Thursday, January 21, 2016

Gilded Age Etiquette for Dress Color

Two of these frocks are difficult to successfully "pull off" – We at Etiquipedia© are not sure quite when garish color combinations were advised by writers of etiquette, as attainments of "excellence."


Says Sir Joshua Reynolds, "Color is the last attainment of excellence in every school of painting." The same may be said in regard to the art of colors in dress. Nevertheless, it is the first thing in dress to which we should give our attention and study.

We put bright colors upon our little children, we dress our young girls in light and delicate shades, the blooming matron is justified in adopting the rich hues which we see in the autumn leaf, while black and neutral tints are appropriate to the old. This forms the basis upon which to build our structure of color.

Having decided what colors may be worn, it is important to know how they may be worn. One color should predominate in the dress; and if another is adopted, it should be limited in quantity, and only by way of contrast or harmony. Certain colors should never, under any circumstances, be worn together, since they produce positive discord to the eye. If the dress be blue, red should not be introduced by way of trimming, or vice versa. Red and yellow, red and blue, blue and yellow and scarlet and crimson should not be united in the same costume. If the dress is red, green may be introduced in a limited quantity; if green, crimson; if blue, orange. Scarlet and solferino are deadly enemies, killing each other whenever they meet.

Two contrasting colors, such as red and green, should not be used in equal quantities in a dress, as they are both so positive in tone that they divide and distract the attention. When two colors are worn in any quantity, one must approach a neutral tint, such as drab or gray. Black may be worn with any color, though it looks best with the lighter shades of the different colors. White may also be worn with any color, though it looks best with the darker tones. Thus white and any color, though it looks best with the darker tones. Thus white and crimson, black and pink, each contrast better and have a richer effect than though the black were united with the crimson and the white with the pink. Drab, being a shade of no color between black and white, may be worn with the same effect with all.

A person of very fair, delicate complexion should always wear the most delicate of tints, such as light blue, pea-green and mauve. A brunette requires bright colors, such as scarlet and orange, to bring out the brilliant tints in her complexion. A florid face and auburn hair require blue.
There are many shades of complexions which we cannot take time to describe here, the peculiar colors to suit which can only be discovered by actual experiment; and if the persons with these various complexions are not able to judge for themselves, they must seek the opinion of some acquaintance with an artistically trained eye.
  • Pure golden or yellow hair needs blue, and its beauty is also increased by the addition of pearls or white flowers. 
  • If the hair has no richness of coloring, a pale, yellowish green will by reflection produce the lacking warm tint. 
  • Light-brown hair requires blue, which sets off to advantage the golden tint. 
  • Dark-brown hair will bear light blue, or dark blue in a lesser quantity. 
  • Auburn hair, if verging on the red, needs scarlet to tone it down. If of a golden red, blue green, purple or black will bring out the richness of its tints. 
  • Black hair has its color and depth enhanced by scarlet, orange or white, and will bear diamonds, pearls or lustreless gold. 
  • Flaxen hair requires blue.    

From John A. Ruth's,
"Decorum ... A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress," 1877


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