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Colours in Fashion: ii. White

  • Like black, white is achromatic and represents an absence of colour. Fully light and with no warmth added, it is perceived by our eyes as cool and bright.

  • White can be associated with snow: frozen, light and quiet landscapes; still, pure and stark. In clothing, white can evoke cleanliness, purity of intention, spirituality, laundry, coolness from the heat, orderliness and health.

Woman in White T-Shirt Dress

  • White has a transcendent, religious quality. It is the traditional colour of wedding dresses, newborn clothing and the robes of First Communion in the Catholic Church. Its association with innocence can be used to the wearer's advantage, such as the court room. Lana Turner in 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' (1946) is memorable in all-white.

  • White is the traditional clothing colour of Wimbledon Tennis Championships, as well as the Summer sport of cricket, keeping the players looking cool from the heat and fresh from perspiration.

  • The traditionally tailored white cotton shirt is a fashion classic. First worn as a blouse by Marie Antoinette, who was painted in it by Madame Vigee-Lebrun (1783), the result sparked a fashion for white cottons for women. White clothing is still associated today with wealth and aristocracy.

  • Coco Chanel started designing in the 1920s and took inspiration from the traditionally tailored white shirt of Menswear, incorporating it into her Womenswear designs.

  • In the 1940s, the white shirt was made famous by Hollywood stars such as Katherine Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Lauren Bacall, who wore it as part of a pared-down, utilitarian, off-duty look.

  • Throughout the last decades of film, the white shirt has been worn by female characters who portray a more androgynous look such as Diane Keaton as Annie Hall ('Annie Hall', 1977) or Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace ('Pulp Fiction', 1994).

  • 90s Minimalists used the white shirt and white separates in general, to convey simple, pared-back sophistication: as seen in the runway collections of Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Jil Sander and Celine.


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