Book review: The Colour of Fashion

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Vividly illustrated and compellingly written, The Colour of Fashion uncovers the colourful history of style, through 10 shades and their key moments in the spotlight – including Beyoncé in empowering yellow chiffon, Valentino’s signature red gowns, and Audrey Hepburn in that Little Black Dress.

Caroline Young is an acclaimed author and fashion journalist, her style of writing is engaging, informative and fun. This book is a fascinating exploration of the history of clothing and the importance of colour as a statement of power and status.

Caroline takes us on a journey that can be dark and thought-provoking as we read how commodities that created colours essential for the dying process funded empires, from the Spanish Empire (cochineal-red) to the British Raj (indigo-blue). How the toxic green dye was deadly for dressmakers in the 19th century, and how the fine white gauze cotton of the Regency era relied on slave labour.

This book looks at pop culture and the meaning and purpose of colour in film and music, such as the power of the red dress, the symbolism of white, why the femme fatale in film noir is dressed in black, why black was chosen by Jonny Cash and purple is the signature for Prince. Pink is associated with Barbie but punks have also claimed it. Orange is one of the newest colour names in the English language – it was first recorded in 1512, although the fruit was believed to have been cultivated in China for around 4,500 years. It is the symbol of love and fertility, but it is also a colour that attracts the eye so it is used for lifejackets, buoys and reflective workwear.

This book allows us to understand why a specific colour is used – colour is not accidental it is chosen with care in order to achieve impact.

Caroline has chosen 10 colours to take you on this journey, the seven colours of the rainbow, plus black, white and brown. The layout and design of the book allows you to dip in and browse by colour or theme. Each colour is accompanied by beautiful  illustrations which are well worth pausing over and studying. This book displays great attention to detail, from the embossed cover to the funky rainbow ribbon book mark.

There is something for everyone in The Colour of Fashion – as a reference book it is essential but it is also a good read, with fascinating insights into the important role  colour plays in our lives.

The Colour of Fashion, by Caroline Young, is out now in hardback.