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Entries in lingo (82)

Monday
Aug132018

Jade Rainbow

Many people are surprised to learn that jade comes in a rainbow of colours: lavender, red, orange, yellow, brown, white, black, and gray. After green, lavender is the most valuable, and black and red (as long as it has no brownish overtones) are also popular.

Jadeite, to give it its proper name, is a sodium and aluminium rich pyroxene, while the similarly coloured nephrite is a mineral of calcium, magnesium and iron. Nephrite is the native stone of China, with more than 5000 years of history in that culture, while jadeite was not introduced to China until the 1800s, by Burmese traders.

Nephrite jadeHow cute are these tiny jade figurines?Red jade is not considered as valuable as the prized green ‘imperial jade’, which is a vibrant emerald colour and almost transparent. Once, the royal court of China had a standing order for all imperial jade, and it is amongst the world’s most expensive gems.

Red jade: bangle from annaandjade.com; bowl from icollector.comTransparency is also highly valued, with the least desirable being completely opaque. I must be very contrary, because I deem the green common (you see so much of it, real and artificial), and I like opaque the best. Red is also one of my favourite colours.

When I was in Hong Kong many years ago, a carved jade bangle was on my wishlist, and accordingly I scoured the jewellers in one of the biggest markets for them. I was immediately drawn to this red bangle, attracted by its strong colour and weightiness. This type of jewellery cut from a single piece of rough stone is called a hololith, and results in a great deal of weight loss. For this reason hololiths cost more than several pieces joined together by precious-metal hinges.

Lavender jade: stone from soaprocks.com.au; carved jade and diamond bangle from katybriscoe.comIt is carved with dragons and flowers, and certainly was expensive! I didn’t dither too long making a decision however, as I knew I would be unlikely to find another, and certainly not a cheaper one. The bangle did not have a ring that matched exactly, but the one I purchased is carved with ornamental swirls. I don’t wear them all the time – scared that I’ll smash them! – but as on last Friday when I wore them last, I always enjoy them when I do.

Thursday
Aug032017

In the Purple

A modern violet ribbed knit and wooden necklace are worn with a Tyrian purple lampshade I hated purple for most of my life scarred as I was by a hideous magenta dress that my mother forced me to wear when I was about nine years old, to an older sister’s wedding. Purple is my mother’s favourite colour, and I think she picked out a horrid long-sleeved scratchy magenta dress trimmed in cream crocheted lace simply because she liked the colour. I hated the style of the dress, but the colour unfortunately became tainted by association for me for more than twenty years. I don’t think I started wearing it until my 30s when I discovered jewel tones suited me so well.

Many colours are named after things of the natural world, such as flowers, minerals, foods, and before synthetic dyes began to be produced, they were also made from them. Purple is certainly no exception. There are a myriad shades, including these examples of lilac, lavender and mauve, but violet stands quite apart on the colourwheel …

Byzantine Emperor Justinian, mosaic in St Vitale church, Ravenna, Italy

Tyrian Purple

Purple is the colour most often associated with royalty, most likely because in days of antiquity the production of purple dye – known as Tyrian purple, after one of the coastal Phoenician cities in which it originated – was long, difficult and expensive. It was made from the gland of a sea snail called the spiny dye-murex, and produced varying shades of purple from crimson to magenta to a much deeper bluish hue, depending upon the type of snail and how it was made.

Tyrian purple became the favoured colour of the wealthy: kings, nobles, priests and magistrates all around the Mediterranean. It is mentioned in many works of literature of the ancient world: Homer, Sappho, and the Old Testament of the Bible.

Cloth dyed with Tyrian purple‘In modern times, Tyrian purple has been recreated, at great expense. When the German chemist, Paul Friedander, tried to recreate Tyrian purple in 2008, he needed twelve thousand mollusks to create 1.4 ounces of dye, enough to color a handkerchief. In the year 2000, a gram of Tyrian purple made from ten thousand mollusks according to the original formula, cost two thousand euros.’ [Wikipedia]

Violets

Violet

Violet is actually a spectral colour in its own right as it has its own wavelength, unlike purple, which is made up of two spectral colours – blue and red. It also sits on the colourwheel between purple (next to crimson) and blue.

