Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Color of Vintage

One of my most prized pieces of fashion ephemera is an early 1930s brochure, put out by the Holeproof Hosiery Co. of New York. The brochure is entitled Hosiery and Costume Colors, Spring and Summer 1932. The purpose of the booklet was promotional, serving to instruct merchants, sales personnel and customers in the “correct use of hosiery colors”. Given that most hosiery colors from the 1930s were less than exciting (generally some shade of tan or beige) the Holeproof Hosiery, marketing team really out did themselves with this one. Instead of focusing on the hose itself they filled the book with gorgeous fashion illustrations and coordinated textile swatches featuring the color trends of the day. Every aspect of an ensemble was featured including, of course, the proper stocking choice.

Material swatches above, illustrations below, from a Spring/Summer 1932 Hosiery Brochure, featuring the seasons color trends

As I perused the booklet it struck me how very important color trend is and has been, to the world of fashion so I began looking through some old fashion periodicals for references. I have the good fortune to posses a handful of original issues of L’art de la Mode (a monthly fashion journal, published from 1882-1896) and in the beginning of each there is a page devoted to the latest fashion sightings complete with detailed color descriptions. The February 1888 issue reports that “among new shades of color are Cordova, a lovely pale golden shade of terra cotta, deerskin, old oak, antique blue with a tinge of green in it, a peculiar pink for evening called heart of the tea rose, a dark blue gray called osage, and malatesta, a warm russet brown” for evening there were wraps of “watered velvet in dark Indian red or the favorite gobelin blue shades” and for the more conservative woman “Ladylike and elegant costumes…in neutral shades of dove, old silver beige and also in pale olive and heliotrope.”
I could just envision this lovely palette…done in elegant woolens, promenading a snowy city park …. or rustling silk taffeta bathed in the glow of a towering candle arbor or rich velvets at the opera.

Color Fashion Plates L'art de la Mode Feb.1888

Descriptions of fashion shades have always been concocted with poetic license, but in my opinion, nothing rivals the whimsical heights of color wordsmithing like the mid 20th century. Some of my favorite examples come from textile and fashion ads from the 1940s and 50s. Although I’m not always exactly sure what colors the magazine copy is describing they certainly sound pretty. Petunia blue, coffee frost, star pink, jazz red, horizon green, moonbeam beige, licorice black…. and the list goes on.

Often a magazine itself will take the lead and rather than merely report what is being shown they will declare their own picks for the season. In 1955 Glamour themed their March issue around a choice of five colors for the Spring season… Amber, Hyacinth, Red, Yellow and Blue. They deemed these shades “Glamour Colors” explaining that “These five Glamour Colors, from pale tints to deep tones cover fashion…and are abundantly explained on page after page in this issue” Readers were instructed on how to wear them and mix them, and encouraged to seek them out at their favorite stores. Many of the issues advertisers keyed their ads to Glamour’s chosen palette. I have no idea if their campaign had much influence on what was worn that Spring but it was an interesting angle for sure.

Glamour Magazine's choice for Spring Colors, March 1955

Today the garment industry is just as focused on color trends and forecasts as they ever were. I sell to a number of textile and fashion designers and I love hearing them converse over a piece of vintage that catches their interest. Often times the discussion will be around color and I’ve sold many an item just because it was an unusual shade or had an interesting combination of colors in the print. One of the most important reasons people wear vintage is because they can find something that stands out from the ready to wear, du jour and a big part of that uniqueness has to do with the signature colors from the many eras and genres represented. Before this latest obsession of mine, I think I underestimated how integral color is to the appeal of vintage fashion. Not any more :)

From my own collection, a favorite Rayon print dress from the 1940s, note the electric play of vibrant pink against the green, just beautiful!