. When I suggested she check out a particular SEC school that we had recently come to love, she said. “Hmmm, I don’t think I look good in purple and gold.” Huh? Who thought colors were a factor when deciding your next 4 years?

Well, I guess it’s fair. When you choose a college, you choose the colors. You will be receiving lots of spirit items for graduation, birthdays, and Christmas. You’ll buy knick-knacks from the bookstore when you fall in love on that college tour: sweatshirts, coffee mugs, flags, decals, stationery, and so on. And if you have a positive college experience, you’ll not only sport these colors in college, you’ll hold those colors dear for the rest of your life.

When you explore a university’s website to find their acceptance rate, cost of attendance, and mascot, you’ll also see the school colors. But HOW those hues were chosen is another story. When you search the history, you’ll find many interesting stories, some legend, some truth, some a little bit of both. According to nola.com, LSU’s “purple and gold” has its roots in Mardi Gras:

“Upon his arrival to Louisiana State University in 1893, Coates noticed the lack of athletics and hastily helped assemble a football team to play Tulane that year. When searching for colors, he went to Reymond’s on the corner of Third and Main in Baton Rouge to buy colored ribbons to adorn the uniforms. The store had plenty of purple and gold, but the other Mardi Gras color, green, had not arrived.”

Harvard’s famous crimson started at a regatta back in 1958. The crewmen wanted to distinguish themselves from the other teams, so Charles W. Eliot, a tutor and oarsman, decided the team would sport red handkerchiefs, knowing the color would stand out. ”When these handkerchiefs were drenched in sweat, they took on the color of blood. The true color of blood is crimson,” says Professor Peter J. Gomes. Thus, Harvard Crimson were born! (Harvard Explained, thecrimson.com)

So, students, when you go on that college visit, ask your tour guide how the university selected its colors. Some will give you the facts but many will give you the legend, which is often a more gripping tale. University of Pennsylvania, one of the original Ivy League Schools, was competing against Harvard and Yale at a track and field event. When the Penn captain was asked what color their team wanted to be, he said “a combination of the two teams we are about to beat: Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue.” Thus, Penn became the Red and Blue. However, when I did a little research on archives.upenn.edu, I found no such story. But does it really matter?

The point is that the colors help create the family where you’ll belong the next four years and, hopefully, for the rest of your life. You want to feel proud of the spirit that your colors evoke.

Back to my niece. She ended up wearing orange and black in college but married purple. So, it turns out, colors are important enough when choosing a college but not so important when choosing a life partner. Now her year-old daughter wears both of her parents’ colors and looks really cute in both.

Paige Naughton

Expert College Coach & SEC Lover

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