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:
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. 🙂