Fashions come in living color, usually...except when black is popular, which, once again, it is this year. Further, color in our clothes has been full of symbolic meaning probably since time began. Think of Madame X and her black clinging gown on pale skin, or how gauche it used to be to wear white after Labor Day, or why bright red on your tie or skirt evokes Valentine's Day or passion.
Popular colors have also been tied to scientific discovery...when aniline dyes appeared in the 1850s, people went nuts for shocking bright colors, which was shocking, shocking! to some eyes used to the gentle tones of dyes made from vegetable sources.
Photo: exhibit cover photo
The Kent State University Museum, Anne Bissonnette, curator, put in an exhibit between 2004 and 2006 that explored color in clothing, and lucky for us, they put much of the exhibit and its commentary online, and have kept it there.
Do have a look at The Right Chemistry: Colors in Fashion 1704-1918. The exhibit takes you through specific colors in turn, such as purple and mauve, and then shows you garments in those colors with some details about them.
Want to read a few nineteenth century views on color in dress?
- Have a look at Chapter XXIII: Harmony of Color in Dress, in Decorum: A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society (1881)
- See also Color in Dress: A Manual for Ladies (1872)