The Power of Color, Texture, and Light

Successful garment design is a combination of several elements: design, fit, fabric, texture, and luster (i.e., shine). We here at Lily Absinthe propose to add one more to the above: suitability for a given place and time. The elements (indoor/outdoor) affect the appearance of the garment. Some fabrics were never meant to be viewed in natural light, they were meant to be seen in a ballroom or other indoor venue that is lite with either candle, gas, or electric light.

When one transgresses these boundaries, the end result give a harsh and unnatural result. For example, shiny satins worn in the noonday sun only serve to look harsh and glaring; the end result is a visual effect that  is the equivalent of running one’s nails across a chalkboard. However, this same fabric when shown to its full advantage indoors looks rich and beautiful, if not luxurious.

Below are two examples of different fabrics and their appearance:

Karin_Lilac Dress1The above dress is meant to be seen in natural light. Matte, sheer cotton layers create non-reflective surfaces that absorb sunlight, not reflect it.


Dana Delany from Tombstone.

In contrast to the first dress, this dress is meant to be seen under artificial light. It is rich and highly reflective, utilizing the available light to its full advantage (note, lighting of the late 19th Century is much more dim than what we are used to today). However, in sunlight it would look like cheap tinfoil.

Saloon Girls1

Saloon girls from What Have I Done.

Here is an example of when the rule is intentionally broken showing the harshness of the shiney reflective fabrics in the noonday desert sun.


Meryl Streep from Out of Africa.

Above is another example of color at work. Here the colors of the outfit are matte and remain muted in the harsh sunlight and brilliant foliage of Kenya.

Whether designing for a  production or simply making something for yourself, one must be mindful of the interaction between light and fabric.

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