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Meaning of the Color Gray: Symbolism, Common Uses, & More

Gray is the color of wisdom, intellect, and neutrality

Today’s article is about the symbolism and the meaning of the color gray as part of the Color Meaning Series.

For more colors, check out our guide on color meanings.

Summary of the meanings of the color gray
Color gray meanings

Would you say we can find the meaning of the color gray in big, busy cities?

Is it in the smoke from the factories or in the concrete of the buildings? Or can we find it in the sky on a stormy or dull day?

Gray is a standard color in modern society because of its neutrality, making it a pretty versatile color. Although there are countless gray things globally, it appears as one of the least favorite colors in global research.

In today’s article, we’ll discuss the symbolism and meaning of gray, its most common uses, company logos, gemstone, facts, quotes, and idioms–all about gray.

Gray Color Symbolism in Different Cultures

  • In Europe and North America, gray is one of the least favorite colors. Gray’s color meaning is associated with gloomy weather and the glum emotions that can come with it. It’s also associated with modesty rather than flashy, exciting, or trendy things.
  • In Africa, gray is seen as a stalwart color – a constant, strong foundation. It’s the color of maturity, stability, security, and authority.
  • In Chinese culture, gray’s meaning is associated with humility, embodying a modest, unassuming nature. In ancient China, people often owned gray houses and wore gray clothes. Today, the color can be used to describe something that is dark or tarnished.
  • Ancient Egypt linked the color gray to the heron since the color was found in the heron’s plumage. This connected it to the Egyptian gods since the heron was seen as the guide to the underworld. It’s no surprise, then, that gray was a well-respected color in this context.
  • In 1930s Europe, gray became symbolic of war and industrialization. One of the most outstanding examples of that is Pablo Picasso’s work “Guernica,” where gray is the dominant color. This led the color gray to be synonymous with conformity and uniformity of thought.

What Does the Color Gray Mean in the Bible?

The Bible is filled with symbolic meanings throughout its books, and that’s also true for the color gray.

The biblical color meaning of gray is wisdom through aging. It also means dignity, honor, and repentance. As the color of humility and modesty, gray was worn by friars of different orders. 

Psychological Meaning of Gray

A lot of the meaning of the color gray depends on context. Depending on where it’s used, it can represent many different meanings.

Gray concrete building

Gray Color Meaning

Each color has both positive and negative traits. Here are the meanings of gray:

Intellect and Compromise

By its very nature, the color gray is diplomatic, as it negotiates the distance between two polar opposites: white and black. 

It’s no wonder, then, that gray is considered the color of the middle ground, not of extremes. Think of the slang phrase “gray area,” indicating an area of ambiguity.

Wisdom

Gray is often associated with things that have been around for a long time and are seen as tried-and-true facts. 

Consider the gray hair of a wizened elder. Doesn’t that instill trust in their hard-earned knowledge? 

The association is so strong that older people often dye their hair to appear more youthful.

Senior woman with gray hair pointing finger upwards

Solemnity and Seriousness

Gray is rarely seen as a color of fun or levity. Picture a room full of people in gray business suits. Are they laughing? Dancing? Having fun? 

It’s likely that you’re picturing them in a serious meeting, discussing important matters.

Conservativism

Because gray is rarely a trendy color, it tends to go hand in hand with associations of the past. This can either be a good or a bad thing. 

Sometimes gray indicates good taste or the classics, like silver or stainless steel jewelry. But it can also be synonymous with dullness or being stuck in the past, like an out-of-fashion dress.

Understatement, Elegance, and an Appreciation for the Classics

If a groom wears a gray suit to his wedding, that doesn’t make him the center of attention. 

Wearing this classic and sleek neutral is a stylish way to let his bride shine. This perfectly encapsulates the understated elegance of gray.

Gray suited groom holding hands with white-dressed bride

Coolness, Dispassionateness, and Lack of Strong Emotion

Picture a concrete government building or a courthouse. They tend to be gray, with little (if any) colorful adornment. 

