Why Louisiana Loves The Color Purple

From Mardi Gras to the LSU Tigers, we trace the color purple through Louisiana’s loud and vibrant history.

Fleur de Lys and Beads
Photo: Kathryn8/Getty Images

From the bead-draped balconies of New Orleans to Baton Rouge's sea of LSU fans, there's no denying that Louisianans have a thing for purple.

Though the exact reason for The Pelican State's predilection for the color is hard to pinpoint, most clues point to New Orleans and a little party known as Mardi Gras.

According to research by local historian Errol Flynn Laborde cited by MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, purple has been a part of the fabric of The Big Easy since 1872, when Rex declared purple, green, and gold the official colors of the Mardi Gras parade honoring the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanoff.

Fast forward a few decades to 1905, when pharmacists Gustave Katz and Sydney Besthoff Sr. opened the first Katz & Besthoff pharmacy in New Orleans. The pharmacy chain, whose name was officially shortened to K&B in 1977, went on to become a New Orleans institution, known for its purple-colored products and logo.

According the Gambit, the signature color came about when Besthoff's wife got a good deal on a batch of oddly colored purple wrapping paper to package the store's goods. Today, though the chain was sold to Rite-Aid in 1997, people still refer to that bold, bright hue as "K&B purple."

In a recent essay forApartment Therapy, writer Megan Braden-Perry reflected on the New Orleans of her childhood, how K&B's colorful legacy lives on there, and how its residents have always seen purple in a way most other cities don't.

"Many outsiders see purple as a color that's whimsical, bold, and maybe a little luxurious," Braden-Perry writes. "But in New Orleans, it's more like a common comfort—because it's everywhere."

In Baton Rouge in 1893, the LSU Tigers had their own color-related decision to make: they needed ribbon for their first uniforms.

In an article written by Dr. Charles Coates for the LSU Alumni News in 1937, Coates, who served as the school's first football coach, explained how Mardi Gras is to thank for the team's colors.

"I knew we had to have some colors so Ruff Pleasant, who was later governor of Louisiana, a couple of other men and I went to Reymond's store, at that time at the corner of Third and Main streets. We told them we wanted quite a lot of ribbon for colors, but no one knew what our colors were," Coates recalled. "It happened that the store was stocking ribbon for the coming Carnival season and had a large supply of purple and gold. The green had not yet come in. So, we adopted the purple and old gold, bought out the stock, and made it into rosettes and badges. Purple and old gold made a good combination and we have stuck to it ever since."

More than 100 years later, purple has made its way into nearly every crevice of Louisiana culture. Along the way, purple has come to symbolize a shared nostalgia for a time that "ain't there no more." As Times-Picayune writer, Mike Scott, mused back in 2017, it's a color that "might be ugly if it wasn't just so darn beautiful."

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  1. NOLA. com. The man who chose LSU’s colors and nickname explains how and why.

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