By Debbie Phillips
Orange—the color of fire, autumn leaves, summer sunsets, and anything connected with UT Knoxville.
It’s an unlikely color for things like furniture, fine china, or carpet. Blasphemous as it is, color expert Ralph Fabri calls orange “obnoxious.”
There aren’t even any words in the English language that rhyme with orange. But love it or hate it, orange is everywhere—particularly this year as it comes back into vogue.
The trivia-minded might ponder how UT stumbled on orange
According to official lore, the first president of UT’s athletic association, Charles Moore, chose team colors of orange and white in 1889. He got the idea from the daisies that grew on campus. Time marches on though, and buildings and parking lots have replaced the daisies. But orange has stayed with us.
To be truthful, the daisies were more yellow than orange anyway. And the official UT orange hue has changed with the years. Now it is a warm, bright shade, but still with plenty of yellow, not the red-orange of that other UT (Texas). Orange you glad you asked?
The captain of the UT football team in 1922, Roy “Pap” Striegel, updated UT’s colors. Until then the team wore black jerseys with orange and white bands on the sleeves. Pap urged the coach to change to orange jerseys with white numbers. The rest is history.
According to Gary Williford, director of UT’s Graphic Arts Service, his print shop buys about 175 five-pound cans of orange ink a year—Pantone ink matching system color number 021 to be exact.
“Everyone uses orange ink for spot color on their print pieces—not just the athletic department. Well, everyone but UT Chattanooga. We switched to the official orange, PMS 021, in 1982. We had three shades of orange before then. One was a deep red orange, another was a brown orange, and the other was a real bright orange,” Williford said.
Ted Williams has been designing publications, orange and otherwise, for the University since 1964.
“It’s an antagonistic, annoying color—even more so than red—but I love it. We had problems when the different printers that we used mixed the ink from formulas. We’d get different colors every time. That’s one reason we switched to a pre-mixed, standard ink color from the factory.”
Astrology freaks and new age mystics say orange has the power to endow self-confidence and bravery. They advise wearing it when you feel weak and insecure (to a tax audit perhaps).
Orange is the color of the astrological sign Leo, which rules the heart. Oddly enough, though, orange-tinted crystals like citrine are said among believers to cure problems with kidneys, infertility, and a host of other ailments nowhere near the heart.
Colors mean different things to different people
According to Heline, Cosmic law dictates that orange symbolizes predominant intellect—unless it’s orange mixed with brick red. In that case, it only indicates “a low type of mental cunning.”
Color is a function of technology. Before processes for producing orange inks and dyes, people relied on plants for color. Frances Louisa Goodrich, author of Mountain Homespun, says Coreopsis Major, commonly known as “yellow dye flower,” is a beautiful, fast dye for wool. In spite of its name, it leaves an orange rather than yellow hue. Basket weavers traditionally used “bloodroot,” or Sanguinaria Canadensis roots, to dye the splints of their baskets a bright orange.
Carrots are orange because their cells have one pigment, orange carotenoids. Citrus-fruite oranges are that hue because of a combination of pigments like yellow oil, yellow and red plastids, red cell sap, and the yellow waxy peel.
Oranges are good for things besides eating or lobbing at UT athletic teams. Scientists have recently discovered a way to make nontoxic degreasing solvent of use in electronics industries from the humble orange peel.
Since UT adopted orange, alumni and friends have been finding a multitude of ways to display their collegiate colors. Big Orange garden and floral enthusiasts need only look as far as their own backyard for a spot of that pulse-quickening hue. Due to popular demand, commercial rose breeders have developed several orange roses under names like Bing Crosby, Gypsy, and Voodoo. And spring favorites like azaleas and tulips come in orange tones also.
UT supporters aren’t the only ones interested in orange flowers. Studies show that green bottle flies and blow flies choose orange flowers over blue and purple when deciding where to stop and rest or eat.
Orange enthusiasts don’t have to limit themselves to passively experiencing orange. Travel is always exciting. Why not a quick jaunt to Orange, Brazil; Orange, France; Orange County, California; Orange County, North Carolina; or Orange County, Virginia?
