Contrast Colors – The Building Blocks of Fashion

Over the years, we have found that it’s easy to get lost looking at the various styles of Victorian clothing and the tendency is for it all to blend together into a massive collage of “stuff.” What’s a lot harder is to “get under the hood,” so to speak, and attempt to determine the logic of specific style choices. So, in an attempt to shed some light on late Victorian style, we have decided to hone in on one of the most common features in the styles of the era and that’s the use of colors and textures in a deliberate manner to create a specific aesthetic effect. We hope you enjoy our small excursion.

The use contrasting colors and textures was a major element in late Victorian Era fashion and as such, it offered a wealth of style possibilities. During the 1880s, the use of contrast was especially in vogue and there were endless variations on this theme. The use of contrasting colors is an effective method for breaking up what would otherwise make for a plain, monochromatic appearance.

So what are contrasting colors? Simply put, they are colors that are separated by one or more colors on the color wheel and the more colors that stand between them, the greater the contrast. Looking at the color wheel below gives an illustration of this:

Or, to put it another way, the color combinations below would be considered to be high contrast:

 Color Contrast1

Color Contrast2

Color Contrast3

Granted, this is somewhat of an oversimplification but it conveys the basic idea. 😃

So, turning to fashion, how does this translate? For the late 19th Century, we see an assortment of contrast colors and one good illustration of this is with this circa Mid/Late 1880s dress that we found on the Augusta Auctions website:

Here we see these basic contrast colors:

Color Contrast4.png

Here are some more pictures:

In terms of color, what is also interesting is that celedon is a cool color while the burgundy, and the yellow gold to a lesser extent, are warm colors and this serves to only intensify the contrast. Also, the cut of the overskirt draping over the underskirt is also dramatic and it further emphasizes the contrast. When looking at this dress, eye is immediately drawn to the skirts.

The contrast in colors continues up the bodice, given an enlarged “canvas” to the design and from a distance, this dress could almost be a princess line. Below are some close up views:

Texture also plays a role here in that one can see three different textures at work: a burgundy-colored silk velvet; an overskirt/over bodice of celadon silk brocade; and a yellow gold box-woven silk or cotton.

The above has been a somewhat oversimplified examination of the use of contrast colors in late Victorian fashion but it illustrates one of the basic building blocks of fashion during this period. Stay tuned for more in the future. 🙂


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