As my birthday falls in February, my birthstone is amethyst, and my flower is the violet. My mum grew these shy and tiny flowers in her gardenbeds, and they were always special to me for this reason, as well as their divine and subtle scent.

Interestingly, this violet ribbed jumper (sweater) of mine was very difficult to photograph. In reality it is distinctly an almost luminous shade of violet, but the camera captured it almost as cobalt – I had to colourcorrect it in Photoshop. This curiosity may have something to do with the ‘Bezold-Brücke shift’: when violet brightens, it begins to look more and more blue; the same effect does not happen with common purple.

Vintage 60s wool hat and gloves are worn with modern items

Lavender

Another subtle shade of purple is lavender, also named after a flower. While there is a myriad of shades used by designers of all kinds, the colour is most associated with the actual flower, a medium purple or a light pinkish purple. The word was first used in English to describe a colour in 1705.

The colour is also associated with decadence, in the sense of a lifestyle devoted to enjoying aesthetic sensual pleasures such as art, music food, and wine. Lavender-coloured roses are symbolic of love at first sight.

A modern pale lilac knit worn with a pink wool scarf and vintage pleated skirt

Lilac

The lilac flower is another of my favourite flowers because of its gorgeous beauty and scent. How heavenly it would be to have a lilac tree growing in one’s yard! I remember one of my uncles had one when I was a child. The colour obviously takes its name from the flower, but shades can vary of course, from more bluish to more reddish tones. The first recorded use of lilac as a colour name in English was in 1775.

Lilac

My knit might be described as ‘opera mauve’ (first used in 1927) and the bag as ‘mauve taupe’ (first used in 1925)

Mauve

Mauve is the newest colour of the lot, and the most interesting history. It was first created in 1856 by a young scientist named William Perkin. Perkin was experimenting with coal tar in an attempt to synthesise quinine (as a cure for malaria), when he stumbled upon a process that resulted in a bright purple liquid. Imagination caught – he had once dreamed of being an artist, he dipped a piece of silk in a beaker of the liquid, and discovered he had by happy accident created a light- and wash-proof dye.

He first named the colour Tyrian purple, but soon after adopted the French name for the mallow flower: mauve. Ironically, it was a dye that was also difficult and expensive to produce, just like its original namesake.

Mallow flower, called mauve in French

However, in 1857, after Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, discovered the colour and decided it was an exact match for the colour of her eyes, the dye became a hit. Queen Victoria took note, and wore a dress of rich mauve velvet to her daughter’s marriage. In August 1859, Punch declared that London was ‘in the grip of the ‘Mauve Measles’, and by the time Perkin was 21, he was a rich and well-respected man.

Mauve was extremely popular during the Victorian period. Frances Adeline ‘Fanny’ Seward by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, early 1860s

Dress (afternoon bodice), 1860s Jessie Benton Fremont, American, MFA Boston

Half-Mourning

Interestingly all these floral shades of purple are also associated with half-mourning, being one of the acceptable colours (along with grey) worn in the final stage of mourning, after black. And as the Victorians aged, the popularity of the colour also went into a decline, becoming forever associated with the older generation.

But now, more than a century later, when young women are doing the previously unheard-of: adopting lavender rinses (and pink, blue, green – errr, every shade but their own!), perhaps these hues will have a renaissance?

Photos: July 2016


Silk tulle dress made for Queen Alexandra, Henriette Favre, French, 1902

Monday
Jul032017

Plaid: A Blanket Term

Plaid or tartan, what is the difference? Nowt indeed! Tis but semantics: plaid is the American term for the traditional Scottish fabric, but, funnily enough, in Scotland a plaide is an accessory to the kilt – a piece of tartan fabric slung over the shoulder – or a plain blanket.

Tartan is a multi-coloured pattern of criss-crossing horizontal and vertical lines. The different coloured pre-dyed threads – originally wool, but now encompassing many other fibres – are woven at both warp and weft at right angles to each other, which creates diagonal lines where they overlap. Here they appear to blend and create additional colours. The repeated pattern of squares and lines are called a ‘sett’.

