Historically, colour has been used to provide instant visual recognition and The Suffrage Movement like many others, is littered with colours and symbols which became clear markers of identification, differentiation and selling 'Suffrage'. Notable among the various colour combinations was the differentiation between the suffragists and the suffragettes (and indeed the many other sides of the cause). The suffragists believed in more peaceful campaigning, whereas the suffragettes believed in direct action (increasingly violent and militant). The suffragists was a national organisation, the suffragettes was a smaller organisation with 2000 members at its peak in 1914. The suffragists allowed men to join, the suffragettes did not.
The largest suffrage society, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies colours were red, green and white. Additional suffrage colours included those for the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL colours of pink and green) and the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement (Black). However, it is the The WSPU colours of green (Give) white (Women) purple (Votes) which are the most known.
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, wrote, "Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity...white stands for purity in private and public life...green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring."
From the beginning, the WSPU were proactive in marketing their image to the general public. They sold merchandise in these striking colours to advertise their cause of women's suffrage and fundraise.
The Suffrage 'Uniform' looked something like this circa 1908
The 'Suffragette Look' as worn by Norah Balls. The suffragette uniform was introduced in 1908. During the winter months members of the WSPU were required to wear 'full dress uniform' of a ' white frock with regalia and colours' to all indoor meetings and breakfast receptions. During the summer months this uniform was also worn to all outdoor processions and rallies.
Artist/Photographer/Maker Women's Social and Political Union
Or this Circa 1912
The suffragette Uniform was more often, than not, complimented by accessories such as those indicated below (The medal; Scarf similar to the one Emily Wilding Davison tried to Pin to the Kings Horse and the rosette)
The WSPU encouraged members to wear purple, white and green at all times, particularly when attending large demonstrations. The pictures here are drawn from the biggest collection of artefacts and objects of the British militant suffragette movement, which is held by the Museum of London.
Some Examples of Suffrage Products
Panko - or, Votes for women : the great card game ; suffragists v. anti-suffragists. [Circa 1910]
The 48 playing cards contain a purple and white design on one side and on the reverse, feature cartoons by E.T. Reed of Punch magazine. The game was advertised and distributed by the Women's Social and Political Union as well as private merchants. Playing cards were a very popular fundraising and outreach tool during the suffrage campaign.
An Original and Interesting Game of Skill for Two Players
Suffragetto is a contest of occupation between two opposing factions, The Suffragettes and The Police.
The goal of the Suffragettes is to break past Police lines and enter the House of Commons. At the same time, The Suffragettes must also prevent the Police from entering Albert Hall. It is the Police Force’s duty to break up a meeting of the Suffragettes, currently being held in Albert Hall, all the while, preventing the Suffragettes from entering the House of Commons.
The game is won by whoever first succeeds in introducing six members into the building guarded by its opponents.
You can play free online at
Clothing and More...
Large fashionable stores in London's West End, such as Dickens and Jones, Swan and Edgar, Derry and Toms, Lilley and Skinner, Burberry and Peter Robinson, were among the shops that advertised frequently in Votes for Women, often taking a full-page advertisement. This greatly increased the paper's profits, selling at its peak, forty thousand copies weekly. Votes for Women would support the shops by encouraging readers to wear clothes in the official colours for public processions and so a good business relationship formed between the two.
It was important to the women to be feminine in their appearance and not to appear mannish, as the opposition like to render them. They would often wear dresses of white delicate fabrics, with purple and green sashes. Christabel Pankhurst implored, 'Suffragettes must not be dowdy.' Selfridges in particular stocked a wide range of stylish clothes in delicate fabrics, to accentuate their femininity.
The shoe shop, Lilley and Skinner, displayed in their window, shoes in the WSPU colours and Derry and Toms even sold tricolour underwear in purple, white and green! The Elswick Cycle Company in Newcastle, marketed the Elswick bicycle for ladies, enamelled in the WSPU colours. Mappen and Webb, the London jewellers, issued a catalogue of suffragette jewellery for Christmas in 1908. Brooches and badges were also worn in support of the movement, with many commissioned in honour of the suffragettes who were imprisoned for the cause, notably the Holloway brooch, which is now one of a collection in the London Museum.
Expensive dresses, coats, hats, furs and drapery were sold in the West End stores, while other merchandise such as household items, including china, tablecloths, confectionery and birthday cakes, could be bought in other retail outlets.
In addition, to individual donations, merchandise in the tricolours proved to be a major factor in the financial success of the WSPU and gained them a stronger political advantage. With the marked exception of the colours of the WSPU, the symbols and the colours have largely become a matter of history.
The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies colours of red, green and white. are less well known and less associated with the suffrage movement today. It is the colours of the smaller WSPU that have stood the test of time, adopted by subsequent waves of women's movements and used worldwide as the colours of 'Feminism'.
Contemporary Feminism Flying The Flag in Remembrance of Suffragist and Suffrgettes everywhere