Brown is a color. It can be considered a composite color, but it is mainly a darker shade of orange. In the CMYK color model used in printing and painting, brown is usually made by combining the colors orange and black.[1][2][3] In the RGB color model used to project colors onto television screens and computer monitors, brown combines red and green.

    Color coordinates
Hex triplet#804000
sRGBB (r, g, b)(128, 64, 0)
CMYKH (c, m, y, k)(0, 50, 100, 50)
HSV (h, s, v)(30°, 100%, 50%)
CIELChuv (L, C, h)(35, 60, 32°)
B: Normalized to [0–255] (byte)
H: Normalized to [0–100] (hundred)

The color brown is seen widely in nature, wood, soil, human hair color, eye color and skin pigmentation. Brown is the color of dark wood or rich soil.[4]

According to public opinion surveys in Europe and the United States, brown is the least favorite color of the public; it is often associated with plainness, the rustic, feces, and poverty,[5] although it does also have positive associations include baking, warmth, wildlife, and the autumn.


The term is from Old English brún, in origin for any dusky or dark shade of color. The first recorded use of brown as a color name in English was in 1000.[6][7] The Common Germanic adjectives *brûnoz and *brûnâ meant both dark colors and a glistening or shining quality, whence burnish. The current meaning developed in Middle English from the 14th century.[8]

Words for the color brown around the world often come from foods or beverages; in the eastern Mediterranean, the word for brown often comes from the color of coffee: in Turkish, the word for brown is kahve rengi; in Greek, kafé. In Portuguese, Spanish and French, the word for brown or for a specific shade of brown is derived from the word for chestnut (castanea in Latin). In Southeast Asia, the color name often comes from chocolate: coklat in Malay; tsokolate in Filipino. In Japan, the word chairo means the color of tea.[9]

History and art

Ancient history

Brown has been used in art since prehistoric times. Paintings using umber, a natural clay pigment composed of iron oxide and manganese oxide, have been dated to 40,000 BC.[10] Paintings of brown horses and other animals have been found on the walls of the Lascaux cave dating back about 17,300 years. The female figures in ancient Egyptian tomb paintings have brown skin, painted with umber. Light tan was often used on painted Greek amphorae and vases, either as a background for black figures, or the reverse.

The Ancient Greeks and Romans produced a fine reddish-brown ink, of a color called sepia, made from the ink of a variety of cuttlefish. This ink was used by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and other artists during the Renaissance, and by artists up until the present time.

In Ancient Rome, brown clothing was associated with the lower classes or barbarians. The term for the plebeians, or urban poor, was "pullati", which meant literally "those dressed in brown".[11]

Post-classical history

In the Middle Ages brown robes were worn by monks of the Franciscan order, as a sign of their humility and poverty. Each social class was expected to wear a color suitable to their station; and grey and brown were the colors of the poor. Russet was a coarse homespun cloth made of wool and dyed with woad and madder to give it a subdued grey or brown shade. By the statute of 1363, poor English people were required to wear russet. The medieval poem Piers Plowman describes the virtuous Christian:[12]

And is gladde of a goune of a graye russet
As of a tunicle of Tarse or of trye scarlet.

In the Middle Ages dark brown pigments were rarely used in art; painters and book illuminators artists of that period preferred bright, distinct colors such as red, blue and green, rather than dark colors. The umbers were not widely used in Europe before the end of the fifteenth century; The Renaissance painter and writer Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) described them as being rather new in his time.[13]

Artists began using far greater use of browns when oil painting arrived in the late fifteenth century. During the Renaissance, artists generally used four different browns; raw umber, the dark brown clay mined from the earth around Umbria, in Italy; raw sienna, a reddish-brown earth mined near Siena, in Tuscany; burnt umber, the Umbrian clay heated until it turned a darker shade, and burnt sienna, heated until it turned a dark reddish brown. In Northern Europe, Jan van Eyck featured rich earth browns in his portraits to set off the brighter colors.

17th and 18th century

The 17th and 18th century saw the greatest use of brown. Caravaggio and Rembrandt Van Rijn used browns to create chiaroscuro effects, where the subject appeared out of the darkness. Rembrandt also added umber to the ground layers of his paintings because it promoted faster drying. Rembrandt also began to use new brown pigment, called Cassel earth or Cologne earth. This was a natural earth color composed of over ninety percent organic matter, such as soil and peat. It was used by Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, and later became commonly known as Van Dyck brown.

