Let loose the puce


A squished flea may be the inspiration behind the colour puce

‘Tis the season to let loose the puce – and the rest of the shades on the pink-lilac continuum. An over abundance of these shades creates a cacophony of ugliness only equaled by the ‘toys for girls’ aisle of the local big-box-toy-store. Puce hides amongst the pink hearts and flowery sentiments created to sell cards and fancy underpants, but unlike bubble gum pink, puce has a bloody story behind it like magenta, tyrian purple and cochineal red (and surly we can all manage more than just one romantic day a year).

Puce’ brings thoughts of something putrid or rotten to my mind, the word sounds unpleasant to me. Like being up to ones elbows working in ground beef, perhaps to make a meatloaf, only to discover the meat is well past it’s expiry date. Or a colour to inflict on bridesmaids – which it often is (I didn’t do this to my bridesmaid).

Puce is a shade somewhere between a dark-purplish-brown and a dark-red and can even be a lighter red-purple. As described by Jude Stewart in her book Roy G. Biv, puce is “purplish brown reminiscent of raw chicken meat, prunes sweating in hot water, or the blood-filled French flea for which it is named.” Some say, it’s the colour of a blood-sated flea (however, no matter how much blood they eat, fleas stay the same colour). Perhaps, this colour comes from the bloody smear a squished flea makes, or is the colour of a flea’s blood-stained droppings.

Fashionable colours wax and wane over time – puce hit its high note at the court of the French queen Marie Antionette (1755-1793), perhaps because a flea’s hunger for blood was a metaphor dripping with sexual innuendo. This was also just after synthetic dyes were discovered by accident by a teenage chemist was attempting to make a synthetic quinine, the cure for malaria. Colours previously only available through complex and time-consuming manipulation of pigments requiring a dyer with the skills of an alchemist suddenly were available in large quantities. If you had the means, the shade of puce could grace your clothing, bedding, carpets, furniture, drapes and even the fabric covering your walls …. okay, maybe that’s puce overload.


This poppy could be described as puce

Shades along the pink-lilac continuum generally don’t make the list as anyones favourite colour – certainly not mine. I don’t hate these colours but only want to see it in small doses, like on a few poppies in a field, as too much pink is unsettling bringing to mind fairy princess castles combined with drunk-tanks and Pepto-bismol (okay there is a small minority of pink lovers out there, and if the colours from pink continuum works for you, embrace it).

Alternately, puce can be an intense green – a colour I would quite like.