Being a hard-core natural rebel, my first thought was to challenge that. ‘Who says blue and green shouldn’t be seen?’ ‘What’s their authority?’ ‘what’s wrong with blue and green anyway?’
What I actually said was ‘Green and blue – that’ll do!’ making the subtle point that, just because you can make something rhyme it doesn’t mean that it’s true. And I went on my way, defiantly wearing green and blue. Or blue and green.
However, the incident, and the annoying little rhyme, stuck with me. Now, I’d be the first to admit that I’m not normally at the cutting edge of fashion. Quite the opposite, in fact. I often took a perverse pleasure in going against the flow of the currently common ideas of sartorial elegance. Back when flares where the in thing (and even Oxford bags were making a brief comeback – yes, I am that old), I was wearing drainpipe trousers. ‘My Dad’s more in fashion than you are!’ someone said to me, and I took it as a compliment.
My deep rooted inclination to go against the flow, clothing wise, nearly got me into a fight back in my Navy days. ‘Fashion is just a racket’ I declared, when being challenged about my out-of-touch appearance. ‘It’s just a way getting people to spend money on clothes they don’t need, to fit someone else’s idea of what they should be wearing.’
George, a big Geordie lad, took great exception to my opinion. (For those readers who may be from outside the UK, a Geordie is a native of North East England, particularly Tyneside. They speak with a distinctive accent and have a reputation for warm hospitality. Don’t argue with them about that, they’ll fight you to prove how hospitable they are). George had spend much of his life and most of his pay keeping up-do-date with the latest fashion trends. He was hugely proud of how great he looked when he dressed up to go ashore. My casual remark undermined his entire reason for living, and I had to back down pretty quick or I would have been wearing a lot less teeth than was either fashionable or practical.
So I learned to be more circumspect on the subject. And in later years, when I got married, my wife too charge of my appearance and made sure that my appearance in public would not embarrass her too greatly.
But I still wasn’t satisfied about the blue and green thing.
On investigation, I learned that, according to some sources, the full saying was:
‘Blue and green should not be seen, except with yellow in between.’
This didn’t really help. It was still a dictatorial infringement on my right to determine my own colour co-ordination, and another attempt to co-opt the power of rhyme for an unworthy cause. What I wanted to know was, where did this come from? Who decided that certain colours work and others don’t?
For most people, that’s not a question. It’s just obvious, and if you can’t see it, you must be colour blind. But that’s not a good enough answer for me. There has to be some reason why it has become generally accepted that some colours work together and some do not.
So here’s my theory. It was the Knights.
Back in the really old days, long before flares or even Oxford bags, the height of fashion, at least on a battlefield, was armour. Chain mail and a helmet, or later on steel plate. That was the thing to wear, not just to look cool but to give yourself a better chance when people started flailing around with sharp metal implements.
The downside of armour was that everyone wearing it looked much the same, especially as helmets began to cover more the face. And in the bloodstained confusion of a battle, it was very hard to work out who was on your side (that is, an ally who you shouldn’t attack) and who was the enemy (who you were supposed to attack). So the nobility, the knights in armour, began to develop a system of personal symbols by which they could be identified on the battlefield. So the theory goes, at any rate.
However, as the system of symbols developed, it became clear that some markings stood out better than others. Certain combinations of colours were more visible, more easily noticed and identified. And as heraldry became more organised, rules were put in place to govern what colours could be used with what other colours.
This became known as the Rule of Tinctures.
Under the Rule of Tinctures, the ‘metals’ - or (gold / yellow) and argent (silver / white) cannot be used together, but only with the ‘colours’ - gules (red), azure (blue), vert (green), sable (black) and purpure (purple). And of course the colours could not be used together.
There are other colours, of course, with their own special names and a huge number of additional rules and exceptions to rules. There are also many cases where the Rule of Tincture’s is either ignored or deliberately broken. The Pope, for example – his flag is gold and silver, a deliberate (and rather smug) choice to demonstrate that the Church is not bound by any human laws.
But a strict application of the Rule of Tinctures means that blue and green… should not be seen. Not on a coat of arms, not on a battlefield.
So that’s it. This stricture on wearing blue and green goes back to the need to be clearly identified on a medieval battlefield. At least, that’s my theory – and granted it’s just a theory, but it means that next time I’m criticised for my colour choice, I can say ‘Oh, that’s so thirteen hundreds!’ And in any case, I’m not expecting to go into battle over it. (Not unless I run into George again).
Still not convinced about blue and green? Well then, I suggest you take a walk out into the woods in springtime, and have a look for some bluebells. If you get lucky, you’ll find a beautiful carpet of blue on green, looking quite wonderful without any regard for human rules or fashionable trends.
Blue and green can often be seen, and it works very well indeed.