A red carpet refers to a red colored rug, usually fairly long, that would be rolled out so that various dignitaries would receive what was considered a suitable welcome. Initially, as in plays like Aeschylus’ 5th century BCE play Agamemnon the carpet may have been purple rather than red, although there are conflicting views on translation. In Aeschylus’ play, Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra lays down a carpet, red or purple, to trick her husband into thinking he’s getting a suitable welcome before she murders him. Agamemnon does speak of his suspicion and the temptation to anger the Gods by such treatment. Similar to the red carpet is the idea of strewing rose petals on the ground so that the feet of various dignitaries, royals, or others needn’t touch the ground with their feet.
While there’s dispute about carpet color in the Agamemnon, it’s quite likely that purple carpets would have been more standard than red Ancient Greece and Rome. Purple was the color from Ancient Greece that was associated with royalty, with Tyrian purple in Ancient Greece one of the most expensive dyes to purchase. So early red carpets were more than likely purple carpets.
In modern times, the red carpet is almost never purple, and even royal families may tread on a red rather than purple carpet. Tossing down a long red carpet is a way to assure important people that they are indeed important, though as Agamemnon noted, no mortal is too good to have their feet touch the regular ground. Some of the big red carpet events, such as the Academy Awards, may have a more purposeful reason for choosing to carpet a path to a theater entrance. When ladies wear full-length gowns or gowns with trains, dragging the gown along several hundred feet of dirty sidewalk may be undesirable. Should an Academy Award winner accept an award with a dirty gown, Joan Rivers and other fashion commentators would be shocked.
Some argue that the red carpet is now too much in use. Instead of being reserved for special occasions only, virtually every premiere of a film, and almost all award shows, large or small, feature a red-colored carpet, upon which guests walk, to theaters or auditoriums. Proceeding down the carpet is a way for actors and performers of other types to receive media attention, answer questions, and give information about the designers of their clothes and jewelry who usually loan expensive items to stars in exchange for promotional statements by the star. Where once media only covered the big red carpet events, just about every night on programs devoted to celebrities and VIPs like E! News , stars are photographed at some type of red carpet event.