1930s Fashion – The Art of Color in Dress

Style Advice for the vintage enthusiast –

The Mode in Dress and Home, by Dulcie Godlove Donovan ( I love that name !) was published in 1935 and can be found on the Prelinger Library at Archive.org. It was a textbook for secondary schools with the aim of giving young women an understanding of aesthetic and social development. I’ve picked out some highlights from the chapters on color harmony in dress and for your type.Enjoy !

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love color the most.”

Classes of Color

1930s Fashion - The Art of Color in Dress
Picture – One’s fall costume may successfully copy the autumn foliage if the dull brown shade of dried leaves is contrasted with touches of deeper brown and warm gold tints.

All classes of colors may be obtained by mixing in various proportions the three color groups.

Primary colors
These, red, yellow, and blue, are the fundamental colors from which all colors are made.

Secondary colors
When two primary colors are mixed in equal amounts in a fabric, a secondary color results. The secondary colors, orange, green, and violet, are made thus; equal parts red and yellow mixed together produce orange; equal parts of yellow and blue produce green; and equal parts of blue and red produce violet.

Intermediate Colors.
When a primary and a secondary color are mixed, an intermediate color is the result. Yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange. These are the main intermediate colors seen in dress fabrics. There are many graduations of these colors depending on the mix.

Consider the color of a typical 1930s dress, the relation of the frocks color scheme,and its combined effect when worn by you ! If you wish to buy a new blue dress, you might want a peacock-blue, which is really a green-blue. This means that the main or predominating color is blue with some green in it. You should be able to look at any color and call it by its real color name. When you can do this, then color in dress becomes a real joy !

The Color Chart.

1930s-Fashion---The-Art-of-Color-in-Dress-color wheel
Picture – As an aid to a study of colors the primary, secondary, and intermediate colors are arranged on a color chart.

In the color chart, the ‘complimentary colors’ are those colors which lie opposite each other. They are in the strongest possible contrast in other wards, yet they have the power to complete and enrich a wardrobe when worn together. For example, a red holly berry is much prettier when seen against its complimentary color of green holly leaves !

Values of Red

1930s-Fashion---The-Art-of-Color-in-Dress-values of red
Picture – Think of all the tints (light values) and the shades (dark values) of red.

Think of all the different pinks, all tints of red, between the light and medium values. Then as we think of all the deeper shades of red we know that there are many shades or values between the middle or medium red and the lowest or darkest red. Depending on your objective with what you choose to wear in other wards, white and light values seem to make the subject appear larger, while black and dark values seem to make the subject appear smaller. The same can be said about make-up.

Color Harmonies

A color harmony is that combination of colors which gives pleasure. All the colors should belong together and both be a pleasing contrast against each other as well as lie near to one another on the color chart. The color wheel above should help you to this end.

Let’s look at some of these related harmonies.

1930s-Fashion---The-Art-of-Color-in-Dress -related harmonies
Picture – The left ensemble is a monochromatic harmony of the different values and intensities of just one color – blue. The right ensemble shows an analogous color harmony of yellow-orange (shoes), yellow (dress and hat), and yellow-green (the trimming on the dress and hat).

Now lets look at some contrasted harmonies.

Picture – A complimentary harmony of orange and blue is seen on the left ensemble. The ensemble in the middle shows a split compliment or a Y on the color chart of blue (dress), blue-violet (hat), and orange (tie). A triad of primary colors is shown in the party dress on the right. The blue frock with rose and yellow dots makes a perfect triad !

Some pointers for color selection

The afternoon dress denotes a background of beautiful pastels for teas, parties, and daytime occasions. As sportswear typifies a background of the strong out of doors coloring’s, colors should be bright and gay. In the evening electric lights throw a softened appearance and call for colors of deeper and richer tints.

Picture – Bright and gay colors for Sportswear.

Colors for different types.

The test for a becoming color is whether it blends with the coloring of your skin, hair, and eyes. Be sure to try the colors. As you try each color it is helpful to consider, “Does this color look as if it belongs to me?”

Colors for Blondes – a cool type

Picture – Blondes look best in the cool colors because blondes have a cool coloring.

In general the average blonde looks best in the pastels and light medium values of most colors. The paler she is, the more she should avoid the brilliant hues and dark shades, confining her selection to light tints or pastels. If her coloring is pure or of a vivid nature, the medium or dark shades are preferable. The best colors for blondes are from the blues and the greens.

Colors for Brunettes – a warm type

Picture – Brunettes may wear brighter colors than blondes. As brunettes are considered a warm type, they should wear warm colors.

Brunettes may wear brighter colors and darker shades than blondes because brunettes are not so delicate in coloring. The pale brunette looks attractive in the light or medium colors which harmonize closely with her coloring. The coloring of the pure or vivid brunette is usually is usually enhanced by the clear or brighter colors. Red is considered the best color for a brunette.

Colors for Auburn – the warm type

Picture – the auburn, often called a Titian type, needs to use care in selecting her colors because of her red hair.

The auburn or red-headed girl is often called a Titian type, named after Titian, the great painter, who liked best to paint red-headed women. This type must be cautious in selecting her colors because she has a real color problem. Sometimes she wishes to subdue the color of her hair by using dull warm colors like red-browns, orange-browns, and red-violets, or she may wish to emphasize the color of her hair by using warmed cool colors like warm blues, orange-yellow, and warm grays.Dull greens and browns are the best colors for auburn’s.

Colors for Browns – an intermediate type

Picture – A brown or intermediate type. This type of coloring has some of the characteristics of both blondes and brunettes.

The browns, or intermediate type, comprise the average people, those who are not assertive in coloring. These people are just between the blondes and brunettes and they have some characteristics of both types. If they have good complexions, they can wear almost any color, providing there is not too great a contrast between the value of their coloring and the colors selected.

That’s all !
©Glamourdaze 2017
Excerpts from The Mode in Dress and Home, by Dulcie Godlove Donovan 1935

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