Time for a long-overdue brand new FRIDAY FASHION FACT!!!
Today my goal is to brighten your view of the Victorian Era, literally!
We’re talking colors! Thanks to our often Penny Dreadful-esque view of
the Victorian Era, or the fact that photos of the time are black and
white, we often think of the Victorian world as being quite dark,
shrouded by a grey film. In reality, the Victorian World was nearly as
technicolor as our world today- neon signs and psychedelic patterns
aside, of course. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the world has
always been full of color (thanks, nature!) The vivacity of colors in fashion took a
huge step forward in the middle of the 19th Century, though, thanks to
the creation of aniline dyes.
What are aniline dyes, you
ask? To put it simply, they are artificial dyes. There is plenty of
chemistry behind it if you want to get specific, but I’m not even going
to attempt to go into that (if you’re interested in the science of it,
head on over to Wikipedia or something and knock yourself out.) Before
aniline dyes, nearly all dyes were created out of natural materials-
mainly plants, but even insects, snails, and other creatures. I say
nearly because there is record of chemical dyes being created in the
late 18th and early 19th century, but they did not make any notable
presence in fashion. Perhaps a surprisingly wide range of colors could
be created using natural dyes, but they often had major limitations.
Several colors were very expensive, since the materials used to create
them were limited. Other colors were not very steadfast, and would
bleed, fade, or discolor with time.
Like many of the
world’s greatest inventions, aniline dye was first created by accident.
In 1856, chemist William Henry Perkin attempted to create a chemical
version of a natural malaria remedy. Instead, he accidentally created a
rich purple pigment which he dubbed mauvine. He was only 18 years old at
the time. Perkin saw the potential of the vivid shade, and worked to
turn it into a viable dye. He figured out an inexpensive way to produce
the color, and discovered that using tannin would make the color stay
fast. It was the first affordable option that mimicked the rich violets
popular among royalty at the time. With the help of some publicity by
Perkin himself, by the 1860s, Perkin’s mauvine was the “it” color.
aniline dyes impacted more than just purple. The formula used for
mauvine became the blueprint for other chemical dyes. Electric pink,
blue, emerald green, even black dyes were developed. While many of these
shades had been available before, the new chemical versions were more
affordable and more resilient. Not all aniline dyes where bright or bold
colors, though. In fact, it is hard to know how many dyes from the
1860s and later are chemical or natural without testing, since they are
often soft, subtle shades. Of course, throughout the years, other forms
of chemical dyes were created, yet it was aniline that first broke
through and made the full color wheel available to the masses.
a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next
FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!