19th and 20th century

Brown was generally hated by the French impressionists, who preferred bright, pure colors. The exception among French 19th-century artists was Paul Gauguin, who created luminous brown portraits of the people and landscapes of French Polynesia.

In the late 20th century, brown became a common symbol in western culture for simple, inexpensive, natural and healthy. Bag lunches were carried in plain brown paper bags; packages were wrapped in plain brown paper. Brown bread and brown sugar were viewed as more natural and healthy than white bread and white sugar.

Brown in science and nature


Brown is a dark orange color, made by combining red, yellow and black.[14] It can be thought of as dark orange, but it can also be made in other ways. In the RGB color model, which uses red, green and blue light in various combinations to make all the colors on computer and television screens, it is made by mixing red and green light.

In terms of the visible spectrum, "brown" refers to long wavelength hues, yellow, orange, or red, in combination with low luminance or saturation.[15] Since brown may cover a wide range of the visible spectrum, composite adjectives are used such as red brown, yellowish brown, dark brown or light brown.

As a color of low intensity, brown is a tertiary color: a mix of the three subtractive primary colors is brown if the cyan content is low. Brown exists as a color perception only in the presence of a brighter color contrast.[16] Yellow, orange, red, or rose objects are still perceived as such if the general illumination level is low, despite reflecting the same amount of red or orange light as a brown object would in normal lighting conditions.

Brown pigments, dyes and inks

  • Raw umber and burnt umber are two of the oldest pigments used by humans. Umber is a brown clay, containing a large amount of iron oxide and between five and twenty percent manganese oxide, which give the color. Its shade varies from a greenish brown to a dark brown. It takes its name from the Italian region of Umbria, where it was formerly mined. The principal source today is the island of Cyprus. Burnt umber is the same pigment which has been roasted (calcined), which turns the pigment darker and more reddish.[18]
  • Raw sienna and burnt sienna are also clay pigments rich in iron oxide, which were mined during the Renaissance around the city of Siena in Tuscany. Sienna contains less than five percent manganese. The natural sienna earth is a dark yellow ochre color; when roasted it becomes a rich reddish brown called burnt sienna.[18]
  • Mummy brown was a pigment used in oil paints made from ground Egyptian mummies.[19]
  • Caput mortuum is a haematite iron oxide pigment, used in painting. The name is also used in reference to mummy brown.
  • Van Dyck brown, known in Europe as Cologne earth or Cassel earth, is another natural earth pigment, that was made up largely of decayed vegetal matter. It made a rich dark brown, and was widely used during the Renaissance to the 19th century It takes its name from the painter Anthony van Dyck, but it was used by many other artists before him. It was highly unstable and unreliable, so its use was abandoned by the 20th century, though the name continues to be used for modern synthetic pigments. The color of Van Dyck brown can be recreated by mixing ivory black with mauve or with Venetian red, or mixing cadmium red with cobalt blue.[20]
  • Mars brown. The names of the earth colors are still used, but very few modern pigments with these names actually contain natural earths; most of their ingredients today are synthetic.[18] Mars brown is typical of these new colors, made with synthetic iron oxide pigments. The new colors have a superior coloring power and opacity, but not the delicate hue as their namesakes.[18]
  • Walnuts have been used to make a brown dye since antiquity. The Roman writer Ovid, in the first century BC described how the Gauls used the juice of the hull or husk inside the shell of the walnut to make a brown dye for wool, or a reddish dye for their hair.[21]
  • The chestnut tree has also been used since ancient times as a source brown dye. The bark of the tree, the leaves and the husk of the nuts have all been used to make dye. The leaves were used to make a beige or yellowish-brown dye, and in the Ottoman Empire the yellow-brown from chestnut leaves was combined with indigo blue to make shades of green.[22]

Brown eyes

With few exceptions, all mammals have brown or darkly-pigmented irises.[23] In humans, brown eyes result from a relatively high concentration of melanin in the stroma of the iris, which causes light of both shorter and longer wavelengths to be absorbed[24][25] and in many parts of the world, it is nearly the only iris color present.[26] Dark pigment of brown eyes is most common in East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, Oceania, Africa, Americas, etc. as well as parts of Eastern Europe and Southern Europe.[27] The majority of people in the world overall have dark brown eyes. Light or medium-pigmented brown eyes are common in Europe, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Northern India, as well as some parts of the Middle East. (See eye color).

