Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Shifty School Colors

I can only write with confidence about certain parts of the United States that I'm especially familiar with. But I wouldn't be surprised if the same sort of thing I'm about to discuss isn't fairly common elsewhere.

The subject here is school colors at the college and university level. (For overseas readers, "colleges" in America are post-secondary schools. Setting aside two-year "community colleges," technical schools and such, a college is typically a four-year undergraduate institution of the liberal arts variety that lacks additional schools a university will have such as law, medicine, business, engineering, etc.)

Schools at almost any level here in the States have associated colors. Often when a school is established, its students will vote on a color scheme -- typically a two-color combination. For schools established many years ago such as in the Ivy League, colors might have been set by other means; I don't know details. As for my personal experience, as best I remember, my elementary school had no colors. My junior high was something like violet and white, and the high school had green and gold (actually more like a yellow in practice).

Where it gets interesting enough to blog about is when one begins to notice that school colors don't necessarily remain exactly the same over time or setting.

Let's start with the Ivy League, and focus on Harvard and Penn. Harvard's color is crimson, a bright red that edges slightly in the blue direction. Around Harvard Yard one can actually see some crimson here and there such as in the banner shown above.

But as to what students wear when it comes to school colors, the hue used is more like a maroon. I suspect that's because a strong red such as crimson usually doesn't work well on apparel.

Nowadays, schools can earn tidy amounts of extra money via products licensed to display coats of arms, colors and so forth. As seen above, Penn lays out in detail just what the expected colors are.

Penn's colors are red and blue. The banner pictured here shows a different set of those colors than the official specification indicates. When I was at Penn, I would see banners, pennants and such with the brighter hues shown above as well as the darker, slightly toned down official shades. To put it roughly, the bright Penn colors are associated with athletic settings (though not on team uniforms) and the darker colors are for clothing, uniforms and most other purposes. This is much like Harvard, where bright, rather "pure" colors aren't for everyday wearing, especially by 20th and 21st century American males.

I have a BA and a MA from the University of Washington. Its school colors are purple and gold, voted by the students in 1892 who were inspired by the first stanza of Lord Byron's The Destruction of Sennacherib. The colors shown above were those I experienced when I was there. As this indicates, those are the colors to be used for Web applications.

On the other hand for "branding" purposes, this color palette is now official, and is about what you see on the hoodie above, with the purple a bit lighter. This washed-out purple and gold color set is comparatively recent and is tied, I think, to the marketing of clothing for students and sports fans. I prefer the stronger colors aesthetically, but don't buy UW color clothing because (1) I don't think I look right in purple, and (2) I earned my right to be an Ivy League snob, and so prefer Penn colors.

Down the road at the University of Oregon, the colors are green and gold, like those of my high school in Seattle. Oregon sports teams are called the Ducks, so many years ago Disney artists created a fighting Donald Duck in Oregon colors as a kind of team mascot.

Even an angry Donald Duck is not very terrifying. So as Oregon grew to become a national football power over the last 15 years or so, the Donald was de-emphasized and the colors shifted, at least for athletic and logo clothing purposes. Shown above is what seems to be current. The green has been blackened and the gold turned into a yellow. The gray items (not an official color) represent duck feathers.

Farther down the coast is UCLA. It seems that all University of California branches use forms of blue and gold, but these vary from campus to campus, with UCLA favoring something like a horizon blue, sometimes even a little lighter than on the hoodie seen here.

Yet darker blues are also seen around UCLA, blues suspiciously near those found up north in Berkeley. Apparently that's legit, as this color guide states. The paler blue is favored, but a darker shade is considered okay as a "secondary" version. Both color set variations are wearable, so unlike Harvard and Penn and, to perhaps a lesser degree at Washington and Oregon, the avoidance of strong colors did not seem to be a consideration at UCLA.

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