Which side do you wear a poppy on and what do the different colours mean?

The Royal British Legion asks that 'if you do wear a poppy, you wear it with pride'

A collage of the different coloured poppies for Remembrance Day
(Image credit: Future)

With not long to go before Remembrance Day, many are wondering what side do you wear a poppy on and what the different colours mean?

Every year, November sees people all over the country start wearing a poppy (opens in new tab) to commemorate Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, in an event that pays tribute to those who fought and gave their lives during the First World War. 

But the tradition is not a straightforward one, as many have questions about what side you should wear you poppy, while other wonder how many you should wear - after all, the late Queen wore five poppies (opens in new tab). And while we're most familiar with the Royal British Legion's red poppy, there are other colours out there. These include black, purple and white poppies (opens in new tab), which all honour other war casualties and causes worth commemorating. We've shared what each colour represents and the tradition for wearing a poppy below.

What side do you wear a poppy on?

Tradition suggests that you wear a poppy on the left side. This is because it is seen as a symbol of keeping those who died close to your heart. The left side is also where military medals of honour are worn, which makes it even more fitting.

However, there are some people who say that men should wear poppies on their left for that reason, while women should wear them on their right like a brooch. However, the late Queen wore her five poppies on the left, and that’s all the confirmation we need on which side to wear a poppy.

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With that being said, the Royal British Legion (opens in new tab) have publicly shared that "there is no ‘correct' way" to wear a poppy. They add: "It’s a matter of personal choice whether someone chooses to wear a poppy and how they choose to wear it. We simply ask that if you do wear a poppy, you wear it with pride."

What does the red poppy represent?

According to The Royal British Legion, the famous red poppy is a symbol of both Remembrance and hope for a peaceful future, and is worn as to remember those who have lost their lives in conflicts and to show support for the Armed Forces community. 

The red poppy was chosen to mirror those that sprung up in Flanders Fields. The WW1 battlefields were turned into barren, muddy areas during the fighting, but poppies flourished despite the damage that had been done to the French and Belgian countryside.

It was these flowers that inspired Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae to write the famous war poem 'In Flanders Fields'. The poem gave American academic, Moina Michael, the idea to adopt the poppy in memory of those who had fallen in the war. In the UK a French woman, Anna Guérin, met the founder of the Royal British Legion, Earl Haig, who she helped persuade to adopt the poppy as the emblem in the UK.

A photo of a field full of red poppies

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now, the poppy is an integral part of the Royal British Legion's annual Remembrance Day campaign, and raises money to support the Armed Forces community. Last year marked 100 years since the Poppy Appeal (opens in new tab) was founded.

You can buy your paper poppy or poppy pin via the Royal British Legion online shop (opens in new tab) or pick one up in person - with many poppy appeal boxes widely available in supermarkets, cafes and other public places.

What does the purple poppy represent?

A purple poppy is worn in honour to remember all the animals that died as victims of war. During the war effort, animals such as dogs and pigeons were drafted in - and of course millions of horses were killed or injured in battle during the First World War. 

War Horse (opens in new tab) author Michael Morpurgo estimated that around 10 million horses died across all sides.

The Purple Poppy Campaign is spearheaded by Murphy's Army (opens in new tab), which pays tribute to animals lost in service, and to those who serve us today. You can purchase a purple poppy via their online shop (opens in new tab).

In 2018, a War Horse Memorial was unveiled in Ascot near the racecourse. The horse statue - aptly named Poppy - is dedicated to the millions of UK, Commonwealth and Allied horses lost during WWI.

The War Horse memorial website says: "It pays tribute to the nobility, courage, unyielding loyalty and immeasurable contribution these animals played in giving us the freedom of democracy we all enjoy today, and signifies the last time the horse would be used on a mass scale in modern warfare." 

What does the black poppy represent?

The black poppy pays tribute the the contributions of Black, African, West Indian, Caribbean, Pacific Island and Indigenous Nations communities to the war effort – as servicemen and servicewomen as well as civilians.

The initiative, titled 'Black Poppy Rose,' was launched in 2010 and aims to make the black poppy a world-wide symbol of remembrance, to educate and empower through understanding of historical timelines, and to empower self identity within the Black, African, West Indian, Caribbean, Pacific Island and Indigenous Nations communities.

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As well as the First and Second World Wars, conflicts that Black Poppy Rose remembers are the Haitian Revolution, the Crimean War, the Italo Ethiopian Wars, the Boer Wars and more.

A statement on the Black Poppy Rose website (opens in new tab) reads: "A symbol that signifies pride, honour and glory, with the hope that future generations will be inspired by these largely untold historical legacies." 

You can order your black poppy remembrance pin or wreaths via the Black Poppy Rose online shop (opens in new tab), and proceeds help to further promote and share stories of those who fought and gave their lives during the war.

What happened to the ceramic poppies?

The ceramic poppies used in the Tower of London's special centenary display in 2014 were sold to the public. Each poppy cost £25, and over £15 million was raised and donated to six military service charities.

Titled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the public art installation saw the tower's moat filled with thousands of ceramic poppies, with each representing a British military fatality during the war. 

Artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper created 888,246 ceramic poppies in total, and the display ran between July and November 2014 to mark 100 years since the start of World War One, garnering  visitors from all over the globe 

In 2018, the Tower of London followed up with another centenary display to mark 100 years since the end of WW1 (11 November 1918). The installation saw thousands of flames lit in the moat in memory of the fallen and was carried out by designer Tom Piper and sound artist Mira Calix.

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Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.

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