Archive for the aniline dyes Category

The Fashion of Deprivation,1860

Posted in 19th cent., American South, aniline dyes, Civil War on June 1, 2010 by babylonbaroque

With over three million soldiers witnessing the horrors of the Civil War between 1861 through 1865, 529,332 dead, and over 400,000 wounded, maimed, and ruined, it may seem ridiculous to even contemplate fashion, and it’s impact on women, particularly Confederate women.  That said,I recently came upon images of dresses worn by Southern women during the war, and seeing the rather sad state of the dresses , I was impacted. I became acutely aware of the sacrifice , deprivation, and weariness of that War, all through shabby cotton.


Paris ca.1860


Although the Smithsonian site describes this particular dress as fashionable and not at all dreary, compared to the aniline wonders in mauvine, magenta, and cerulean blue, this would most likely have appeared lackluster in peacetime.

Patched dress

ca.1860 printed cotton with heavy patching


This shabby little dress , of well worn calico is what made me realize the severity of the war. All the playful references of Scarlet improvising with velvet curtains, downplay the seriousness of the situation. This dress is a result of port closures and the subsequent restriction of fashionable European goods. The irony of course is this was the land of King Cotton, raw material was abundant, but the desired finished product unavailable.

As so many of us do, Southerners craved legitimacy, often using fashion, architecture, and manners, to achieve approval from the more sophisticated North. This modest little dress is a poignant reminder of the harsh realities of war.

As a counter point, I will show dresses, all from the Met’s Costume collection, all around 1860-62.


ca.1862 American, cotton/wool

Have to love that key pattern.

Ball Gown

ca. 1861-62

American, silk

Such freshness, such a contrast to the “fashionable” gown.

Evening gown

ca. 1860-62

American, silk

from the Brooklyn Museum Collection

Again, an extravagance and beauty that contrasts sharply with the Southern dresses.

This may have appeared to be a frivolous post; but for me , the need for luxury in hard times, the reality of war, and national dis-unity, are all illustrated in a few yards of calico.

Good night.

A Gown for Gracie, Mauvine and the power of Aniline dyes.

Posted in 19th cent., aniline dyes, Fashion-art on April 20, 2010 by babylonbaroque

I will continue spoiling my little niece with pretty dresses.

This week I would like to present a none too subtle stunner, a product of the Industrial Revolution. A color unlike the vegetable based dyes favored by the Reformers, Morris would have cringed in horror, my niece will  squeal  with delight.


United Kingdom 1870-73

Aniline dyed silk, lined with cotton, trimmed with satin and bobbin lace, reinforced with whalebone.

Victoria&Albert Museum

I have long been fascinated and perplexed by the Aniline dyes of the 19th cent., understanding how they stood in sharp contrast to the aesthetics of the Reform movements, I was still drawn to their brazen beauty. Magenta I understood to be a color that was wholly 19th century. As curious as I was I never explored the topic until this evening. In 1856 A British chemist, William Perkins accidently discovered Mauvine, the first of many brilliant aniline colors.

William Henry Perkin


A scrap of  Mauvine dyed silk, with a letter from Perkin’s son.

As I mentioned, other brassy colors would follow, magenta, chrome yellows, pink and blue, but Mauvine was the first.The Queen started a fashion for the color when she wore it to the Royal Exhibition. So if it is good for her Majesty it is most certainly good enough for my niece Grace.


I have much to learn about aniline dyes, the impact they had on the Industrial Revolution, “good” taste, “bad”taste etc.

But until then I plan to purchase the marvelous 1995 film, “Angels and Insects”, directed by Plilip Haas. There are many splendid examples of aniline colored ball gowns, I am eager to relive those moments.

still from “Angels and Insects” 1995