What Color Is Mauve and How Do You Use It Successfully?

Mauve color illustration with monitor and paintbrush

Shades of purple and violet aren’t too common in nature, but that makes them all that much more spectacular when they do appear. One of these lovely shades is mauve — the pale purple, pink-tinged shade of the wild mallow flower found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia.

Mauve is a color that’s much more complex than it seems. It’s a shade of purple, but it’s also close to pale magenta. It’s simultaneously cool and invigorating, highly saturated and light. When you use it carefully, it can enrich almost any kind of design project. Let’s take a deep dive into the wonders of mauve!

Mauve in Brief

Photo of mallow flowers blooming in a sunny field

The color mauve is named after the mallow flower — “mauve” is the French word for “mallow.” The color itself can also be called “mallow,” although that name is a lot rarer.

If you look closely at this color, you might start to question whether it’s a shade of purple or pink. After all, the color of actual mallow flowers varies, and some of them look more pink than purple.

Mauve is technically purple, but there’s a reason it looks so close to pink — it’s essentially a very dilute magenta with added gray and blue. If you were to place it on the color wheel, it would sit roughly between a pale tint of magenta and a pale tint of violet.

Is Mauve the Same as Lavender? What About Lilac?

Photo of a vast lavender field under a blue sky

It’s easy to confuse mauve with other purplish shades. It’s particularly easy to confuse with lavender, another shade named after a flower. Here’s a look at the two next to one another:

Lavender flowers are darker than mallow flowers, so it makes sense that the color lavender would be considerably darker than mauve.

The lavender shade above is sometimes described as floral lavender. That name is meant to distinguish it from the web color lavender:

You might wonder why both of these shades are considered to be versions of lavender. Floral lavender is the approximate color of the darker petals on the lavender plant. Web lavender is the color of the palest part of lavender’s petals. Both have some level of similarity to mauve.

Because plenty of people mix up lavender and lilac, you might wonder how similar lilac is to mauve. As you can see, mauve and lilac also look quite similar:

Although these flower-inspired shades are all different, they can work nicely together. If you’re working on a floral design, you may want to keep them in mind!

Mauve in History

Close-up photo of purple dye swirled in a beaker

Every color has a history, but some color histories are more interesting than others. Mauve is one of the more interesting ones. It’s a color that has influenced the textile world, made a splash in the realm of fashion, and even managed to evolve over time. Here’s a condensed version of this shade’s remarkable story.

An Accidental Wonder

Mauve was a shade that took the world by storm, but it was created purely by accident. In 1856, William Henry Perkin, an 18-year-old chemist at the Royal College of Chemistry, was trying to create quinine (an anti-malaria drug). He was unsuccessful, but he did produce something interesting: a richly-colored purple dye.

This discovery was a pivotal one for Perkin and the textile world as a whole. He dropped out of college and began producing the dye on an industrial scale. At first, he called it “Tyrian purple” (after the ancient purple dye made from sea snails), but he changed the name to “aniline purple” and finally settled on “mauve.”

The Mauve Decade

For centuries before Perkin developed his famous mauve dye, purple clothing had been reserved for royalty and the very wealthy. So it’s no wonder that mauve-colored clothing became wildly popular! It was so well-loved that the 1890s came to be nicknamed “The Mauve Decade.”

Mauve dye may have been a hit, but it did have one major disadvantage: it faded very easily. It was eventually replaced by longer-lasting synthetic dyes, but its impact on the fashion world and American culture as a whole was undeniable.

An Evolving Shade

If you look at photos of some of the first fabrics colored with mauve dye, you might notice that this early iteration of the color is much darker than the color we know as “mauve” today. As is the case with many different words, our culture’s understanding of “mauve” underwent a gradual shift that ended up far away from the original shade.

Over time, chemists began calling the color of the original dye “mauveine.” That name distinguishes it from the paler shade we call “mauve” today. Oddly enough, the contemporary version of mauve is closer to the color of an actual mallow flower than Perkins’s original dye! Below, you can see the stark difference between the shades:

The Meaning of Mauve

Abstract background of marble-like mauve swirls

Before you decide to use a particular color in a design, make sure you consider more than just the aesthetic. Each color’s meaning and cultural associations shape the impact your design has on your audience. Here’s a quick look at some of mauve’s most meaningful associations.

