Stone sculpture of Buddha.
Stone sculpture of Buddha. (The Denver Post | photos.com)

Most Broncos fans would agree: Orange looks good on Peyton Manning. When the Broncos take the field Feb. 2 for Super Bowl XLVIII, it will be with orange on their backs, too.

But the vibrant hue colors more than just Broncos jerseys, hats, banners and koozies, even here in Denver. Orange is a color with many moods and meanings. Here's why we love it.

It's a mouthful

For centuries, there was no word for orange in European languages.

They just called it "red-yellow."

It wasn't until the citrus fruit became widely known in Europe that the color was named, according to "The Secret Language of Color" by Joann and Arielle Eckstut.

The fruit was believed to be first cultivated in China and brought by traders to Persia and beyond. The name for it followed, taking on native pronunciations as it went, from narang in Persian to naranja in Spain, orange in France and "orange" in England.

Perhaps that explains why there's no English word that rhymes with "orange."

It can be intense

Orange, as a color, can get a bad rap.

In its neon shades, orange is the "most disliked color," Leatrice Eisemanwrote in her book, "Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color."

But orange comes in a variety of shades, not all so unpopular, said Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and a resident of the Seattle area.

In the 1950s and 1960s, orange was most associated in the U.S. with Howard Johnson, fast food and words like "easy and cheap," she said.

Pantone color chip
Pantone color chip (provided by Pantone)

But as more people have become aware of its use in other cultures and in high-fashion brands like Hermès and Missoni, its perception has been elevated, she said. "If you look at the ways it's being used in fashion and interiors, there are just gorgeous applications."

The color also comes in many shades, Eiseman notes. "Orange can range from terra cotta down to peach. There's a huge array of oranges and the value of the color, the lightness of the color, the intensity of the color can make a difference in the way it's perceived."

It's a fan favorite

When the Denver Broncos began playing in 1960, the team colors were mustard yellow and brown. The earthy tones didn't exactly catch on, and by 1962, bright orange was the team's dominant uniform color.

Jean Paul Gaultier fox vest, $575 from Neiman Marcus Denver.
Jean Paul Gaultier fox vest, $575 from Neiman Marcus Denver. (Suzanne S. Brown, The Denver Post)

Orange ruled until 1997, when the team changed its logo and dropped the orange home jerseys in favor of dark blue shirts. They promptly won back-to-back Super Bowls.

The team switched back to orange in 2012, just in time for Manning's arrival. According to the official team blog, the Broncos received nearly 2,000 e-mails from all 50 states and 32 countries requesting the change. Almost 10,000 people signed an online petition to get the team back in orange. "This is what our fans wanted," Broncos president Joe Ellis told the Denver Post at the time . "And we're going to accommodate their wishes."

An orange.
An orange. (The Denver Post | photos.com)

It's the safe choice

Anyone who has seen Mile High stadium on game day knows orange stands out.

Government regulators know it, too.

Orange is one of the highest-visibility colors, particularly in low-light situations. Traffic safety equipment, such as message boards and cones, are required to take the hue by the federal government, said Dan Myers of Wanco, a manufacturer in Arvada.

"It's called 'safety orange,' " Myers said. "If you want to put it out on the highways, that's what color it has to be. It's actually pretty close to Broncos orange."

Hunter in orange vest.
Hunter in orange vest. (The Denver Post | photos.com)

Orange has long been the traditional color for construction safety garb, as well, although the trend in recent years has swung toward a Seahawks-esque lime green, said David R. Ortiz, CEO of Safety and Construction Supply in Denver.

Hunters also wear orange. In Colorado, big-game rifle hunters are required by state law to wear at least 500 square inches of solid orange above the waist — part of which must be a hat of some kind, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for Colorado Parks & Wildlife.

"Even through the brush, you can immediately identify someone as a person walking around if they're in orange," Hampton said.

It's holy

In some Hindu and Buddhist traditions, orange is more than a vibrant color — it's holy.

Ginni Ishimatsu, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Denver, said saffron, the name given to the rich, yellow-orange hue, is often used for robes of monks and religious adherents, particularly in southeast Asia.

"Saffron is a holy color," Ishimatsu said. "It has a strong association with a spiritual life."

The connection goes back to ancient times when it was worn by wandering monastics and religious seekers who took vows of poverty.

"They wore robes that were dyed with the cheapest dye, made with natural substances like turmeric," Ishimatsu said of the inexpensive orange spice used in South Asian cuisine.

It makes a sunset

Orange is found everywhere in nature, in fruits, flowers, vegetables, animals and around here, in particular, sunsets.

Why are sunsets orange? Because of the way the sun's light is filtered through Earth's atmosphere, said Matt Rogers, a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere at Colorado State University.

During the day, only the shortest light waves — blue — are scattered by the atmosphere, which makes the sky appear blue.

As the sun gets lower in the sky, though, the light must travel through more of the atmosphere and more light is scattered. That causes the longest light waves — reds and oranges — to scatter, too, and the sky to take on that orangish hue.

Clouds make sunsets even more dramatic, Rogers said, by reflecting the light after the sun has gone down.

Once the sun drops below the horizon, the red and orange light is blocked by the Earth. Around here, though, the mountains often create high-altitude clouds that can still "see" the sunset, reflecting those reds and oranges against the blue twilight sky, he said.

"The clouds act like a mirror, and you get these beautiful blue and orange sunsets," Rogers said. "I don't know if the famous bumper sticker is right or not, but the sky certainly seems to be a Broncos fan."

It comes in shades

The popular TV show and book may proclaim "Orange is the New Black," but it's not a reality for most people's wardrobes, said Nancy Taylor Farel, a Boulder image consultant.

"Orange is a tough color to wear," Farel said.

For redheads, it can be a natural choice, but for everyone else, Farel said it's all about choosing the best possible shade.

For people whose skin coloring falls on the cooler, bluish, side, a red-orange may be a good option, she said. Yellow-oranges pair better with people with a similar, warmer skin coloring.

Can't wear a jersey to the office but still want to show your Broncos pride? Farel suggests using orange as an accent — a tie, socks, belt, necklace or shell under a suit.

"Would I ever wear orange? Only if I go to a Broncos party," she said.

Emilie Rusch: 303-954-2457, erusch@denverpost.com or twitter.com/emilierusch