Tartans should not be confused with gingham (a simple check pattern usually in white and one colour), or houndstooth (a tweed pattern of broken checks; learn more here), as they commonly are. And a windowpane check is just a check.

(Left) Soldiers from a Highland regiment, c. 1744: the private on the left is wearing a belted plaide; (right) a man wearing tartan, c. 1875Today we are familiar with the notion that tartan patterns are associated with particular clans, but before the nineteenth century, this was not so. The distinctive patterns were associated with geographic regions, and the colours with the natural dyes available in that district. Chemical dyes were non-existent, and transport of different dyes from other regions was prohibitively expensive.

The word ‘tartan’ is most likely derived from the French word tartarin, meaning ‘Tartar cloth’, which sounds dubious to me as the Tatars were a Turkic-speaking people living in Asia and Europe. Seemingly more plausible is the theory that the word has its origins in the Scottish Gaelic tarsainn, meaning ‘across’.

Black Watch tartan, worn by a couple with a very cute story (click through to read)!I prefer the more generic description ‘plaid’ as it has little apparent association with an ethnic tradition (since I have not an iota of Scots blood in me). The traditional Scottish plaide, meaning ‘blanket’, first referred to any rectangular garment worn on the shoulder, which was often a plain weave, and sometimes a tartan. (And here the origin of the classic plaid blanket for the bed!)

The ubiquitous Burberry plaid, designed in the 1920s.I must confess I do love plaid, and have managed to amass quite a collection of different plaid garments (and blankets). I prefer the simpler colour combinations, with red and white being a particular favourite. Some of the most famous tartans are Royal Stewart, Black Watch, and of course the ubiquitous Burberry check, which was created in the 1920s. My favourite red and white appears as Clan Menzies. (You can scroll through a long list here.)

Tartan upon tartan! The Royal Stewart is the mainly red plaid on the topmost layer. (Image from Pinterest.) My vintage 70s wool jacket is made up of navy and yellow on a cream background, and is a fashion tartan. When I decided one autumn that I needed to acquire a wool plaid jacket, I luckily came upon this one within a week or two. I do love it, but at thigh length it doesn’t cut the mustard for this cold snap Melbourne is currently suffering through. I do however have a very warm, heavy wool skirt in cream and navy large plaid pattern, which, considering the etymological origin of the word blanket, I very aptly dubbed my ‘blanket skirt’!

Photo: July 2015

Wednesday
Mar152017

The Colour of Happiness

Vintage 70s cotton dress, bought on Etsy; photo: March 2014

When I think of the colour yellow I immediately think of sunshine, summer, and happiness. I also think of taxi cabs, and the bright yellow raincoats of childhood. There are also bananas, daffodils, lemons, butter and … lemon meringue pie! Yum!

Yet while the golden hue is associated with positive notions such as amusement, gentleness and spontaneity, it is also symbolic of ‘duplicity, envy, jealousy, avarice, and, in the US, cowardice’. In a survey, only six percent of respondents in Europe and America named it as their favorite color, compared with 45 percent for blue, 15 percent for green, 12 percent for red, and 10 percent for black. [Wikipedia; Inspector Insight]

Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Australia's national flower blooms in springWhat's more sunshine yellow than the sunset on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland?A vintage yellow cabLemmmmon mmmmeringe pie!

The Origin of a Bad Rep

Obviously there is there are certain common phrases incorporating the word ‘yellow’ that have negative connotations, such as ‘yellow belly’, ‘yellow fever’ and ‘yellow journalism’, but everywhere I looked researching this topic people talked about jealousy, duplicity etc, and they were only parroting other sources. It took me a long time to track down the origin of this colour defamation.

I recalled an old printed copy of the book The Language of Flowers listed jealousy and guilt as the meaning of yellow roses, but their website now states joy and friendship. Another source, Lily’s Rose Garden has a very different tale, which is probably the source of the negative connotations:

‘According to the legend, the Prophet Mohammed, while away fighting a war, was tormented by the idea that his wife, Aisha, was being unfaithful. He asked the archangel Gabriel for help. Gabriel suggested that when he returned home Mohammed should ask his wife to drop whatever she was carrying into the water as a test. If she was faithful, it would stay the same colour and prove her unconditional love. Mohammed finally returned from his battle and Aisha rushed to greet him, carrying a huge bouquet of red roses. She was surprised when he commanded her to drop them into the river, but obeyed and the roses turned saffron yellow. Eventually, Mohammed forgave his favorite wife but, for some, the yellow rose remains a symbol of infidelity.’

