This section is from the book "Clothing For Women: Selection, Design, Construction", by Laura I. Baldt. Also available from Amazon: Clothing For Women: Selection, Design, Construction.
A well-proportioned figure with good lines does not have to be considered, but extreme proportions must have the first place in the color scheme. A large woman must clothe herself according to her size. Warm, advancing colors must be rejected by the stout figure. Black is the commonly accepted garb of this type, but it has been found that discriminating hues of violet, blue, blue-green, or taupe are worn very successfully.
Whistler's portrait of the brewer's wife suggests color as a solution for the problem of the short, stout model; he transforms her to a tall, graceful form - apparently, by placing a touch of bright color on the tip of the lady's slipper. An optical illusion does it - the eye was caught first by the slipper tip, and as the glance wandered
Design in values, with black and white used for accents upward to the face - unconsciously the beholder felt that the eye had travelled far and the lady's stature increased with the upward glance. Color Suggestions. - Almost any color may be worn if there is a becoming transition from the clothing to the face by means of a transparent material. Black next to the face is almost impossible for anyone; a broken black is best, that is, a brocade or stripe effect which catches the light. Black and white combinations are often very effective. The sallow or pale should not wear black, unless very young. Gray is difficult for all except clear, rosy complexions. White becomes most people if it is not pure white, but is tinged by some hue. Bright red is stunning for evening wear for some brunettes and dazzling blondes. Millais' Portia illustrates the latter. Blue is the blessing of many American women, so much so, that abroad we are known by our blue costume. Green suits the intermediate type very well. Yellow is delightful for evening wear and in some of its neutralized hues is becoming to most types. Bed-purples are the colors the intermediate type wears to best advantage. Composite, or colors of mixed hues, are worn more easily than pure colors. There seems to be, with some persons, a reaction of color on the mood of the wearer. Just as we are conscious of new clothing for a while, so we are all conscious of color changes in our costume for a time at least. If one feels dull, a bright color may bring change of mood. Much of the symbolical use of color seems, however, to be a matter of custom. For example, we use black for mourning, while in certain countries white is used, or purple.2 Many of the great emotional artists choose their costumes carefully as regards color, that it may aid in expressing the mood they wish to portray. Color, in keeping with the occasion, is largely a question of color sensibility. So for evening dress we customarily wear light, gay colors. For business, on the other hand, woman's dress, while distinctly feminine, properly avoids anything in color or design suggestive of the social occasion. It is the spirit of the occasion that color should suggest, for color speaks very loudly for the wearer. Accessories may also play an important part in a costume; sometimes a string of beads, or a bit of colorful jewelry (jewelry that has its use, e.g., as a brooch, as well as its decorative value) will make a good design out of a simple costume.
2 In ancient art, we find color used symbolically - the Egyptian figures wear colors indicative of their rank, while the characters of the early painters are robed in colors signifying the attributes the artists wished to express. Color symbolism is used for ceremonials and in allegory and poetry. There is some diversity of interpretation, but the following are common meanings: White, divinity, chastity, integrity and innocence; blue, fidelity and truth"; purple, power, royalty; yellow, wisdom and fruit-fulness; green, hope and envy; red-purple, spirituality and faith; black, wickedness and sorrow; red, passion, love, victory and joy. In combination they have distinct interpretations.
In designing one's clothing there is a wonderful opportunity for giving expression to the creative impulse. One may by experiment learn certain color harmonies which suit one as an individual and which serve as a partial guide; practice in purchasing ready-made garments where one can judge in advance how becoming the gown will be in relation to the complexion and figure, and how well designed the scheme will appear, will develop judgment regarding color in dress. The way to control color is to use color - power will come through experiment and experience. Experiment not only with pigment but with fabrics in various combinations as they might be used in dress. Make a point also of studying a costume as you see it worn, on the street and in assemblies, and as it is displayed in stores, and illustrated in books and colored plates of historic costume. So your confidence in your own color judgment as applied to dress will grow and bring increasing satisfaction.