Turning personalized ribbons into a symbol is a centuries-old fashion. Some people find its origin in the medieval custom of giving the warriors who participated in jousts or battles pieces of the ladies’ dresses to wish them good fortune. Thus, it would have become part of the military attire.
In particular, the soldiers of the Puritan army commander during the English civil war (1642-1651) by Oliver Cromwell, who established the republic in Great Britain, wore a yellow sash around their waists. The British would have transferred this badge in successive waves of migration to North America, and a handkerchief of this color was incorporated into the uniform of cavalry soldiers.
In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, the poem or popular song them, the ribbon symbolizes the fidelity of a woman who is absent to a soldier who is far away.
In the 1970s in the United States, tying a yellow ribbon around the tree in the garden was a way of welcoming those arriving home after a long separation – such as prisoners recently released from prison – as reflected in the song ‘Tie a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree.’ This custom became especially popular during the hostage crisis in Tehran in November 1979, when 52 Americans were held for more than a year in diplomatic quarters by the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini. It was revitalized in the early 1990s during the first Gulf War and the message ‘Support our troops. It was a way of keeping the memory of displaced soldiers alive.
But cockades, bands, bandannas, headbands, headbands, military sashes, and various peripherals were not yet a famous symbol. So from the marketing point of view, the discovery was to reduce all that fabric to the minimum expression and make a small textile loop of a few centimeters attached to the clothing become a manifesto.
In the late eighties, several causes chose loops as a vehicle of expression. Still, the ones who standardized the current format and managed to turn it into a global icon were the AIDS activists. In the spring of 1991, artists belonging to the Visual Aids collective were inspired by the tradition of yellow ribbons. They created the red ribbon as an emblem of solidarity with those affected by the epidemic. They chose the color “because of its connection to blood and the idea of passion. In addition, it was vital that it be easy and inexpensive to make and wear. So, the first instructions were to cut pieces of ribbon 6 inches (15 cm) long – they were slightly larger than the current ones – fold it in half to form an inverted V, and use a safety pin to attach it to clothing. From then on, members of support groups gathered to cut, fold and pin hundreds of thousands of ribbons for distribution across the country.
One of their litmus tests was at that year’s Tony Awards gala. They succeeded in coloring the bibs of some of the stars to raise awareness in the entertainment world that the epidemic was preying on musicians, dancers, and actors. Today the red ribbon is an internationally recognized symbol of AIDS awareness and a design icon. It has paved the way for other personalized ribbons.