Brown hair

Brown is the second most common color of human hair, after black. It is caused by higher levels of the natural dark pigment eumelanin, and lower levels of the pale pigment pheomelanin. Brown eumelanin is more common among Europeans, while black eumelanin is more often found in the hair on non-Europeans. A small amount of black eumelanin, in the absence of other pigments, results in grey hair. A small amount of brown eumelanin in the absence of other pigments results in blond hair.

Brown skin

A majority of people in the world have skin that is a shade of brown, from a very light honey brown or a golden brown, to a copper or bronze color, to a coffee color or a dark chocolate brown. Skin color and race are not the same; many people classified as "white" or "black" actually have skin that is a shade of brown. Brown skin is caused by melanin, a natural pigment which is produced within the skin in cells called melanocytes. Skin pigmentation in humans evolved to primarily regulate the amount of ultraviolet radiation penetrating the skin, controlling its biochemical effects.[28]

Natural skin color can darken as a result of tanning due to exposure to sunlight. The leading theory is that skin color adapts to intense sunlight irradiation to provide partial protection against the ultraviolet fraction that produces damage and thus mutations in the DNA of the skin cells.[29] There is a correlation between the geographic distribution of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and the distribution of indigenous skin pigmentation around the world. Darker-skinned populations are found in the regions with the most ultraviolet, closer to the equator, while lighter skinned populations live closer to the poles, with less UVR, though immigration has changed these patterns.[30]

While white and black are commonly used to describe racial groups, brown is rarely used, because it crosses all racial lines. In Brazil, the Portuguese word pardo, which can mean different shades of brown, is used to refer to multiracial people. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) asks people to identify themselves as branco (white), pardo (brown), negro (black), or amarelo (yellow). In 2008 43.8 percent of the population identified themselves as pardo.[31] (See human skin color).


The thin top layer of the Earth's crust on land is largely made up of soil colored different shades of brown.[32] Good soil is composed of about forty-five percent minerals, twenty-five percent water, twenty-five percent air, and five percent organic material, living and dead. Half the color of soil comes from minerals it contains; soils containing iron turn yellowish or reddish as the iron oxidizes. Manganese, nitrogen and sulfur turn brownish or blackish as they decay naturally.

Rich and fertile soils tend to be darker in color; the deeper brown color of fertile soil comes from the decomposing of the organic matter. Dead leaves and roots become black or brown as they decay. Poorer soils are usually paler brown in color, and contain less water or organic matter.

  • Mollisols are the soil type found under grassland in the Great Plains of America, the Pampas in Argentina and the Russian Steppes. The soil is 60–80 centimeters deep and is rich in nutrients and organic matter.
  • Loess is a type of pale yellow or buff soil, which originated as wind-blown silt. It is very fertile, but is easily eroded by wind or water.
  • Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation, whose decomposition is slowed by water. Despite its dark brown color, it is infertile, but is useful as a fuel.

Mammals and birds

A large number of mammals and predatory birds have a brown coloration. This sometimes changes seasonally, and sometimes remains the same year-round. This color is likely related to camouflage, since the backdrop of some environments, such as the forest floor, is often brown, and especially in the spring and summertime when animals like the snowshoe hare get brown fur. Most mammals are dichromats and so do not easily distinguish brown fur from green grass.

  • The brown rat or Norwegian rat (Rattus norvegicus) is one of the best known and most common rats.
  • The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is a large bear distributed across much of northern Eurasia and North America.
  • The ermine (Mustela erminea) has a brown back in summer, or year-round in the southern reaches of its range.


  • The solid waste excreted by human beings and many other animals is characteristically brown in color due to the presence of bilirubin, a byproduct of destruction of red blood cells.

Brown in culture

Surveys in Europe and the United States showed that brown was the least popular color among respondents. It was the favorite color of only one percent of respondents and the least favorite color of twenty percent of people.[33]

Brown uniforms

Brown has been a popular color for military uniforms since the late 18th century, largely because of its wide availability and low visibility. When the Continental Army was established in 1775 at the outbreak of the American Revolution, the first Continental Congress declared that the official uniform color would be brown, but this was not popular with many militias, whose officers were already wearing blue. In 1778 the Congress asked George Washington to design a new uniform, and in 1779 Washington made the official color of all uniforms blue and buff.[34]

In 1846 the Indian soldiers of the Corps of Guides in British India began to wear a yellowish shade of tan, which became known as khaki from the Urdu word for dust-colored, taken from an earlier Persian word for soil. The color made an excellent natural camouflage, and was adopted by the British Army for their Abyssian Campaign in 1867–1868, and later in the Boer War. It was adopted by the United States Army during the Spanish–American War (1896), and afterwards by the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps.

