It is remarkable that black and violet are more popular for clothing than green and blue, while yellow and brown are almost entirely missing. Black, above all black velvet undoubtedly represents the proud, somber splendor that the time loved, with its arrogant distance from the gay wealth of color found everywhere. Philip the Good, after having passed the days of his youth, always wore black and had his entourage and horses in the same color. The favorite colors of King René, even more eager for distinction and refinement, were gray-white-black.
The rare presence of blue and green should not, incidentally, be entirely regarded as a direct expression of the sense of color. More than the other colors, blue and green held symbolic significance and these meanings were so specific that they nearly rendered both colors unsuitable for regular clothing. Both were the colors of love: green symbolized the state of being in love, blue faithfulness. Or, better put, these two were in a very special way the colors of love, but the other colors could also serve in the symbolism of love. Deschamps says of a group of suitors:
Li uns se vest pour li de vert,
L’autre de bleu, l’autre de blanc,
L’autre s’en vest vermeil com sanc,
Et cilz qui plus la veult avoir
Pour son grant dueil s’en vest de noir.
But green was especially the color of young, hopeful Minne:
Il te fauldra de vert vestir,
C’est la livrée aux amoureulx.
It was therefore especially appropriate that knight-errants be dressed in green. A lover showed his faithfulness by wearing blue; for this reason, Christine de Pisan has the lady answer her suitor when he indicates his blue garment:
Au bleu vestir ne tient mie le fait,
N’a devises porter, d’amer sa dame,
Mais au servir de loyal cuer parfait
Elle sans plus, et la garder, de blasme
. . . Là gist l’amour, non pas au bleu porter,
Mais puet estre que plusieurs le meffait
De faulseté cuident couvrir soubz lame
Par bleu porter. . . .
This may perhaps explain why the color blue, if used with hypocritical intent, could also signify infidelity and why it, in a reverse leap of logic, signified not only the unfaithful individual but also the victim of unfaithfulness. In Holland, the blue Huik signified the adulteress, and the côté bleue is the dress of the cuckold:
Que cils qui m’a de cote bleue armé
Et fait monstrer au doy, soit occis.
Again, the above may be what lies behind the general use of blue as the color of folly—the blue boat is the vehicle of fools.
The fact that yellow and brown remained in the background may be explained by an aversion to their quality; that is, the unreflected sense of color gave them a negative symbolic meaning. In other words, yellow and brown were disliked because they were held to be ugly and, for that reason, were given an inauspicious meaning. A man trapped in an unhappy marriage would say:
Sur toute couleur j’ayme la tennée
Pour ce que je l’ayme m’en suys habillée,
Et touts les aultres ay mis en obly.
Hellas! mes amours ne sont ycy.
Or in another ditty:
Gris et tannée puis bien porter
Car ennuyée suis d’espérance.
Incidentally, gray, in contrast to brown, appears frequently in festive dress; as a color of sadness it possessed perhaps a more elegiac nuance than brown.
By this time, yellow already signified enmity. Henry of Württemberg and his entourage, all dressed in yellow, passed before the duke of Burgundy “et fut le due adverty que c’estoit contre luy.”