Fashion in Colors: White

Dress (Spring/Summer 1998) by Yohji YamamotoThe Kyoto Costume Institute

White—the color of purity

Many of the concepts that white symbolizes are associated with ‘purity’—innocence, virginity, purification, and cleanliness—a pure state, before being ‘tainted’ by color. Being clothed in a snow-white dress symbolized a certain status.

Dress (round gown) (c. 1795)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of antiquity

Around the 1789 French Revolution, the Rococo period's extravagant dresses of brilliant hues changed, becoming simple, white dresses. In this period, the "round gown" appeared, and at the beginning of the 19h century, during the transition to the wildly popular white muslin dress, is when high-waist, one-piece dresses, as shown here, were in vogue.

Dress (c. 1802)The Kyoto Costume Institute

This "chemise dress," similar to the drapes of ancient Greek and Roman statues, is made of thin, transparent, white muslin and characterizes fashion at the beginning of the 19th century.

Dress (c. 1805)The Kyoto Costume Institute

The high-waist skirt has a lot of gather at the back, and a long train. White chemise dresses reminiscent of underwear harmonized with Neoclassicism in this period, and won the hearts and minds of women who sought novel aesthetics and new values after the Revolution.

Gala Dress (c. 1805)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Thin, cotton dresses were wildly popular and the Lyons silk industry, important for the French economy, suffered a severe blow. In order to revive it, Napoleon Bonaparte encouraged the wearing of silk garments in the royal court. In 1811, he issued an Imperial decree that men and women must wear silk clothes at public ceremonies.

Wedding Dress (c. 1882)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of wedding

Traditionally, wedding gowns in the West were not limited to using the color, and brides simply wore gorgeous, fashionable outfits. However, from the 19th century onward the use of colors in shades of white to signify brides' chastity became the standard. Veils of lace and tulle were also in vogue, and in the latter part of the 19th century were so enlarged as to envelop the bride's entire body.

Ball Gown (c. 1880)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Lace and color of luxury

Valenciennes lace in three separate plant patterns are set in organdy. The easily stained white color and the decorations in the dress designate the clothing as upper class items.

The lace used amounts to a length of roughly 50 meters. This dress, using vertical seams to fit closely to the waist and emphasizing the bust and hips, is a princess style, named in honor of Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen of Britain).

Day Dress (c. 1903)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Thin, soft chiffon created the attractive flowing lines that are a distinctive characteristic of the age. Decorated with plenty of lace and thin, airy silk, this dress is a typical example from the Belle Époque period.

Day Dress (c. 1903)The Kyoto Costume Institute

An all-white summer dress with flowing lines, of numerous three-dimensional plant motifs of lace, embroidery and appliqués decoration.
In the Art Nouveau period, flowing curves and naturalism motifs were highly valued.

Dress (c. 1908)The Kyoto Costume Institute

This S-curve silhouette dress is made of three-dimensional crochet lace. This item was made using a type of crochet work called Irish crochet lace. This style of lace was initially made mainly at convents in the south of Ireland in the 1850s, and was modeled after the needlepoint lace of Spain and Venice. Irish crochet lace was originally used to decorate collars and cuffs, but from 1905 to 1910, entire lace dresses were made in Europe and came into fashion.

Day Dress (c. 1909)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Color for new beginnings

A simple tubular silhouette of this dress reminds the style which was fashionable in the Directoire era. It represents the transition period when women's dresses were being liberated from corsets.

Its high waistline and simple silhouette, soft materials, and the loose-fitting lines free from the earlier artificial shape make us remember the dynamism in the period from the end of the 18th century to the early 19th century.

Evening Dress (c. 1944) by Madame GrèsThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Grès' pleated dress

Small pleats contour the lines of the chest, and the natural flow of the cloth becomes a skirt. In the mid-1930s Madame Grès became known for extravagantly arranged clothes made of silk jersey in the classical Greek style and with few visible seams.

Dress (Autumn/Winter 1967) by André CourrègesThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color for the youth

This mini dress, representative work by André Courrèges. Around 1962, mini skirt began to draw attention introduced by Mary Quant, and then they appeared in the haute couture collection for the first time by Courrèges in 1965. It clearly shows the trend toward body consciousness by exposure of the legs and the see-through section at the midriff.

Pantsuit (Autumn/Winter 1969) by André CourrègesThe Kyoto Costume Institute

In the 1960s, youth was a pivotal keyword, and fresh, clean images were highly valued. Courrèges' white spoke to people's admiration for the brand new. André Courrèges had been producing the women's pants style since 1963.

Jacket, Dress, Pants (Spring/Summer 1983) by Yohji YamamotoThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of achromaticity

At the beginning of the 1980s, Japanese designes, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, received a mixed response in Paris to designs that challenged existing aesthetic values in the Western countries due to their achromaticity, loose fit, asymmetry and deliberately-created holes and tears. At that time, Yamamoto said, "If one has only one piece of clothing in life, it becomes patched together, exposed to sun and rain, frayed from the course of daily life. I wanted to create clothing with the same kind of unconscious beauty and natural appeal."

Sweater, Skirt (Autumn/Winter 1983) by Rei KawakuboThe Kyoto Costume Institute

A piece of Rei Kawakubo which drew attention of the Western to the Japanese Fashion. The seemingly complex form of the sweater was created essentially from one straight panel, and has a dynamic voluminous look. The large sleeves spreading to the left and right resemble kimono sleeves. The skirt sags asymmetrically in response to the irregular shapes created by the loosely hanging sweater.

Dress (Spring/Summer 1998) by Yohji YamamotoThe Kyoto Costume Institute

An elegant long dress with a beautiful décolletage, relies not on darts or cuts. Instead on a method of twisting and wrapping the fabric as it follows the contours of the body, Yohji Yamaoto sculpted the shape of a female figure. It is a typical example of his work, showcasing his extraordinary skills in dressmaking.

Dress, Brassiere (Spring/Summer 1998) by Tom FordThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of purity

The fashion of using underwear as outerwear became clearly in the 1980s, when orientation towards body-conscious fashion was in rage again. As part of this trend, in the late 1990s, even luxury and edgy brands such as Gucci and Prada successively introduced camisoles and slips that were more refined, enabling them to be used as tops and dresses. The conventional understanding that underwear should be invisible was gradually changing.

Dress (Spring/Summer 1997) by Karl LagerfeldThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of tradition and innovation

This delicate surface that almost seems like it could crumble away, made by cord embroidery techniques. It is a work of the world famous embroidery atelier Lesage. Incorporating new sensitivity while using traditional techniques, this is an item of rare beauty produced by a craftsman's handwork.

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