I find myself surrounded in the colour purple. It wasn’t something I did consciously but in the last few months I’ve gathered purples and violets and lavenders and mauves around me. My bed sheets, the velour throw on the couch, my phone cover. My towel, my glasses, my hair.
The hair was deliberate: if it’s going to fall out, I may as well have some fun with it. The night before my appointment I saw a woman on TV with pastel purple hair , so that’s what I did.
We have video phones at work. When an older male colleague rang the other day, he asked “royal or ecclesiastic?”. I laughed, neither fit me.
I remember learning that purple was associated with royalty & the church because for a long time only they could afford the very expensive dye, made from the shells of hundreds of thousands of molluscs. Apparently their robes always smelt fishy as a result, which seems apt.
Having a favourite colour seems faintly ridiculous once you’re out of childhood, but there’s no doubt I’ve always had an affinity with the colour purple. This isn’t even the first time I’ve had purple hair, although last time it was a more subtle eggplant, not the colour of the Cadbury Easter Bunny.
When I was 16 years old, I had a grand mal epileptic seizure on a school outing to the movie The Color Purple. They stopped the movie because of me. I remember coming around and being worried my blouse was exposing my stomach. Even out cold, my teenage self-consciousness dominated my brain. I don’t remember when I got to see the end of the movie, but it and the book are both on my all-time faves list, and I know what Shug Avery means about walking past the color purple without noticing it!
For a long time one of my favourite possessions was a length of purple sequins that we’d use to decorate for parties. Cosplay wasn’t really a thing when I was growing up, but I’ve always loved a chance to ‘fancy dress’, and those sequins certainly set a tone.
I can’t separate my love of purple from my love of The Purple One, Prince. His music is never off rotation. If I need a pick me up, his music will do it every time. Seeing him live—the Diamonds and Pearls tour—remains one of the most electrifying experiences of my life. I’m still kicking myself for not going to one of his shows at the 02 when I first arrived in London in 2007…at the time I had no job and hardly any savings, so it seemed like a foolish expense. O foolish me, I thought there would be other chances!
Purple is, of course, associated with women’s suffrage. When I started a consultancy business in my thirties I made the logo purple and green (deep eggplant and pistachio, to be precise) in a nod to that association: feminism is intrinsic to me: I believe everyone is equal, so of course I want equality for women. The ‘battle’ metaphor for cancer doesn’t sit well with me, but I do feel purple connotes strength: maybe that’s part of the current attraction I feel. It’s also traditionally associated with healing, psychic powers and mysticism but not so much in my mind.
Colour theorists note that purple can be both warm and cool, depending on the mix of red and blue, and it combines stimulation and calm. It’s also is the last colour on the spectrum. It can be joyous and vital, or bruised and broken.
Purple is also the colour of eccentrics, a status to which I aspire. Part of the purple hair is a bit of shoving two fingers at the world and saying “I no longer care what you think”. I first read Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning when I was about 19. Apparently, my time has come….
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.