Could these beautiful yellow roses actually imply 'you are not worthy'?!Lily’s Rose Garden goes on to suggest the new association with friendship has simply been made up by rose growers to promote sales. I say, all power to them. I think yellow roses are beautiful, and much more original than pedestrian red. If anyone wants to buy some for me I will gladly accept them and never mind such connotations, as ‘I am not worthy’!

I think yellow roses are beautiful, and much more original than pedestrian red.

Cotton cable knit; photo: July 2016

Child of Heaven

In China, however, yellow is a very popular colour and represents happiness, glory, wisdom, harmony and culture. Yes! There are five directions of the compass in Chinese tradition; north, south, east, west, and the middle, each with a symbolic color. Yellow signifies the middle. China is called the Middle Kingdom; the palace of the Emperor was considered to be in the exact center of the world.

Yellow has strong historical and cultural associations in China, where it is the color of happiness, glory, and wisdom. This 1400 year old gingko tree turns the ground into a yellow ocean come mid-November. The ancient tree grows next to the Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple in the Zhongnan Mountains and is a perfect celebration of autumn.The emperor of China is considered a ‘child of heaven’, and the legendary first emperor of China was called the Yellow Emperor. The last emperor of China, Puyi (1906–67), described in his memoirs how every object which surrounded him as a child was yellow. “It made me understand from my most tender age that I was of a unique essence, and it instilled in me the consciousness of my ‘celestial nature’ which made me different from every other human.”

Wool and angora cable knit; photo: July 2016

On the Palette

Joseph William Turner is historically one of few artists who loved yellow and used it extensively and predominantly in his paintings. He loved it so much British critics mocked him for it, writing that his images were ‘afflicted with jaundice’, and that the artist may have a vision disorder.

Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh 1888Another artist who favoured yellow, Vincent Van Gogh, loved the sunshine and wrote to his sister, “Now we are having beautiful warm, windless weather that is very beneficial to me. The sun, a light that for lack of a better word I can only call yellow, bright sulphur yellow, pale lemon gold. How beautiful yellow is!”

Paul Gauguin, a friend and artistic companion attests: “Oh yes! He loved yellow, did good Vincent, the painter from Holland, gleams of sunlight warming his soul, which detested fog.”

Before them, there were artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bruegel did use it extensively, but more in the case of painting yellow subjects. Creating paintings in which a particular colour is significant, or even the subject, seems to be a modern phenomenon in Western art (ie, before the Post Impressionists).

Sunshine yellow gown by Jason Wu

On Your Back

Yellow in every shade was huge on the Spring/Summer 2016 runways, where it appeared on the catwalks of Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane, Roksanda and others, and in the Resort collections of this year; Beyoncé wore it, accessorised with a baseball bat. (Visit this Pinterest board for some inspiration.)

In my personal experience, I have heard many people exclaim with fright or horror at the notion of wearing yellow, and I can only conclude it is too eye-catching for them. Some may say ‘oh, yellow doesn’t suit me’, but they are forgetting that there are many shades – just as one shade of green may not suit one, a different hue will; it all depends on one’s complexion. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘black doesn’t suit me’, but in truth it can make some skin tones look sallow, just as pure white can. Shade (hue) and tone (warmth or coolness) are crucial. You know when a colour suits you: it makes you look radiant.

My conclusion is this: if you want to look like a goddess, WEAR YELLOW.

~

Fashion Notes

The golden yellow cotton dress I am wearing in the first picture is vintage 70s, which I found late one evening trawling Etsy – yellow dresses are literally one of my regular searches online – and I snapped it up immediately for a song. Amazingly, I have found another one on Etsy which is from the same range, available still on publish date, although it is unfortunately much more expensive. My dress is as large and loose as the one in the picture, but I would be swamped if I wore it without a belt. It is certainly very swingy and fun to wear, and I always am given compliments when I have it on.

