Dressed in Color - The Evolution of Color in Fashion: A Six Part Course with Estela Mendes

Dressed in Color - The Evolution of Color in Fashion: A Six Part Course with Estela Mendes


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Though color exists in nature, human society has prescribed it meaning and selected colors for specific use throughout history. In this course, together we will analyze the evolution of six colors, their meaning, and how they were used in fashion through the centuries. This course will unveil the history of six colors, their symbolic meaning, political and artistic expression, and ultimately how people used them in fashion to express who they were or how they wanted to be perceived by others.

We will learn how wearing clothes of a particular color was forbidden for some, and how color in fashion distinguished social class and enhanced the power of others. How technological developments in dyeing technics and new pigments transformed color availability and accessibility. Some colors associated with poverty become symbols of wealth, others expressed political opinions and manifested emotion.

As society gives colors their meaning, we will look into the symbology associated with these colors, how their perception changes through centuries, and how these transformations are reflected in fashion. A description of each session can be explored below

Lecture 1: Black 

From fertility to the idea of darkness, Black assumed different meanings through the ages. In this lecture, we will learn how Black starts from being a color of poverty to becoming the color of wealth in the Spanish Court. How it becomes the color of penitence and mourning. In the twentieth century, the little black dress introduces Black in the wardrobes of women becoming an indispensable item. Important fashion designers like Cristóbal Balenciaga, and later, Yves Saint Laurent used black as a signature color. Music and youth culture adopt Black and give it a rebellious meaning.

Lecture 2: Blue

Like other colors, blue had many interpretations. In this lecture, we will focus on how Blue became the color of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages and how important the color was for the church. For many centuries, Blue was the color of royalty, the favorite of Marie Antoinette. Blue also assumes a political role by becoming the color of the French Revolution. Blue jeans are the ultimate symbol of twentieth-century fashion, though in more sophisticated circles Janne Lanvin presents her signature Lanvin Blue.

Lecture 3: Red

One of the most controversial colors, Red was associated with desire, love, lust, and evil. Red will also become synonymous with wealth, power, and war. This color is also charged with politics, associated with Communism. In this lecture, we will analyze the changes in the perception of Red through the centuries and how it relates to fashion including its variant Purple. From the color of clergy and royalty to becoming the color of lust and seduction. A journey from clergy robes to red lipstick.

Lecture 4: Green 

Symbol of life, hope but also greed or poison, the color Green is one of the most paradoxical of colors. Due to the difficulty in fixating a pigment, Green was associated with the volatility of money or finitude of youth. In this lecture, we will look into the evolution of Green, from Nero’s favorite color to the symbol of wealth in the fifteenth century. How empress Eugenie made green fashionable for evening wear and how many women were poisoned by wearing green dresses dyed with toxic chemicals in the Industrial Revolution.

Lecture 5: Yellow

The color of light and prosperity in Antiquity, or pleasure and abundance in Medieval Europe.  In this lecture, we will cover the role of yellow in Antiquity. The Asian influence will turn yellow into a fashionable color in the Age of Enlightenment with the importation of chinoiseries. Fabrics and silks in this vibrant color will be introduced in the fashions of most European courts. In the twentieth century Asian influence becomes important again and bright. Intense yellow makes its mark on the fashion of Paul Poiret and the 1920s palette.

Lecture 6: Pink

Considered the most divisive of colors, Pink is associated with beauty, femininity, romanticism, and childhood. From Middle Ages, both men and women wore Pink. The color was considered light red. The introduction of dyes from Brasil Wood would revolutionize Pink, allowing for more vibrant and lasting color. The eighteenth-century fashion continues to use pink for men and women. It is in the twentieth century that western societies start to associate Pink with women and girls. In this final lecture, we will learn about the evolution of Pink and culminate in the latest Pink Revolution – Millennial Pink.

Estela Mendes is an art historian with a MA in Museum Studies. Her research background is in Costume Design. Born and raised in Lisbon, she has been teaching about the beauty of the world for the past 15 years. After working in national palaces in Portugal, Estela moved to London where she spent 5 years working at museums like Buckingham Palace, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery, where she has delivered gallery talks focusing on Fashion. In Portugal she created a company of Costume Hiring and Historical Re-enactments working with Museums, Opera Companies, Theatre, and Film.

How does it work?

This is a six-part course held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule above for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

When will I receive the Zoom link?

The link used to enter your Zoom room will be the same for each lecture in the course. It will be sent to the email address that was used to place your order 30 minutes prior to each session's start time.

Is there a reading list?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation.

  • Loske, Alexandra, Tate: Colour: A Visual History: The Exploration of Colour from Newton to Pantone, Ilex Press, 2019
  • Boucher, Fraçois, A History of Costume in the West. Thames & Hudson, 1987.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time included for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $210 USD for six lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording within 48 hours of each event's conclusion.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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