Spirituality

Purple is a shade that has long been associated with spirituality. That might be because in Hinduism and Buddhism, it’s associated with the crown chakra. The crown chakra is a center of energy at the top of the head, and it’s connected to spiritual enlightenment. Mauve is a particularly light and ethereal shade of purple, so its connection to spirituality is especially fitting!

Compassion

Mauve has a certain softness to it, so it makes sense that it’s associated with caring and compassion — both of self and of others. It’s cool without being cold, and it offers a sweet, uplifting energy.

Youth

Soft shades of pink and purple have a youthful energy. Some people might even call it childish! If you like the general youthful vibe of pale pink but want something just a bit more grown-up, mauve offers a great middle ground.

Inspiration

Mauve is an especially dreamy shade of purple. If you want to create a design that motivates, inspires, and uplifts, it’s definitely a color worth considering. Try incorporating it into a swirling, watercolor-style design.

Shades of Mauve: Example Color Codes

Abstract, grunge-style background of mauve and other shades of purple

Mauve might not be as popular now as it once was, but it’s still a versatile color that’s perfect for a variety of applications. Don’t feel limited to the “standard” shade of mauve mentioned above — you might be interested in one of its many different shades. Here are a few especially useful ones.

1. Opera Mauve

Opera mauve is warmer and more reddish than mauve. It’s closer to being a shade of dusty rose, so it’s a good choice for vintage-inspired designs.

2. Mauve (Crayola)

If you grew up coloring with Crayola crayons, this shade might look familiar! Despite the name, it’s a lot different from the color typically known as mauve. “Plain” mauve is more of a purplish shade, but Crayola mauve is closer to being a shade of pink.

3. Light Mauve

Like opera mauve, light mauve is pretty far removed from “plain” mauve. It’s warmer, dustier, and closer to being a shade of pink.

4. Mauve Taupe

This unusual shade sits right between taupe — a shade of grayish brown — and mauve. Nobody would call it a neutral, but it’s a lot more subdued than your standard mauve.

5. Rose Mauve

Somewhat confusingly, rose mauve is closer to neutral than mauve taupe. It’s somewhat similar to dusty rose — it’s just a little dustier and a little less red.

How Does Mauve Compare to Other Pinkish and/or Purplish Shades?

Illustration of pink and purple flowers

Above, you saw how mauve stacks up against lavender and lilac, two somewhat similar pinkish-purple colors. Here are a few other similar colors for comparison.

1. Dusty Rose vs. Mauve

Dusty rose is an iconic pinkish shade. It reached peak popularity in the 1990s, but it still fits in with modern design schemes!

That said, dusty rose is a lot different from mauve. A quick scan of the RGB values below shows you that mauve contains much more blue and is much more saturated.

2. Electric Purple vs. Mauve

Based on the name, it might sound like electric purple has little in common with mauve. But as you can see, these colors are closer than you might think! Both are very saturated purples, although mauve is a lot lighter than electric purple.

3. Very Light Purple vs. Mauve

This shade might make you think of sweet-smelling, delicately colored flowers. And as you can see in its HSL values, it’s lighter than mauve. However, despite the name, very light purple is warm enough that it appears pinkish. It goes beautifully with mauve — especially if you’re working on a floral design.

4. Light Purple vs. Mauve

Light purple isn’t quite as light as mauve (although it’s close). It’s also significantly cooler. Next to it, mauve looks downright pink!

5. Pastel Violet vs. Mauve

Many shades of mauve come close to being shades of pastel violet. So it might come as a surprise that pastel violet actually has more red undertones than mauve. Mauve includes a lot more blue, and it’s also significantly lighter.

What Colors Pair Well With Mauve?

Mauve is an intriguing color all on its own. But unless you’re working on a project that’s entirely monochromatic, you’ll need to pick out a color (or more than one) to go with mauve. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

1. Charcoal Gray

Mauve and charcoal gray color palette

Hex Codes: #36454F, #D3AAEE, #F7F7F3

The blue and gray undertones found in mauve make it a great companion for cooler neutrals. Charcoal gray is an especially great choice. It looks good next to mauve, and it’s also dark enough to ground an entire design.

You can adjust the quantity of each color to suit the energy you’re trying to create. For example, if you’re going for a relatively quiet design but want to add some interest, consider a mostly charcoal design with just a few hints of mauve. To create something a little more energetic, all you have to do is flip the colors.

