Fashion in Colors: Red, Yellow, Blue

The Kyoto Costume Institute

Red—the first color to be named
Dyes providing fast, vivid colors were sometimes traded at prices on a par with gold. Cultures in Asia and the New World, and the dyes that they produced, exerted an influence on the Western sense of color.

Red color used to be achieved with expensive natural dyes such as kermes and cochineal, and has inspired admiration from ancient times. The red and white contrasting pekin stripes also heighten the folds' effect. Pekin stripes are textiles originally made in China of equal-width striped patterns. Along with the expansion of interest in chinoiserie, around 1760, Peking striped fabric was even produced in France and became popular.

Inside one's home, one would comfortably wear an indoor gown, as shown. The outer fabric, with a design and colors that inspire feelings of foreign lands, utilizes fabric manufactured in China that targeted the Western market.

The purple tinted red color in this dress comes from the animal dye kermes. The kermes beetle lives on kermes oaks that have grown by the Mediterranean Sea since ancient times. Vast quantities of female kermes are necessary to dye a single piece of cloth, making them a prized commodity and bringing huge wealth to the Mediterranean region, including the south of France, in both medieval and modern times.

We can find the influence of military costume in the red color and the Brandenburg decorations on the front of this coat. The red dye is cochineal. During and after the Age of Exploration, Spain brought cochineal from Middle and South America to Europe in large quantities, and it was used all over the world.

The cashmere shawl was imported into Western Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. It comes from the Kashmere region in the northwest of India, where the short soft hairs of the mountain goat were hand-spun into cashmere yarn and woven into woolen cloth. Intricate patterns comprised of exotic motifs in polychrome on a red base, and a soft texture of cashmere enchanted ladies even its high price. The cashmere shawl became a popular item since the beginning of the nineteenth century for its rarity and exoticism, as well as for its practicality.

The designs and textures of these objects clearly show distinctive features of the Art Deco style. Jean Dunand was a craftworker who learned lacquerwork techniques from a Japanese lacquer-worker, and applied them to Western designs. He earned his place in history as one of the greatest Art Deco artists through novel ideas such as lacquering metals and fabrics.

Yellow—the ambiguous color
In medieval Europe, yellow had been deplored as vular or frivolous, but it became fashionable in the eighteenth century. The impact of the chinoiserie trend featuring Chinese-motifs that was popular at the time can be seen here. The popularity of colors and the status they are perceived to impart have even played a profound role in trade issues.

The yellow dye used for this dress is weld, which has been used as a yellow dye in Western Europe since ancient times. The quilting forms geometric and arabesque motifs. The shades on the uneven surface make rich yellow hues.

Yellow was seen as a color of heretics and of contempt until medieval times in Christian culture. On the other hand, yellow was the color of the Emperor in China. In the eighteenth century, when there was a great deal of interest in the exotic, chinoiserie spread in Europe, and people started to use yellow as a fashionable color.

Eighteenth century men’s suits, which consisted of a habit (coat), a gilet (waistcoat), and a culotte (breeches), were made of luxurious silk fabrics in beautiful colors. This three-piece suit is made of a deep-yellow fabric with a delicate pattern of small floral figures surrounded by cartouches.

This dress made of a textile from Spitalfields in England demonstrates the high level of textile technology achieved in the 18th century.

In the late 18th century, following the trend toward simple clothing except for court dress, women's costumes also became more casual. Most of the fabrics used to make dresses came to have a light texture. In addition, the orientation toward stripe patterns, which became popular among all classes of people, shows the same trend.

After the French Revolution, exotic stripe patterns of Egyptian and Turkish styles were introduced mainly as a consequence of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt. Such stripe patterns came into frequent use for clothes and interior decorations.

Blue—the universal color
The appeal of blue transcends generations and geographical location. Historically speaking, various types of blue clothing have taken center stage in fashion—that worn by the Virgin Mary and royalty, as well as jeans, which went from being workwear to street fashion. Perhaps the reason blue enjoys universal appeal is because it is rarely found in nature, and, therefore, seems profound and far off, inaccessible like the sky and the ocean.

The textile, featuring large botanical patterns that emit a beautiful glow as a result of sterling silver thread, is Spitalfields silk. The contrast between the blue silk taffeta and the silver thread creates a harmonious beauty that is simply stunning. The light, elegant and uninhibited taste of Rococo was accentuated by color.

This suit is characterized by elegant embroidery and pale. In the eighteenth century, the soft and light hues of this dress replaced the darker hues of the seventeenth century. Boucher, the French court painter, and Gainsborough, the English painter known for his portraits of aristocrats, painted women’s dresses in this color.

The border pattern here is wood-block printed. Compared to small-scale designs, large patterns require a solid technique to avoid misalignment of the print colors. Considering that this mixed fabric of silk and wool is a material hard to print on, this dress is a particularly fine example on how much cloth printing techniques had evolved.

Bright purple became fashionable with the invention of the chemical dye aniline in 1856 by British chemist William Parkin, which led to a range of synthetic colors that caught the world's imagination. The usage of fashionable color and the generous drapery used in this dress are characterized of the house of Worth.

A dress in a vivid blue that is distinctive of synthetic dyes. In the second half of the 19th century, a wide range of blues were produced in this period using synthetic dyes, including Lyons Blue, Alkali Blue, and synthetic indigo.

The small waist, the flared skirt and the halter neck were representative features of 1950s fashion. The blue with a purple tint is particularly striking. Elegance with a hint of casualness was Robert Piguet’s signature.

The hippie culture, which dominated in the 1960s, created an anti-modern style: long hair for both men and women, hand-made type folklore fashion and ragged jeans. Jeans were worn by American laborers. The jeans is made by patchwork to emphasize the essential aspect of handwork.

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