In the 1990s, a fashion arose for wearing a small loop of coloured ribbon on one's lapel to declare support for some suffering or victimized group. The first and best known is the red Aids Awareness ribbon launched in New York in 1991, and almost immediately adopted in Britain. It was quickly followed by pink or blue ones for cancer victims, and then by others for various political causes: yellow ones to demand the release of hostages or those unjustly imprisoned, again on an American model; green in support of Irish political prisoners; purple for animal rights campaigners; 'rainbow' for racial tolerance, and also for homosexual equality; dark blue or black in mourning for public disasters. In 1995, Lewisham Town Council gave out free blue lapel ribbons to express awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving (FLS News 22 (1995), 8-9; 23 (1996), 10). Although so new, the custom draws on an older 'language' of distinctively coloured markers worn on the lapel or stitched to the clothing - examples would include the rosettes of political parties, the Blue Ribbon badge of the Victorian temperance movement, black arm-bands or patches sown on to men's jackets in *mourning, fabric *poppies and *Alexandra Day roses tucked in the lapel buttonhole. A more remote precursor would be the coloured 'favours' which Phillip Stubbes in his Anatomie of Abuses (1583) says were worn at *Midsummer revels. After several decades in which metal badges and stick-on labels predominated, ribbon, the oldest medium for such displays, is enjoying a resurgence.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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