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Color in context

Color in context

Although color can be explained and even rationalized in scientific terms through the arrangement of the color spectrum and associated classification systems, color remains intangible and subjective since there is no way of truly knowing if two people can both see exactly the same color when looking at the same object.

Color offers us a sensory experience and a means of expression and yet our ability to see color is dependent upon light. An object may appear to change color depending on the light even when no changes to pigmentation have occurred. For artists and designers, the color remains an enduring source of fascination, inspiration, and inquiry. Although we might say that color simply exists much as we see it in nature, color also has social and cultural significance. We see colors but we also learn to see and attach meaning to colors through the filters of social, political, religious, and economic agents that can alter or influence our perception of color by introducing symbolic meanings and associations.

Our perception of color has also become extended by technology, including by the use of synthetic pigments and digital colors that are mediated through screen-based technologies. In the context of fashion and textiles, color can represent authority, power and privilege. Historically, sumptuary laws ensured that colors were codified and restricted by hierarchies that denoted the status and privilege of the wearer. Richly colored textiles also communicated wealth and status through clothing. Color can represent identity where the wearing of color might indicate allegiance with a group or cause like the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement in France or perhaps as a mark of patriotism through the wearing of emblematic colors like red, white and blue in France or the United States.

A photograph showing balls of yarn of various colors arranged next to each other

Colorful Yarns – Colorful balls of yarn are arranged and displayed to create maximum visual impact. Credit: Liza Charlesworth.
Artists and designers have also harnessed the power of color to communicate or express a range of emotions like Pablo Picasso during his Blue Period when the artist’s use of monochromatic colors in his paintings reflected a state of depression and personal reflection or James Whistler’s enigmatic portraits of young women wearing white dresses in the artist’s ‘Symphony in White’ paintings that scandalized polite Victorian society.
One of the most enduring and contentious issues associated with color is the link between color and gender identity. Socially constructed and conditioned attitudes that frame gender identity and color are profound and have been used to reinforce gender stereotypes. As academic and feminist discourse continues to explore the parameters of color and gender identity, the ambiguous space that color occupies remains a fertile area for further exploration and reappraisal in fashion design.
Colorful Ribbons – Vibrant colored ribbons are displayed as a color spectrum. Credit: Liza Charlesworth.

In the next step, we will discuss the impact of color theory, saturation, and hue on the use of color in the fashion industry.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Fashion Design

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