All That Glitters: White, Light, and Bright Gowns in the Past
January 12, 2011
1784 Robe a l’Anglaise (source? is this The Met?)
In my travels around the Land of the Internet lately I have noticed countless white (or some version thereof, like creme, or ecru) gowns, ranging from the 18th century all the way up to the 1930s. Most of these examples were evening gowns, with a fair smattering of dinner dresses and some day gowns, and it got me thinking about light-colored clothing in the past.
You see, black was not a color well-regarded by women of days gone by. Black was reserved for mourning, and seldom worn in-whole for any other reason. It was not a color young ladies appreciated at all – we have many examples of literary young women complaining about how long they have to wear mourning clothes, for black is so unbecoming. With the black being culturally associated withe Death, naturally white would represent the opposite: Life, health, youth, purity.
1820s from LACMA
The preference for light colors started as far back as the late Elizabethan reign, with Elizabeth I appearing in white gowns, as symbols of her purity. The light colors carried into the 17th c. for both men and women, but by the end of the 17th c. heavy, dark brocades came back into fashion, and we see this all the way into the first quarter of the 18th c. By the middle of the 18th c., pastels and florals on light grounds were all the rage, and when we reach the early 19th c., we see nothing but white muslin gowns for the first several years. It is in the 19th c. that the color white becomes specifically associated with wedding gowns, but this did not stop everyone else and their mothers from wearing light colors. We see it all the way through the 19th c. and into the Edwardian. The light-ness finally comes to a screeching halt with the invention of The Little Black Dress, in the mid 1920s, by Coco Chanel.
1865 (Met?) a stunning confection in creme, light greens.
So why all the love for light colors? Well, I think a little common sense can help us with this one. Light colors flatter young ladies and make them stand out in dark rooms, such as lamp-lit dance halls and dining rooms. All of that glistening light-colored silk, beading, and sparkly trims make for stunningly shiny and eye-catching ladies when everything is lit by candles. I believe the fabric and trim choices for clothing directly correlate with the development of gas lights and then electricity. What do you all think?
Worth gowns, OMG
So in thinking about this, I consider the next ballgown to be made, and I find myself being drawn towards a champagne color, or a creme, with pretty same-color trims, beading, texture. What is more beautiful than white-on-white-on-white?