Body and Clothing

Tracy Cassidy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Historically, color in clothing was directed by the availability of dyestuff and the color of natural fibers which was then largely managed predominantly by the dye industry as new color or new techniques for dyeing fabrics developed. By the beginning of the twentieth century, as ready-to-wear clothing became more widespread, manufacturers began to direct fashion style and color which resulted in more diversity in color choice though still within certain constraints. By the mid-twentieth century the manufacturing industry felt the need for more guidance on consumer needs and developing trends; and hence a growing need to take more control over color direction in order to produce more marketable goods for near future seasons. As the textile industry declined in the UK and Europe many from the industry migrated towards the newly developing trend forecasting sector. Now armed with dyestuffs and techniques that would allow a full spectrum of colors to be applied to clothing, the forecasting sector plays a key role in creating a consensus of color season-by-season, which today essentially governs color availability on the high street. However, color is more than merely a sales tool. Color has meaning. Individuals have preferences, and aversions, to colors; and thus the meaning and preference of a color differs from one person to another. Color is used as a means of self-expression but is also an essence of periods in time. Color often resonates with the sign of the times as a reflection of socio-economic and political trends, to name but a few of the intrinsic drivers of fashion and consumer acceptance of new products / services, ideas, attitudes, etc. These are the very same drivers that the forecasters of today identify, analyze and re-interpret to project into the not-too-distant future to create a new consensus of color and style for the marketing of new trends. Yet, as individuals we seek to satisfy our own ideals, often finding new ways, or reconnecting with old ways, to defy manufactured fashion trends, and thus to create our own innate aesthetic. Also throughout much of the twentieth century and to present day the notion of individualism and collective style directed through street subcultures challenge such restrictions imposed by the fashion industry. Clothing is only one medium that can be used for the adornment of the body - cosmetics, body painting and tattooing have been used to express individuality and cultural belonging for centuries around the world. The popularity of tattooing has increased more recently. In addition to the industrial perspective, this chapter explores the personal use of color through clothing, cosmetics and body art throughout the time period and the issues that have collectively arisen as a result and how these have, or have not, been resolved to bring a rich understanding of the use of color to adorn the body in the broader context. The intervention of the color forecasting sector directing color in clothing throughout the fashion industry is an important inclusion, as is the need for self-expression and unification in the social context. As Bonnie English eloquently describes the epitome of twentieth century fashion as being, ‘the inter-contextual relationships that exist between designer fashions, popular culture, big business, high-tech production, and the multimedia world of promotion’ (2007: 1). We will see, throughout this chapter, how people and events together shape not only the cultural history of a phenomena of fashionable trends but also the impact of those movements on color.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Cultural History of Colour in the Modern Age
EditorsAnders Steinvall, Sarah Street
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781474206235
ISBN (Print)9781474273732, 9781474273367
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2022

Publication series

NameThe Cultural Histories Series
PublisherBloomsbury Academic


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