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What does color symbolize in clothes in film?

Color is a powerful tool in visual storytelling, including in films. The colors that characters wear are often chosen deliberately to symbolize certain traits, set a mood, or hint at themes. Looking at the use of color in costume design can give insight into a film’s deeper meanings.


The color red has intense, passionate associations. Red clothing is often used in films to symbolize aggression, sexuality, anger, danger, revolution, and sacrifice. For example:

  • Scarlett O’Hara wears a red dress to the barbecue at Twelve Oaks in Gone with the Wind, showing her vivacious and determined personality.
  • The red cloak Little Red Riding Hood wears symbolizes her youthful innocence in danger from the predatory wolf.
  • In The Matrix, Morpheus and others wear red pills to represent making the dangerous choice to learn the truth and fight the system.
  • In Schindler’s List, a little girl wearing a red coat stands out, representing the innocent victims of the Holocaust.


Blue often represents tranquility, sadness, wisdom, loyalty, and truth. Examples of symbolic blue clothing in films include:

  • In The Virgin Suicides, the Lisbon sisters wear light blue, symbolizing their tragic repression and melancholy.
  • Bridget Jones wears blue on days when she feels depressed in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
  • Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen wears a blue suit representing his melancholy detachment from humanity.
  • Elsa’s blue dress in Frozen hints at her cool magical powers and aloofness.


Green has connotations of renewal, freshness, jealousy, greed, and poison. Examples of symbolic green costumes include:

  • Daisy’s green dress and Jordan’s green car in The Great Gatsby represent the longing for money.
  • Loki’s green and gold costume in The Avengers hints at his jealousy and mischief.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West wears green symbolizing her poisonous envy in The Wizard of Oz.
  • Trinity wears a green jacket representing her role as a hacker renewing the world of The Matrix.


The color yellow is often associated with joy, optimism, idealism, warning, and deceit. In film costuming yellow can symbolize:

  • Belle’s yellow ball gown in Beauty and the Beast shows her optimism and joy.
  • The yellow brick road leads Dorothy optimistically ahead in The Wizard of Oz.
  • The yellow of Hazmat suits warn of danger in outbreak films like Contagion.
  • The yellow yolk represents the idealistic hope of a rebirth in Melancholia.


White clothing represents purity, innocence, cleanliness, and sometimes emptiness. Symbolic white costuming includes:

  • The white dress Marilyn Monroe wears over the subway grate in The Seven Year Itch combines purity and eroticism.
  • Alex wears white in A Clockwork Orange before his violent programming, representing his innocence.
  • Katharine Hepburn wears only white representing her virtuous independence in The Philadelphia Story.
  • The sterile white of the lab coats in THX 1138 depicts a cold, empty future.


Black clothing represents darkness, morbidity, rebellion, and mystery. Symbolic black costumes include:

  • The black suit and glasses of the agents in The Matrix represents their ominous conformity.
  • Johnnie wears black leather and rides a motorcycle symbolizing his rebelliousness in Rebel Without a Cause.
  • Dracula’s black cape represents the sinister unknown in horror films.
  • The black dress of the widow in The Lovely Bones conveys grief and loss.

Costume Colors Reflect Character Arcs and Themes

Looking at how a character’s clothing color changes over the course of a film can provide insight into their emotional or psychological development. For example:

  • In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy transitions from gingham blue representing her mundane life to the colorful Oz representing a fantastical dream world.
  • In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly first appears in a black Givenchy gown showing her sophistication, and later wears red symbolizing her passion.
  • In The Devil Wears Prada, Andy transitions from dowdy blue sweaters to stylish black and white representing losing her innocence.

Costume color also helps establish visual motifs that reinforce central themes and ideas in a film. Recurring instances of red might emphasize themes of passion, or white might tie into ideas of purity.

Color Communicates Mood and Emotion

Color choice in costuming also serves to communicate subtle moods or emotional states. A character wearing darker, muted colors might visually establish a somber tone. Bright, saturated colors can enhance a sense of joy or intensity. Cool colors like blue and green can suggest calmness or melancholy. Soft pastels might convey innocence and romance.

Color and Meaning are Culturally Relative

It’s important to note that color symbolism is culturally determined and subjective. Red might signify happiness or good fortune in China, while white represents death in some Asian countries. So costume color meanings depend on the cultural context. Even within the same culture, interpretations can vary depending on an individual’s subjective perceptions and associations.

Set Design Colors Complement Costume Colors

Color schemes in a film’s sets, props, and backgrounds are generally designed to coordinate with costume colors. Analyzing how the production design’s color palette interacts with clothing color can reveal deeper symbolic dimensions. For instance, a character wearing a red dress surrounded by an environment dominated by blue tones would stand out visually, perhaps suggesting their psychological isolation.


Costume colors provide a subtle yet powerful visual language in cinema. Deliberate color symbolism in clothing selections helps convey characters’ traits, set moods, foreshadow themes, communicate emotions, and reveal transformations over the course of a film. Paying attention to color patterns in costumes, in coordination with colors in the overall production design, can add deeper metaphorical resonance to the visual storytelling of movies.

Color Common Symbolism in Film Example Movies and Characters
Red Passion, aggression, danger Little Red Riding Hood, The Matrix, Schindler’s List
Blue Sadness, wisdom, calm The Virgin Suicides, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Frozen
Green Envy, greed, renewal The Great Gatsby, The Avengers, The Matrix
Yellow Joy, optimism, warning Beauty and the Beast, The Wizard of Oz, Contagion
White Purity, innocence, emptiness The Seven Year Itch, A Clockwork Orange, The Philadelphia Story
Black Darkness, rebellion, mystery The Matrix, Rebel Without a Cause, The Lovely Bones

Analyzing the deliberate color symbolism and motifs in the costumes of film characters provides insight into personalities, relationships, themes, and emotional journeys. Costume color is an impactful cinematic storytelling technique.