This dress is listed as XS/S/M; its 12" yoke is much smaller than my 16" yoke.

My two taxi-yellow cable-knit jumpers are virtually identical, except that one is a winter weight in wool and angora, which I bought on eBay from America and had it shipped here at great expense, and the other is cotton, which I found in an op shop right here in town for around $6. Now I can wear the colour of happiness summer and winter.

Here are a couple of other lovely yellow vintage items, currently available on Etsy.

A super fun 60s cotton skirtA vintage 50s velvet dress and fitted jacket

Monday
Mar062017

Grecian Draping

Two notions come to my mind on hearing the word ‘goddess’: Ancient Greek deities, and screen sirens of the Hollywood’s golden era. Both are evocative of unearthly or extraordinary beauty, creatures with the power to utterly charm and bewitch ordinary mortals.

Thus the ‘goddess gown’ is associated with the garments of the Ancient Greeks – chiton, peplos, and tunic – as well as the sweeping 1930s gowns worn by the likes of Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer, and Rita Hayworth.

Greek clothing was very simply cut. The loose-fitting and free-flowing chiton, worn by both men and women, was basically two rectangles of fabric joined at the shoulders and sides. Lengths and additional shapes – such as circles or triangles – varied, while different looks were achieved through arrangements that created elegant draping. The most common fabrics were linen and wool. Additional decoration came in the form of pleating, embroidery, belts and jewellery. The result was a style of dress that both revealed and concealed the human figure.

Jean Harlow, in a gown by costumier Adrian; designed for the film Dinner at EightBy contrast, the goddess gowns of the stars of Hollywood’s golden years were slender and form fitting, especially in the bodice, and were often backless. Cuts were more sophisticated; linen and wool had been replaced with silk and lamé. But they still had the yards of fabric, the columnar fluidity, complex pleating, and asymmetric draping in common with the Ancient Greeks who inspired them. Where before Paris had lead fashion, now Hollywood began to take over in the popular imagination; many of these fantasy gowns were designed by the famous costumier, Adrian.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi.

In short, these were sexier gowns really meant for goddesses, not the hoi polloi. It’s no wonder these silver screen stars were named for the sirens of Greek mythology, who lured sailors to death with their seductive singing.

Madame Grès (1903–1993) and Madeleine Vionnet (1876–1975) were both French fashion designers who were proponents of Grecian dress.

Grès’s minimalist gowns were wrapped and draped in the most masterful way – that she was trained in sculpture is obvious when one looks at her designs. One of her gowns could take up to 300 hours to create, with pleats sewn by hand, and the cloth draped so that the body shaped the dress – far longer than the Ancient Greeks one imagines.

Gown by Madame Grès, 1940; ph George Platt LynesGown by Madeleine Vionnet, 1933; ph George Hoyningen-HueneVionnet is known for popularising, if not inventing, the bias cut to create sleek and flattering dresses that skimmed the body languidly. Her gowns were soft, floating freely, and did not distort the natural curves of a woman’s body. She used more unusual fabrics for women’s clothing in the 20s and 30s, such as crepe de chine, gabardine and satin, and always ordered two yards extra for each dress to accommodate the draping.

Both Grès and Vionnet have continued to inspire fashion designers to the present day.

Today, we still see the classic goddess gown on our screen stars, but it is also a favourite style of wedding dress (one of the few occasions when ordinary mortals don floor-length gowns), as an alternative to the classic 50s-style princess gown of strapless-boned-bodice-and-big-skirt ilk. … And above all other days, one should feel like a goddess on one’s own wedding day.

Key Characteristics

•  columnar, bias-but
•  fluid draping
•  pleating
•  asymmetry
•  floor-length

Fashion Note

My very simple grey jersey goddess gown is by English label Karen Millen, and features characteristic asymmetry, draping, and an interesting cut to the back.

Photos: January 2014

Scroll down for more images. Links have been provided where available.

Bette DavisCarole LombardGowns by Madeleine VionnetGown by Madame GrèsNorma ShearerGown by Madeleine VionnetRita Hayworth

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