Charity ribbons saw their rise in the early 1990s for soldiers fighting in the Gulf War. Soon after, other colors were born for causes affecting the lives of citizens at home. With ribbons now representing many charities, keeping the colors and meanings straight can get a little confusing. While some ribbon colors share multiple meanings and some ribbons' significance is denoted regionally, there are four main ribbon colors that support major causes.


The original charity ribbon, the yellow color now represents support for troops. This ribbon originated in the 1970s during the Iran hostage crisis and saw another rise in popularity in the 1990s during the Gulf War. Most citizens now associate it with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when military families and supporters began displaying ribbon car magnets.


AIDS activists took a cue from the yellow ribbon in the early 1990s. In 1991, the red ribbon was chosen as a symbol of AIDS awareness. Avert, the international HIV & AIDS charity, reports that Visual AIDS, a New York charity organization, was responsible for establishing the red ribbon as a symbol of support for people living with HIV/AIDS.


The Susan G. Komen Foundation soon followed the ribbon craze in 1991, when it handed out pink ribbons to Race for the Cure participants and survivors in New York City. With the help of Self Magazine and Estee Lauder, the pink ribbon became an international symbol for breast cancer awareness in 1992.


The Domestic Violence Awareness Project explains that the birth of the purple ribbon is difficult to pinpoint. Purple, recognized as a color of courage and survival, is used by shelters and local battered women's programs in domestic violence awareness campaigns.