2. Warm Beige

Mauve and warm beige color palette

Hex Codes: #F5F5DC, #E0A4F4, #604D53

Mauve goes well with cool neutrals, but you can also balance out its cooler energy with a warm-leaning neutral or two. Warm beige is a safe choice, especially if you want something a little more understated.

For example, let’s say you’re designing a living room. You create a quiet, welcoming space by layering various shades of warm beige. However, all by itself, this color scheme is a little dull. Adding in a few mauve accents — even little things like accent pillows and wall hangings — can quickly make it memorable!

3. Sage Green

Mauve and sage green color palette

Hex Codes: #9CAF88, #E4ADFF, #705D5C

Sage green’s undying popularity makes it a good choice for various types of design. As you might have already realized, the mauve/sage combination is especially effective for floral designs.

Because both colors have grayish undertones, they’re ideal for creating vintage-style floral patterns. You might even consider layering in some more shades of purple and pink for some variety.

4. Navy Blue

Mauve and navy blue color palette

Hex Codes: #000080, #D9B1FB, #D3D3D9

Navy blue isn’t technically a neutral, but some shades of it can function similarly to one. It’s also a color dark enough to ground a design.

As you can see above, the light/dark contrast between mauve and navy is stark enough to create eye-catching patterns. If you need to create a pattern of cool colors and are looking for a somewhat uncommon color combination, this is one worth considering.

5. Turquoise

Mauve and turquoise color palette

Hex Codes: #30D5C8, #E5B6F6, #5C4754

Mauve is great for creating quiet, relaxing color schemes. It’s also great for creating color schemes that pop. When you put mauve next to turquoise, you definitely get the latter!

Because it’s so attention-getting, this is a color combo that’s great for advertising and various kinds of signage. However, including too much of both colors can quickly get overwhelming. Keep everything in balance by choosing one as a main color and the other as an accent.

How Do You Successfully Use Mauve in a Design?

Abstract background of mauve with sparkling gold accents

Mauve — and all its shades and variations — can work beautifully in a wide variety of designs. Technically, there aren’t rules when it comes to using mauve (or any color), but if you’d like a few suggestions to get you started, here are some tips for using mauve in your next design.

Pair It With Cool Neutrals

Mauve was pretty popular in the 1980s. At least when it came to interiors, it was most commonly used alongside peachy beiges and other warm-leaning neutrals.

Unless you’re deliberately going for a retro vibe, pair mauve with crisp, cool neutrals. Cool whites, deep charcoal grays, and dusty taupes are all good choices. This kind of all-cool color scheme gives timeless mauve a modern edge!

Unlock the Power of Purple

If you love purple, there’s no need to limit yourself to just one shade! Mauve can easily be layered with other purples to create a monochromatic (but still dynamic) color scheme.

You can shape the overall mood of the design by adjusting the level of contrast. For example, if you want a higher-energy look, incorporate greater contrast with aubergine or a similar dark shade. Try adding interest and texture with a gradient-style palette — you can include a range of purples between mauve and aubergine.

Getting Back to Floral Roots

Mauve is versatile and cosmopolitan enough that it’s easy to forget it’s a color inspired by nature. But if you love this shade’s floral energy, you can lean into it with a bouquet of other plant-inspired colors. Soft shades of rose, lavender, and even baby blue are good places to start.

This kind of color scheme obviously would work well if you’re creating a floral pattern, but you don’t have to feel limited! Any design that includes mauve, verdant green, and a few petal-inspired shades is sure to make your audience think of spring.

Create a New Dimension With Metallics

Mauve can definitely be earthy. But when you put it alongside glimmering metallics, it can look remarkably upscale, too. It’s more versatile than you might think — mauve can work just as well with warm metallics as it can with cooler ones.

If you want to give a nod to the old-school, royal combination of deep purple and gold, try combining a mauve wall with gold wall sconces, picture frames, or other metal accents. If you want a sleek, all-cool aesthetic, substitute silver or pewter metal accents for gold ones.

Where Will Mauve Take You Next?

Illustration of the color mauve with its hex code #E0B0FF

Mauve is wonderfully dreamy and unique. But despite its distinctiveness, it’s right at home in vintage and modern designs of all styles. If you’re ready for an adventure, add a touch — or a whole canvas — of mauve to your next project!