In the 1920s, brown became the uniform color of the Nazi Party in Germany. The Nazi paramilitary organization the Sturmabteilung (SA) wore brown uniforms and were known as the brownshirts. The color brown was used to represent the Nazi vote on maps of electoral districts in Germany. If someone voted for the Nazis, they were said to be "voting brown". The national headquarters of the Nazi party, in Munich, was called the Brown House. The Nazi seizure of power in 1933 was called the Brown Revolution.[35] At Adolf Hitler's Obersalzberg home, the Berghof, he slept in a "bed which was usually covered by a brown quilt embroidered with a huge swastika.

The swastika also appeared on Hitler's brown satin pajamas, embroidered in black against a red background on the pocket. He had a matching brown silk robe."[36] Brown had originally been chosen as a Party color largely for convenience; large numbers of war-surplus brown uniforms from Germany's former colonial forces in Africa were cheaply available in the 1920s. It also suited the working-class and military images that the Party wished to convey.

From the 1930s onwards, the Party's brown uniforms were mass-produced by German clothing firms such as Hugo Boss.[37][38]


The color brown is said to represent ruggedness when used in advertising.[39] Pullman Brown[40] is the color of the United Parcel Service (UPS) delivery company with their trademark brown trucks and uniforms; it was earlier the color of Pullman rail cars of the Pullman Company, and was adopted by UPS both because brown is easy to keep clean, and due to favorable associations of luxury that Pullman brown evoked. UPS has filed two trademarks on the color brown to prevent other shipping companies (and possibly other companies in general) from using the color if it creates "market confusion". In its advertising, UPS refers to itself as "Brown" ("What can Brown do for you?").

Idioms and expressions

  • "To be brown as a berry" (to be deeply suntanned)
  • "To brown bag" a meal (to bring food from home to eat at work or school rather than patronizing an in-house cafeteria or a restaurant)
  • "To experience a brown out" (a partial loss of electricity, less severe than a blackout)
  • Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or under-used industrial and commercial facilities where redevelopment for infill housing is complicated by real or perceived environmental contaminations.[41]
  • '"Brown-nose" is a verb which means to be obsequious. It comes from the term for kissing the posterior of the boss in order to gain advancement.
  • "In a brown study" (melancholy).


  • In Wicca, brown represents endurance, solidity, grounding, and strength.[42] It is strongly associated with the element of earth.


In nature and culture

See also


  • Varichon, Anne (2005). Couleurs: pigments et teintures dans les mains des peuples (in French). Paris: Editions du Seuil. ISBN 978-2-02-084697-4.
  • Heller, Eva (2009). Psychologie de la couleur: effets et symboliques (in French). Munich: Pyramyd. ISBN 978-2-35017-156-2.

