Harmonizing Color- Victorian Style

One common element in fashion is the matching and harmonizing of colors in an outfit. This can take the form of arranging complementary and analogous colors or the arrangement of one color in various hues and tints. One of the most common methods of harmonizing color in an outfit is to simply use the same color for all the elements- skirt, bodice, hat, parasol, et al. While both methods were utilized during the late 19th Century, the absolute matching of colors was less prevalent than what is the case today and this can be seen in many of the various extant dresses and fashion plates of the period. Below is a plate from the July 1888 edition of Der Bazar that illustrates this with the middle figure:

With the middle figure, we see the use of a French blue as the predominant color for both bodice and skirts with yellow as an accent color for the sleeve cuffs, collar, bodice front and amscyes. Also, most notably, the same color blue is depicted with the parasol and hat with matching yellow accent color. Here we see a harmonious whole created with the two colors to include even the hat and parasol.

However, we need to make a few qualifications here: the color choices could have simply been the work of the illustrator operating under the mandate of “make something pretty looking” or it may actually reflect a conscious desire to push matching accessories. We’ll probably never know the full story on this but what we do know is that color harmonization to Victorians was more broadly interpreted that what is the case today. Here’s an example of a color scheme that’s seemingly not so harmonious with the left figure from the October 1887 edition of Der Bazar:

To the modern eye, brown and violet are not the most seemingly harmonious colors, yet they’re technically complementary or split complementary colors going by the standard color wheel.  Of course, we’re looking at a model wearing a mantle over the dress and color-wise, outerwear tends to be neutral but it still gives the idea.

Going further, here’s another color combination that’s not a seemingly logical choice as seen with the left figure in this plate from the January 1887 edition of Godey’s Ladysbook:

With the left dress, we see a combination of old gold/mustard yellow and pink,  a combination that’s not a first choice in today’s fashion. Of course, this is somewhat of a subjective thing and no doubt there are examples that will contradict but it still illustrates the idea that there are a number of ways to harmonize color in an outfit, whether it’s just a dress or an ensemble to include accessories.

OK, enough fashion plates, let’s look at an actual dress with this 1880s visiting dress:

Three-quarter frontal view

Side Profile

Here we see an explosion of warms colors from underneath a cool celadon/sea foam green outer layer. With the striped underlayer, we see a series of analogous colors which in turn somewhat complementary to the celadon/seafoam green. It’s an interesting illustration of the use of color for the era and it’s quite imaginative. When it comes to color preference, there are not many hard and fast rules and in the end,  it’s a matter of personal preference. In this post, we have attempted to point out some of the nuances of color choices in the fashions of the era. 🙂

And For A Little Fashion From Sweden…1880s Style

With our upcoming trip to Sweden in September, we decided to dig a little into the Sweden’s fashion history as it relates to the late 19th Century and we found some interesting fashion plates from a Swedish fashion magazine entitled Freja. Unfortunately, we don’t know anything about the publication but the fashion plates were compelling and so we had to share them. 🙂 First up in the spirit of the summer season is these two plates:

The styles depicted in these plates are fairly standard for the period but are still compelling in that each has a fairly similar silhouette yet each one has an individual style. In the first plate from August 1885, the figure on the left’s dress is a solid color with matching hat with the skirt having multiple layers of ruching and ruffles. The sleeves and bodice front are a bit over the top with all the excess lace and overall the dress reads a bit too formal for the seaside. The dress on the right presents a contrast with a printed floral design combined with a solid color ruched pseudo-waist/vest underneath the bodice front. The color combination presents a harmonious combination (allowing for the fact that this is a colored fashion plate). Finally, the dress on the right presents a unified whole with clean lines and minimal trim.

In this plate from August 1886, we  see two more different styles in which the waist is far more minimized than in the first plate. The dress on the left creates the illusion of a closed robe with white lace providing a contrast layers that outlines the rest of the dress. The garment is drawn in at the waist with a belt and gives an illusion of a continuous garment although it’s obvious that the bodice and skirt are separate (of course, we could be wrong, considering that we’re looking at a photograph of the place). The use of contrasting white lace flounces provides an interesting effect that outlines the garment and draws the eye in.

The dress on the right provides a different style approach with the use of a solid color combined with a thin material (probably some variety of a light cotton voile or similar over a heavier cotton underlayer (cotton seems the logical choice). The folds of the lighter outerlayer creates the effect of a loose-fitting garment although it’s obvious that there’s a corset and bustle on underneath. Perhaps a nod towards aesthetic dress? 🙂 If nothing else, it certainly gives off a princess line appearance. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to the commentary that accompanied these places so a lot of our comments are based on a bit of conjecture.

The two dresses depicted in the above plate from February 1885 are more of what could be termed reception or visiting dresses and were meant for more indoors wear. The dress on the left is an interesting combination of a silk brocade underskirt combined with a solid silk overskirt, all in the same gold colors with a bit of white lace running long the front to provide contrast. The black velvet (conjecture on our part) bodice offers an interesting color counterpoint to the skirts. Thin strips of gold brocade fabric running on each edge of the bodice front provides a continuation of the skirts, drawing the eye upwards with a pseudo-waist of white lace for contrast.

Compared to the left dress, the right dress provides a light and airy contrast with its white lace underskirt, apron, and inner bodice combined with a rich red velvet-like outerskirt and bodice. It’s a visual one-two punch that definitely attracts the eye. 🙂

In this last plate from December 1884, we see a combination of afternoon/visiting dresses done in a combination of solid color velvet combined with velvet brocade. The dress on the right provides the best view with a velvet brocade underskirt combined with a solid-colored overskirt trimmed in fur. The bodice presents a dramatic appearance with a plastron of the same velvet brocade as the underskirt combined with solid-colored sleeves. This dress gives an effect of a robe being worn on the outside although it’s obvious that the bodice and skirts are separate. The above is just a taste of what was in style for Sweden during the mid-1880s and in future posts we hope to uncover more.