Orange as decorative touch
Closer to the heart of the orange issue, home owners in the Knoxville area often turn to stained glass artists to add a special decorator touch to their environment.
“We do a lot of orange and white,” says glass designer Jo Marie Brotherton. “People put it in doorways with leaded glass. There’s a big switch away from pastels and back to earth tones, so orange works well for that reason, too.”
Professionals like doctors or lawyers who can afford custom glass windows are likely customers, she says. “Most people with special ties to the University want a signature piece in their home that reflects who they are, where they came from, and what their loyalties and interests are. Even though orange has a certain stigma attached to it from an interior design standpoint, the color reminds people of the good times they had in school.
“One man wanted a sign that said ‘Go Vols’ in faceted orange and white glass in his contemplative room—his bathroom,” Brotherton said.
Choosing a custom stained glass window isn’t for the indecisive. Brotherton has “sample boxes upon sample boxes” of shades of orange glass.
The shifting winds of fashion have brought orange back to popularity in wearing apparel. This year the fashion conscious, alumni or not, are wearing more orange. Maybe it was the brightly decked-out Joker in the smash-hit movie Batman who started the orange craze for 1990.
Talbots, an international women’s catalog and retail clothing store, is offering blouses, suits, pants, and dresses in bright orange.
Men’s clothing isn’t quite so trendy. But Jerry Whittaker of Knoxville’s John H. Daniels tailors says orange sport jackets are in steady demand.
“We keep orange blazers on the rack, and we keep an orange hopsack blazer fabric in stock for custom suit jackets. It’s a wool blend, because most men want to wear them to football games in the fall. We sell to alumni groups and organizations that support the University. I can usually tell when I see an orange blazer if it’s one of ours,” Whittaker said.
But don’t expect to see orange on the road any time soon
Steve West (Knoxville ’69) is owner of West Chevrolet between Knoxville and Alcoa. He thinks it will be awhile before orange cars are in demand.
“We had a big orange Chevy truck promo back in the ’70s. We were running the special right about the time North Texas State beat us (in football). That’s the last time we did that.”
Volkswagen microbuses, Beetles, and Chevy Corvettes produced during the early ’70s are among the few orange cars regularly offered to the public. West says ’50s-style colors are coming back, so if you can wait a few years, you might see more orange autos.
Ever searching for new ways to keep the faith, alumni also have turned to neon. While the concept of neon orange may seem redundant, neon artists get plenty of work from UT supporters.
There isn’t an orange gas to make an orange color. Neon gas is forced into glass tubes that are painted green on the inside to make orange.
Like stained glass, custom neon sculpture and signs aren’t cheap. Those who have wanted to see the light—the orange light—have commissioned things like three-foot high UT initials and “Go Vols” signs.
Ancient Egyptians used dream symbolism based on color, but they had no meaning for orange. They believed brilliant red symbolized ardent love and deep yellow jealousy and deceit. So you could surmise that orange, a combination of yellow and red, stands for ardent jealousy or loving deceit.
Cherokee Indians used color symbolism to indicate compass directions and to tell the future. They only used blue, red, black, and white. Would orange have sent them to Knoxville?
In an ironic rags to riches tale, the UT bookstore, long respected as one of the nation’s largest repositories of orange objects, had its beginnings due to the athletic department. Way, way back in time, the athletic department was in a state of impoverishment, so it started a bookstore to raise money. Athletics no longer looks to the bookstore for funding, and the bookstore has expanded its range of goods.
Among the more unique orange items available for purchase are sleep shirts and matching night caps (complete with “I’ll Volunteer” embroidered above the chest), boxer shorts, baby bibs, toilet paper, clocks, football-shaped pocketbooks, laundry bags, dog sweaters, sunglasses, lamps, chairs, ties, pens, earrings, tire covers, and golf club covers.
But there’s a distinct lack or orange on the UT diploma. It’s a stuffy looking document, printed in black ink on ivory parchment.
Even so, Knoxville alumni never forget. Their blood runs orange.
Photography by Nick Myers