Notes and citations

  1. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, (2002), Oxford University Press.
  2. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language: "A combination of red, blue, and yellow."
  3. Oxford English Dictionaries On-LIne: "Of a colour produced by mixing red, yellow, and blue, as of dark wood or rich soil"
  4. Shorter Oxford English Dictionary; "of a colour produced by mixing red, yellow, and blue, as of dark wood or rich soil"
  5. Heller, Eva, Psychologie de la couleur' -effets et symboliiques, (2009), p. 212-223.
  6. first attested in The Metres of Boethius 26. 58, ca. AD 1000: stunede sio brune yd wid odre "One dark wave dashed against the other".
  7. Maerz and Paul A Dictionary of Color. New York:1930 McGraw-Hill, p. 191
  8. His hare [was] like to the nute brun, quen it for ripnes fals dun "his hair was like the nut brown, when for ripeness it falls down", Cursor M. 18833, ca. AD 1300, cited after OED.
  9. Omniglot- words for colors in different languages.
  10. Varichon, Couleurs – pigments et teintures dans les mains des peuples. p. 254.
  11. Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur: Effets et symboliques. p. 219
  12. R. H. Britnell (1986). Growth and decline in Colchester, 1300–1525. Cambridge University Press. pp. 55–77. ISBN 978-0-521-30572-3.
  13. Daniel V. Thompson, (1956), The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting, p. 88-89
  14. Shorter Oxford Dictionary, (2002).
  15. "Some Experiments on Color", Nature 111, 1871, in John William Strutt (Lord Rayleigh) (1899). Scientific Papers. University Press.
  16. "Color Vision", in Richard Feynman (1964). The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Addison Wesley Longman.
  17. G. M. Johnson and M. D. Fairchild, "Visual psychophysics and color appearance," (chapter) in CRC Digital Color Imaging Handbook, 115–171 (2003).
  18. Isabellle Roelofs and Fabien Petillion, La Couleur explquée aux artistes, p. 30.
  19. Eveleth, Rose. "Ground Up Mummies Were Once an Ingredient in Paint". Smithsonian. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  20. Isabellle Roelofs and Fabien Petillion, La Couleur explquée aux artistes, p. 148.
  21. Anne Varichon, Couleurs- pigments et teintures dans les mains des peuples, pp. 264–265
  22. Anne Varichon, Couleurs- pigments et teintures dans les mains des peuples, pp. 262–263
  23. Blue eyes in lemurs and humans: same phenotype, different genetic mechanism Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009
  24. Fox, Denis Llewellyn (1979). Biochromy: Natural Coloration of Living Things. University of California Press. p. 9. ISBN 0-520-03699-9.
  25. Eiberg H, Mohr J (1996). "Assignment of genes coding for brown eye colour (BEY2) and brown hair colour (HCL3) on chromosome 15q". Eur. J. Hum. Genet. 4 (4): 237–41. doi:10.1159/000472205. PMID 8875191. S2CID 26700451.
  26. Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM): SKIN/HAIR/EYE PIGMENTATION, VARIATION IN, 1; SHEP1 - 227220
  27. Sulem, Patrick; Gudbjartsson, Daniel F; Stacey, Simon N; Helgason, Agnar; Rafnar, Thorunn; Magnusson, Kristinn P; Manolescu, Andrei; Karason, Ari; et al. (2007). "Genetic determinants of hair, eye and skin pigmentation in Europeans". Nat. Genet. 39 (12): 1443–52. doi:10.1038/ng.2007.13. PMID 17952075. S2CID 19313549.
  28. Muehlenbein, Michael (2010). Human Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 192–213.
  29. Jablonski, N. G.; Chaplin, G. (2010). "Colloquium Paper: Human skin pigmentation as an adaptation to UV radiation". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107: 8962–8. Bibcode:2010PNAS..107.8962J. doi:10.1073/pnas.0914628107. PMC 3024016. PMID 20445093.
  30. Webb, A.R. (2006). "Who, what, where, and when: influences on cutaneous vitamin D synthesis". Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. 92 (1): 17–25. doi:10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2006.02.004. PMID 16766240.
  31. IBGE. 2008 PNAD. População residente por cor ou raça, situação e sexo.
  32. Birkeland, Peter W. Soils and Geomorphology. 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  33. Eva Heller, Psychologie de la couleur; effets et symboliques. p. 4
  34. "Army Dress Uniform". Archived from the original on 2014-11-19. Retrieved 2013-04-02.
  35. Toland, John Hitler: The Pictorial Documentary of his Life Garden City, New York:1978 Doubleday & Sons Chapter 5 "The Brown Revolution" Pages 42–60
  36. Infield, Glenn B. Eva and Adolf New York:1974--Grosset and Dunlap Page 142 (The author compiled this book by interviewing Albert Speer and others who had been in Hitler's inner circle, such as SS men, secretaries, and housekeepers. The author also consulted the Musmanno Archives, a record of post-war interviews with over 200 people who had been close to Adolf Hitler or Eva Braun.)
  37. "Hugo Boss Acknowledges Link to Nazi Regime". The New York Times. August 14, 1997. Retrieved September 29, 2008.
  38. White, Constance C. R (August 19, 1997). "Patterns: The Fallout on Hugo Boss". The New York Times. Retrieved January 1, 2011.
  39. Labrecque, Lauren I.; Milne, George R. (2012). "Exciting Red and Competent Blue: The Importance of Color in Marketing". Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. 40 (5): 711–727. doi:10.1007/s11747-010-0245-y. S2CID 167731928.
  40. "They started out being Pullman brown," said Peter Fredo, U.P.S.'s vice president for advertising and public relations [...] The trucks have been brown since 1916 [...] "it was the epitome of luxury and class at the time.", in Jacobs, Karrie (1998-04-20). "Learning to Love Brown". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-02.
  41. "Glossary of Terms for Brownfields" (PDF). HSRC. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-03-25. Retrieved 2006-05-25.
  42. "Magical Properties of Colors". Wicca Living. Retrieved 2021-01-28.
  43. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, College Edition, 1964
  44. Oxford English Dictionary
  45. "Brun rouge assez foncé." Le Petit Robert (1988).
  46. Oxford English Dictionary
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