This Is Why Red Carpets Are Red

The tradition dates back to ancient Greece. Who knew?

Awards season is upon us, and you know what that means: It's the Super Bowl of watching your favorite celebrities strut and stroll down the red carpet, unveiling their stunning dresses and dapper tuxedos like exotic birds. Nothing on TV rivals it in terms of glitz, glamor, and majesty. But why, exactly, was red chosen as the preferred color of the walkways of the rich and famous? After all, purple is the color that is most often associated with royalty and prestige. Red? That's most often associated with passion and desire.

Well, it turns out that the tradition of red carpets goes back a really long way—all the way to ancient Greece, where both red and purple were reserved for the nobility, as it was rare and expensive. Only the wealthy could afford such bold colors, while the lower classes were stuck with plainer garb. As such, it is perhaps no surprise that the first known reference to the "red carpet" as we use the term today is found in the 458 BC play Agamemnon by Aeschylus. (When the title character returns from Troy, his extremely peeved wife Clytemnestra rolls out a crimson path for him to walk on as he steps off his chariot, he responds with, "I am a mortal, a man; I cannot trample upon these tinted splendors without fear thrown in my path.")

During the Byzantine Empire, red was adopted as the color of majesty and authority by the Roman Catholic Church, as it became associated with not only the power of kings but also the blood of Christ. As such, you'll notice that many medieval and Renaissance paintings feature Jesus and other saints wearing red, including Da Vinci's iconic "The Last Supper."

But the red carpet in its most modern incarnation first came into being in 1902, when the New York City Railroad used crimson carpets to welcome passengers on an express, upper-class train from New York to Chicago. (That's believed to be the origin of the "red-carpet treatment.")

Twenty years later, a long, crimson carpet was rolled out in front of the Egyptian Theater for the Hollywood premier of the movie Robin Hood, setting a precedent for all other movie premiers. It wasn't until 1961, however, that the red carpet was unfurled at the 33rd Academy Awards at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Three years later, the decision was made to film the stars arriving to the venue, and thus, the tradition was born. And if you're walking a red carpet yourself some time soon, don't miss these 50 Ways to Look Red Carpet Ready.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more