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In the present day, Mario is always presented with the following colours:

A picture of Mario facing towards the screen, with his usual present day outfit.

As you can see, his main outfit is red, his trousers are blue and his hat is red.

However, if we look for example at the cover of Super Mario Bros. 2, this is what we can see:

A cover of the game Super Mario Bros. 2, where we can see Mario leaping towards the right with a vegetable in his right hand. Vegetables in this game are weapons the characters can pull out from the ground to throw at enemies.

Here we can see that his outfit is blue and his trousers are red, which is the opposite of what it is now.

If you look at the following question and its answers about the original Donkey Kong game, it seems apparent that this used to be his original colour pattern:

The original Donkey Kong cover from the other question, where Mario noticeably has a blue outfit and red trousers.

As far as I know, the first swap happened after Super Mario Bros. 3, and up until now it became his official colour pattern:

A cover of the game Super Mario Bros. 3, in which he has the raccoon power-ups which gives him raccoon ears and tail. In the game, this allows him to fly to some extent, which is the reason why he is depicted as flying in the cover.

Did they ever explain why they decided to swap the colours?

The same also happened with Luigi apparently. See the following ending screen for Luigi in Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels on the SNES:

The ending screen of Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels as Luigi, with Peach kissing Luigi instead of Mario. Luigi's main outfit is blue and his trousers are green, instead of the more modern colour pattern with blue trousers.

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Despite the box art of SMB2, in game he is blue over red, instead of red over blue. And in SMB3 he is actually black over red.

enter image description here

It wasn't until Super Mario World that he seems to have standardized on blue over red.

One comment I saw online said that blue makes more logical sense for overalls, because overalls are traditionally made from bluejeans (blue denim).

I'm sure a lot of the color choices had to do with hardware limitations and contrast on screen. As graphic fidelity became better this allowed them to match the box art better.

Box art is famous for making things look a lot prettier than they actually are.

enter image description here

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    "Box art is famous for making things look a lot prettier than they actually are." Megaman being the exception that proves the rule I guess
    – IG_42
    Jun 28, 2023 at 16:33
  • I upvoted because there's some level of truth about it, although the Peach kissing ending in the 1st game (and the lost level) seemed to depict the reverted colour pattern, unlike the sprites. But that's in the All-Stars version on SNES, and I don't know if it's in the original NES.
    – Clockwork
    Jun 28, 2023 at 16:55
  • @IG_42 Looks fine to me
    – Clockwork
    Jun 28, 2023 at 17:16
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    The box art for SMB1 points out a parallel change: fire Mario(and Luigi) would have white overalls and a red shirt. Now they have red(or green) overalls and a white shirt.
    – Ben Murphy
    Jun 29, 2023 at 4:00

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