Historical Sew Fortnightly

The HSF ’14: Challenge #17: Yellow (happy happy yellow!)

Now, it’s a pretty well known fact that yellow isn’t the most popular colour.  It’s few peoples favourite colour, and many people actually dislike it.

And it’s an equally well known fact, at least among readers of this blog, that I love yellow.

Pictured: love

I’m particularly smitten with the rich, saturated shades of 17th century yellow, and the deep, acidic tones of 18th century yellow, but really, I adore yellow in all its forms.

Queen Henrietta Maria, 1632, Anthony van Dyke

Queen Henrietta Maria, 1632, Anthony van Dyke

German bodice, 1660s

German bodice, 1660s

Robe a la francaise, 1750s, KCI?

Robe a la francaise, 1750s, Royal Ontario Museum

So obviously, I’m extremely excited about the HSF Challenge #17: Yellow, due Mon 1 Sept.

I know some of you aren’t that excited about it, and some people have even had a bit of a complain about it, and that makes me quite sad.

Because, as you know, I think the HSF should be a bit of a challenge: we should have to push ourselves, and try new things (even if they don’t always work out).

And, of course, I love yellow.

Shoe, Italy, 18th century

Shoe, Italy, 18th century

I’ve waxed so poetically and enthusiastically about it that I’ve even brought some of you former yellow haters to the bright side.  And if I didn’t, that’s OK, it doesn’t matter if you like it or not, because I still will!  (though I advocate liking all the colours, because colours are awesome and the world would be a boring place without them all, and every colour, no matter how much you dislike it, probably has an application where it looks amazing (I say probably because there is a particular shade of purple that I will probably never be able to look at again without cringing, and one day you’ll find out why)).

One of the reasons many people don’t like yellow is because they find it unflattering.  I think it’s worth taking a moment to stop and think about this.

Saint Lucia in Court, 1532, Lorenzo Lotto

Saint Lucia in Court, 1532, Lorenzo Lotto

First, what we consider flattering today is often not what was considered flattering historically.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that yellow ‘washes me out’, and that’s kind-of true: yellow can make a lot of skin tones look lighter.  But up until the 1920s, lighter, paler, and less tanned was better.  Yellow is often cited as a flattering colour in 19th century fashion literature, when tanning was definitely not the thing.  So while it may not fit in with out modern beauty ideals (though pale and interesting has returned, and I love it!), from a period perspective it’s doing the right thing.

Second, how yellow flatters you depends on the fabric, and the dye.

Évrard de Conty, France, Cognac, 1496-1498. Illustrated by Robinet Testard, Paris, BNF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 143, fol. 116

Évrard de Conty, France, Cognac, 1496-1498. Illustrated by Robinet Testard, Paris, BNF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 143, fol. 116

We wear a lot of cotton and synthetic fabrics today, and you may not look very good in yellow in them, but try a yellow silk, and you might feel very differently.  Silk reflects light beautifully, casting a warm, flattering glow back up on your face, so a much wider range of colours will look good on you in silk (really high quality linen also has a beautiful, flattering lustre).

Finally, prior to the invention of synthetic dyes in the 1860s, all dyes were made from plant or mineral sources, and natural dyes tend to be more dimensional and dynamic, and thus more flattering.  Some of the synthetic yellow shades are very flat and harsh, making them hard to wear.

 

Poiret Oriental gown, Spring 1913. Sold at the Doyle couture auction, November 1999.

Poiret Oriental gown, Spring 1913. Sold at the Doyle couture auction, November 1999.

Even if you still don’t like yellow despite my earnest efforts to convince you of its many virtues, there are all sorts of  things that you can make for the challenge without going for the allover-head-to-toe yellow ensemble.

A yellow trimmed hat, yellow bag, yellow gloves (extremely fashionable during a number of periods), yellow stockings, or even a yellow housewife (so you aren’t actually wearing it) are all ways to add a lovely spot of colour to an outfit.

Gallery of Fashion, October 1794

Gallery of Fashion, October 1794

Yellow silk stockings with embroidered blue knit clock. England, early 19th century. KCI

Yellow silk stockings with embroidered blue knit clock. England, early 19th century. KCI

And your item needn’t be completely yellow: as long as yellow as an obvious and important part of the design it counts.

So go forth and make lovely glow-y, happy, sunshine-y things! (and hopefully feel glow-y, and happy, and sunshine-y about making them, whether you are working with a colour you already love, or being brave and stretching your boundaries – which is a good thing in and of itself.)  If you need more yellow inspiration, I have whole pinterest board full of yellow deliciousness.

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