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Colours in Fashion: x. Brown

  • Brown can be made by mixing equal amounts of the three primary colours together: red, yellow and blue.

  • Brown can also be made by mixing a secondary colour with its opposite - ie. green with red, purple with yellow, orange with blue.

  • Because it uses all the primary shades, there are a wide variety of shades of brown with an emphasis on different hues. A predominance of yellow will create a sandy brown; a predominance of blue will create a plum brown and a predominance of red will create a burgundy or brick brown.

Woman Wearing Brown Outfit

  • Brown is found plentifully in nature and denotes an earthy, rustic, natural, practical, down-to-earth, comfortable or luxurious image in fashion. It is the colour of wood, coconuts, autumn leaves, animal fur, soil and clay.

  • Brown can sometimes be associated with dirt and faeces, with connotations of being ugly or poor. Historically, it has denoted modesty and simplicity in clothing. In ancient Rome, the urban poor were called 'Pullati' - meaning those dressed in brown. Franciscan monks wore the espresso shade to symbolise their vows of chastity and poverty. In the fourteenth Century, sumptuary laws meant that russet brown was reserved for occupations such as carters and oxherds.

  • Renaissance artists such as Correggio, Caravaggio and Rembrandt used shadow and brown pigment, in their works of art, to create richness and depth. Anthony van Dyck, a seventeenth Century Dutch artist used a shade called Cassel Earth, which later became known as 'Van Dyck Brown.'

  • In the 1920s, taupes and neutral shades of brown were used in Art Deco fashion styles to create an elegant, sophisticated and luxurious look.

  • Light brown was also the colour of trench warfare and was adopted in the 1920s by the Nazi Party's paramilitaries, the 'Sturmabteilung' meaning 'Brown Shirts'. (Light tan leather coats and buff breeches had been a part of European soldiers' uniforms from the sixteenth Century).

  • In the 1970s, earthy shades, such as rust, tan and auburn were clothing staples and reflected the growing interest in ecology and conservation.


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