The 1870s Or 1970s?

Sometimes a random encounter can spark an idea and today’s post is no exception. In the course of looking for some pictures for another project, I came across a series of pictures of a circa 1874 day dress made by Charles Worth. While the design was fairly standard, it was colors that jumped out at me- they just screamed “1970s.” At the same time, we know that colors are a universal thing with various colors being emphasized during different eras.

Color has always played a role in defining the fashions of an era, whether it be the 19th Century or today and it’s one of the first things we notice. For some eras, color can exert a very powerful influence and one such era was the 1970s. When most people think about 1970s fashions, the reaction is almost invariably: “What were we thinking?” 🙂

As a generalization, the 1970s were characterized by many unfortunate fabric and style choices (as one of my fashion design textbooks described it) dominated by an earth tone color palette led, of course, by avocado and harvest gold:

1970s Color Palette Pantone

And here’s that color palette in action:

Image result for 1970s fashions

Yes, Paul Poiret would probably not approve… 🙂

So, one would think that the above color palette was unique to the 1970s but in reality, the color palette has been around since the concept of fashion was first developed. In terms of the 1870s, the same “1970s color palette” was present as seen in this circa 1874 day dress attributed to Worth:

Worth Day Dress c. 1874

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1874; Rhode Island Institute of Design Museum ( 2005.89.12)

Worth Day Dress c. 1874

Worth Day Dress c. 1874

The silhouette and style of this dress definitely reads early 1870s and is fairly standard. However, what caught our eye was the color palette which just screamed “1970s” and to be honest, it’s not our favorite color combination but there it is… 🙂

Trending For 1896…

Shirt waists (or waists) were definitely a major fashion item during the 1890s and they came in a wide variety of styles and colors. In an an era of black and white photography, it’s easy to lose sight (pardon the pun) of the idea that waists came in colors other than white. In this fashion plate, we see a very simple pink waist worn with a brown skirt. The sleeves on the waist are more relaxed than the stereotypical highly starched/structured leg-of-mutton sleeves (but that could simply be artistic license).


1896 Waist Skirt Fahsion Plate

Here are some extant examples of waists that come close to the above plate:

In terms of fashion, waists were a relatively simple style but it did point the way for the more practical clothing styles that were to follow during the 20th century and more importantly, reflected of the changing status of women in society (a process that continues to this day).