28 April 2018 -
In January 2018, I was thrilled to learn that my Design History Society Research Publication Grant application had been successful. These funds will be used to contribute to the colour printing of my book Color, Science and Fashion: Splendid Hues in the 19th Century (Bloomsbury Academic, forthcoming).
This book addresses the striking developments in colour of textiles in the nineteenth-century, one of the most significant and visible aspects of women's fashion during this period. Over the course of the century, chemists introduced hundreds of new textile dyes that allowed these dramatic changes. Dyes made from coal-tar aniline, producing vibrant colours such as 'mauve', 'magenta', and 'azureline', attracted particular attention from the scientific community, female consumers, and the fashion and popular presses. Because of their variety and brilliance, middle-class women in Great Britain and the United States welcomed these 'splendid hues', in the words of an 1863 fashion report. Contemporaries also celebrated this rainbow of fashionable textiles as a vivid illustration of scientific progress and modernity.
Color, Science and Fashion contextualises colour and fashion, concentrating on the mid-nineteenth-century as a key period of textile dye development. Contemporary science populisers encouraged middle-class women to educate themselves about science in their everyday lives and this book shows how fashion's use of novel dyes constituted a crucial example of this scientific engagement. The bright colours created also tested etiquette and theories about colour and its use, which were significant aspects of fashion advice aimed at women. In a period of increasing attention to female public appearance, fashion was an arena of profound ideological concern. Colour played a key role in women's negotiations of their social roles through dress. Drawing on texts, images, and objects, this book reveals a transatlantic network of dye chemists, fashion journalists, and female consumers united in a common culture of chemistry and colour.
Color, Science and Fashion argues that appreciating nineteenth-century attitudes towards colour and science is essential to understanding dress and fashion in the period. The images for the book include hand-coloured fashion plates from women's magazines, illustrations accompanying colour theory texts, pages from notebooks kept by dye chemists (known as colourists) working for textile manufacturers, and surviving garments and accessories from museum collections. Colour was a key concern for colourists, fashion journalists, and female consumers, so most of these images and objects feature novel and distinctive colours, particularly the vivid hues created with aniline dyes. Although the publisher can provide a small number of colour images, colour throughout the book is crucial to show readers the range of colours produced, worn, and discussed during this period. Many of the objects and images have not been widely published (or published at all), so their appearance in colour will help to bring these primary sources to the attention of other historians and students.
By situating colour and science within broader discussions of propriety and modernity in women's clothing, the book proposes a new, interdisciplinary interpretation of female dress and its place in middle-class culture. It also contributes to a growing body of literature about the aesthetic and cultural significance of colour in the nineteenth-century. In this book that engages so deeply with the perceptions and meanings of colour, full colour illustrations throughout will make it more compelling and appealing for all readers. I am very grateful to the Design History Society for helping to make this possible.
University of Brighton