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The Right Chemistry: Colors in Fashion, 1704-1918

December 16, 2004 - February 19, 2006

Higbee Gallery

| Anne Bissonnette, Curator

Wearing color is part of the human experience. From time immemorial, colors were an integral part of the fiber of society and their presence, or absence, served a social function. They contribute to making us who we are as individuals and can speak of culture, beliefs and life stages. In the days of slavery, clothing of undyed and unbleached osnaburg fabric served to strip a person of their individuality. The somber yet saturated palette of blues and purples of Amish clothing is part of their culture and beliefs just as the tricolor scheme of revolutionary France.

For centuries, colors and fashion have been linked. While observing the uses and symbolism of different colors and the dye sources of various shades, surviving garments presented in the exhibition help us understand the far reaching applications of color discoveries. Colors have played a central role in the intellectual explosion of science that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, from the discovery of Prussian blue and the publication of Newton's Opticks in 1704 to the landmark synthesis of Perkin's mauveine dye in 1856. As for most garments worn through time, a Prussian blue eighteenth-century stomacher and the many purple gowns on display in the exhibition can be better understood in light of the period's technological breakthroughs. The story told in the exhibition begins at a time when few dyers were chemists and almost all colors were extracted from living organisms, and ends at a time when dyes were synthesized in laboratories.

Unbeknownst to most, science and fashion have long been intertwined.

Wearing color is part of the human experience. From time immemorial, colors were an integral part of the fiber of society and their presence, or absence, served a social function.