Color And The Perfect Dress…

Color is one of the cornerstones of any dress design and as such, it’s one of the designer’s first considerations along with silhouette, line, and fabrics. So, once the color and fabric are selected, that’s it- on to the other parts of the design, right? Well, most of the time, yes. Generally, fabric color is set during the manufacturing process either by dying the filaments before they’re spun into threads or yarns; dying the yarns/treads before weaving the fabric, or dying the fabric after it’s been woven. So it would seem that’s settled…or is it?

Well, there are exceptions…through the use of specific fabric types and fabric manipulation, the designer can present new colors as well and even create the illusion of changing colors to create new color effects while adding variety and interest to the basic design. One of the simplest techniques involves the layering one or more fabrics over each other, a style characteristic of the Nouveau Directoire style that was popular during the years 1908 -1913. One such example is this evening dress from circa 1909:

Evening Dress c. 1909

Whelan-Hannan, Evening Dress, 1909; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1981.518.3)

Evening Dress c. 1909

Rear View

Evening Dress c. 1909

Side Profile

In this example, the underskirt is a medium hued turquoise colored silk satin covered with a black net overskirt. The turquoise underskirt is still visible under the black net but now it’s become considerably darker. At the same time, the shiny luster of the silk satin fabric has disappeared and the luster has been dulled down.

Below is a close-up of the upper front. In the center above the waistband, there’s a cut-out portion in the lace/net overlay where the underskirt fabric is visible and one can see the difference between the two colors side-by-side.

Evening Dress c. 1909

Close-Up of Bodice

Finally, just for completeness, the label:

Evening Dress c. 1909

Label

In terms of color theory, the color palette of the above dress is monochromatic: the colors one sees with and without the netting are both a turquoise but one is a darker hue than the other with the dark hue created by the addition of the black net. This is a somewhat simplified explanation but important point is that the original fabric color was modified merely by the addition of another fabric. Of course, for this to work, it relies on a more solid structured fabric to be covered by one that’s thinner and semi-transparent such as net.

The layering effect described above is more pronounced in some eras more than others with the late Edwardian Era being one of the most prominent for this style. Here are a couple more examples of this style:

 Evening Dress Jeanne Paquin 1912

Color has always been area fascination for us and we hope to present a little more of this in future posts so stay tuned.

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