This design choice is meant to impart a feeling of impartiality and objectivity. 

In extreme cases, it can even be used to evoke a sense of emotional distance or disconnect. Where red is the color of passion, gray is the color of dispassion.

Control

The most extreme example of gray being used as a dispassionate, unemotional backdrop is when gray is used to convey a sense of control. 

Picture a jail cell. Devoid of color, decoration, and a way out, in this case, gray’s primary goal is to put down rebellion or transgression.

Mystery

Picture the gray mists on an early-morning walk, obscuring our vision of the path ahead. 

Just as a “gray area” can be a point of ambiguity, literal gray areas in life can be full of mystery and uncertainty.

Gray mist above green pine forest

Physical Effects of Gray

Gray’s physical effects are less pronounced than those of other colors. However, this can be considered a property in and of itself.

  • Gray often has a dampening effect – on our moods and other colors. When used correctly, this can be calming. However, too much gray can quickly become depressing.
  • Gray can evoke a sense of isolation and alienation, making it a popular choice for prisons and other carceral buildings.
  • On its own, gray tends to bring down the energy level of whatever room it’s used in. Because of this, it’s often used in combination with brighter colors to offset their effect.

Meanings of Gray Shades

Light Gray: Light gray is a calming color that symbolizes neutrality, unpretentiousness, and coolness.

  • Light gray hex code: #CCCCCC

Medium Gray: Medium gray is a darker shade that represents expensiveness, intelligence, high tech, and creativeness.

  • Medium gray hex code: #666666

Dark Gray: Dark gray has a masculine nature and means formality, inflexibility, and suppression.

  • Dark gray hex code: #525252

More Shades of Gray

Gray shades

There are countless shades of gray in our world. Here are some: seal, lava, shadow, ash, anchor, mink, stone, onyx, smoke, and iron.

Most Common Uses of the Color Gray

Because gray is associated with wisdom, neutrality, and futurism, many businesses use this timeless color in their branding.

  • Gray is one of the most common colors in urban environments.
  • Business attire is often in black, white, and dark shades of blue and gray.
  • The color gray is often used as a background color in photography because of its neutrality and easiness on the eye.
  • Quite a few high-end and -tech company use gray in their logos. Still, it is far from the top 5 most common logo colors.

Companies and Brands That Use Gray in Their Logo

Gray logos
Companies and brands that have gray logos

Gray Gemstones

Although not as common as other colors varieties, gray gemstones are more common than you think. Some people believe they are calming and soothing, helping the wearer prevent negative and evil energy.

Facts About Gray

  • Gray eyes are very rare. It is estimated only 3% of the world’s population has gray eyes.
  • A study found that people with depression or anxiety were more likely to associate their mood with gray, while happier people preferred yellow.
  • Gray is not only a neutral color but also an achromatic color, meaning that it is a color “without color.”

Quotes About Gray

Here are a few of our quotes about gray.

“I love the gray area between right and wrong.” Dan Brown

Gray quotes

“The color of truth is gray.” Andre Gide

Quotes about gray

“My God, look at this place! It’s like a coloring book if the only crayon available was gray.” Doug Walker

Gray color quotes

Popular Idioms With the Words Gray

  • Gray area: shadowy areas or concepts that lack specificity.
  • Seeing things in shades of gray: to have an open-mind
  • All cats are gray in the dark: in the dark of night, appearances don’t matter.
  • Gray matter: the brain
  • Get gray hair from: To be exceedingly worried, stressed, or upset by or about something or someone.

Summary Color Gray Meaning

As the simplest color for the eye to see, gray is often used in places where neutrality is desired.

It’s an abundant color in urban environments, associated with futurism and technology. Still, gray is also related to decay, cold, and clouds, making it a color that represents sadness, indifference, and dreariness.

Gray means: neutrality, intelligence, technology, modesty
Effects of gray: damps the mood, depresses, isolates, and neutralizes emotions
Positive traits: security, tranquility, wisdom, and liberalism
Negative traits: indifference, sadness, coldness, and decay