What Is Carolina Blue?

I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet on our Summer Reading Program but there as an article which appeared in the Alumni Review some time back that I think should be required reading for any incoming UNC student. O.K. I'm exaggerating a little bit but the question of what constitutes "Carolina Blue" is a topic that has been discussed for years and it is a cinch to help any UNC student, alum or supporter bind with another person of like persuasion should their paths cross. While the article by Beth McNickol, Associate Editor of the Review, is extremely well written, it does not provide a "once and for all" definition of what shade of blue Carolina Blue is. it does, however, a wonderful job of pointing out the complexity of the subject and illustrating why there will probably never be unanimous agreement.

Old timers like myself remember the various stages the color has gone through and the different names used before the color became so synonymous with UNC. I can remember powder blue, sky blue, Columbia blue, and robin's egg blue. But over the years, anything near "light blue" has been called Carolina blue and the practice is not likely to change anytime soon.

I'll give you an example by relating a situation that happened to me just last week which points out the association of the color with UNC. Dave and I visited Smithfield, Virginia and we were having lunch in the Smithfield Inn, a rather upscale eatery in the heart of downtown Smithfield. By the way, Smithfield is the smallest town in the USA to have a Fortune 500 company headquartered within its city limits. Smithfield Foods has its corporate headquarters in Smithfield, Virginia.

Back to the story. Our waitress noticed my wrist watch which is Carolina Blue and when she saw it, she commented that her father would like the Carolina watch. I asked her if her father attended UNC and she said that he didn't, that he attended school in Pennsylvania. She said he just always liked UNC. The words "North Carolina Tar Heels" appears on the watch but there is no way that she could have read them from her vantage point. She immediately connected the color of the watch with UNC. Enough said.

Many apparel manufacturers use the term "Carolina Blue" and one even uses C-Blue to skirt any possible difficulties with the licensing folks at UNC. I don't think a color can be trade marked or copyrighted but manufacturers agree when they sign a contract with CLC (Collegiate Licensing Company) to abide by institutional requirements regarding color and use of the school's name. A scientific approach to the problem doesn't help much either. A pantone matching system was adopted in the early 60s which was supposed to help painters and printers and others, but it's questionable whether it has helped. The article in The Alumni Review showed four different shades of blue with different pantone numbers and, quite frankly, I've seen them all used on Carolina merchandise. The numbers are 297 C, 291 C, 278 C and 543 C in case you want to paint a room or your entire house in Carolina colors. You can refer to the numbers when you go to the paint shop but you better look at samples of the colors before you have several gallons mixed.

Don't feel bad if you are confused by now because the University itself cannot decide which shade is Carolina Blue. The Athletics Office uses 297 ( but sometimes unofficially uses 271 and 298), the Hospital uses 543 only and the head of the Printing Operation says that the only number that can be called Carolina Blue for their purposes is 278. Even the room where the Di and Phi debating societies debate in New West is trimmed in a shade of blue that both sides agree is not the correct one. If you have time, chat with Shelton Henderson in The Shrunken Head. Maybe he'll tell you about occasionally receiving merchandise that is intended for the Citadel who has the same colors as UNC. I wonder if there is there is as much confusion in Charleston as is in Chapel Hill on what the "real" shade of blue is. I doubt it.

So maybe this is one of those questions to which there will never be a final answer. In the meantime, we will continue to hear comments like one a UVA football player uttered several years ago. He said "I hate that Carolina Blue." I wouldn't have it any other way.