Logically, any villain living in the same world as Batman and Superman would probably want to look as inconspicuous as possible to be try to do their evil deeds from the shadows. However, the Joker has never been one for keeping decorum. For his entire supervillain career, he's favored the bright color purple, sometimes accented with green and sometimes with orange. This deep shade showcases his dark hair, chalk-white skins and the red of his permanent grin.
Whether he has sharply cut suits, a more unkempt Bohemian appearance or a blend of both, the Joker almost always has his signature bright ensemble in comics, TV or film.
Caesar Romero’s Joker, from the 1966 Batman show, already sported a classic suit in a violet shade, while the Joker’s pantsuit from the ‘70s and ‘80s comic book was more lilac. Jack Nicholson’s Joker, from director Tim Burton’s Batman paired his purple blazer with orange instead of green, bringing his own kind of glamour to the table in 1989. This costume was echoed in Batman: The Animated Series, where the Mark Hamill-voiced Joker had a similar but slightly less flamboyant suit.
In more recent years, Heath Ledger's Joker offered a more dapper take on the ensemble in 2008’s The Dark Knight, to the point where every single item of his darkly textured three-piece ensemble suit, plus the coat and a beautiful shirt that would be a great addition to any wardrobe.
This dapper look was phased out dramatically in 2016’s Suicide Squad, where Jared Leto's younger Joker went for a tattoo-heavy acid-washed style. While he still wears a shiny purple alligator jacket, but most people will remember him from his single purple glove clutching his green hair in the promotional posters.
Even in that very different take on the character, the Joker still has a hint of his classic purple look, but why is purple his usual color of choice?
Even casual fans of Disney movies and superhero comics might have noticed that purple, green, orange and black, are an integral part of any villain worth their salt. At its most basic level, purple is first a secondary color that's the opposite of the the primary blue, red and yellow colors usually worn by heroes. That's why Batman villains like the Riddler, Poison Ivy, Ra's al Ghul, the Mad Hatter, Catwoman and even Two-Face all wear costumes built around secondary colors.
Since it's the darkest of the secondary colors, purple is a particular favorite for villains, having been by every kind of villain from Catwoman to Ursula, Green Goblin and Kilgrave.
The color purple has many connotations, but let’s start with two facts: it is very rare in nature, and it's very expensive to produce. Before the 19th century, industrial synthetic dyes did not exist, and only the extremely rich and powerful could afford to dress in purple. After the 19th century, purple became much cheaper to produce – and its similarity to black turned it into the color of half-mourning; an acceptable shade to wear that wasn’t black after a death in the family.
So, on a surface level, purple is telling us that the villain wearing it is both ambitious and connected with death. The color purple has traditionally been used to convey everything from sensuality to creativity, extravagance, immaturity and madness.
This means that the Joker wearing purple doesn’t carry the same connotations as Catwoman's purple costumes. Catwoman’s purple stands more for ambition, sensuality and intuition, and it’s paired with blacks and blues, which reinforces this nocturnal theme. The Joker’s purple clashes violently with the green of his shirt, and it takes the meanings of creativity, intuition, excess, immaturity and madness.
Also, within the grim and grey morality of Gotham, the brightness of Joker's attire and his chalk-white skin also present a sharp visual contrast to Batman's dark costumes, which are still mainly blue-grey at their brightest. This subverts the traditional idea that light is good and dark is bad.
The only times the Joker isn't clad in purple are usually origin stories where the villain isn't quite yet the fully-formed Clown Prince of Crime. In comics, he's been more associated with red as the aptly-named Red Hood, his pre-Joker villain identity. In director Todd Phillips film Joker, Joaquin Phoenix's Joker appears to wear of more burnt orange, almost wine-colored suit. Although it's still a secondary color that represents villainy, the warmness of its hues hints at a slightly more sympathetic take on the supervillain. By the end of the film, however, he may very well have grown into fully-formed purple look.