Journal Article

One Essential Thing to Learn is Colour: Harmony, Science and Colour Theory in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Fashion Advice

Charlotte Nicklas

in Journal of Design History

Volume 27, issue 3, pages 218-236
Published in print September 2014 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online September 2013 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/ept030
One Essential Thing to Learn is Colour: Harmony, Science and Colour Theory in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Fashion Advice

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Mid-nineteenth-century fashion advice frequently included references to the suitable and pleasing use of colour in dress. This article argues that colour theory, particularly of the dye chemist Michel-Eugène Chevreul, significantly influenced fashion advice in periodicals aimed at middle-class women: the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine in Britain and Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine in the United States. During this period, women were encouraged to learn about science and apply this knowledge to their daily lives, as well as to enjoy scientific entertainments in public and private. Chevreul’s theories thus appealed to fashion writers because they represented a way of applying science to women’s dress. Chevreul enjoyed a transatlantic reputation as a popular public lecturer who discussed aspects of dress. Fashion writers adapted his recommendations for their readers, using terms such as harmony and contrast and disseminating his ‘laws’ of colour on the appropriate combinations for different complexions. Authors also questioned Chevreul’s pronouncements, reflecting how science was contested and debated during this period. This research therefore interrogates how science and fashion, two fields that are usually considered separately, overlapped in the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in the realm of colour.

Keywords: advice literature; colour; Chevreul; Michel-Eugène; dress; fashion; science

Journal Article.  10800 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Art Forms ; Art Styles ; History of Art ; Industrial and Commercial Art

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