No matter how well garments are cut and sewed, how perfectly they are fitted, or how costly the material from which they are made, the person who does not understand the use of colors in their relation to fabrics cannot select and make satisfactory clothing. An understanding of color is, therefore, very important.
A rainbow is made up of the colors violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. These colors and all others, with their thousands of shades and tints, can be made by mixing red, blue, and yellow together in various proportions and adding black to darken (that is, to produce a shade of the particular color desired), or by adding white to lighten it (that is, to produce a tint). Hue is the characteristic of a color which first appeals to the eye and distinguishes it from any other, as red, blue, green. Tone is the grade of a color as it passes from light to dark - from tint to shade.
Red, yellow, and blue, combined in the right proportions, will make white. It follows, then, that combinations of these colors, if properly put together, will also produce white. The colors resulting from such combinations contrast harmoniously, and are called complementary colors. The complementary colors, besides purple and green, are:
Carmine and bluish-green, vermilion and turquoise blue, orange and ultramarine, yellow and bluish-violet, yellowish and purple violet.
Red and yellow are spoken of as warm colors, and blue and violet as cold. Green is neutral and is, therefore, one of the most restful colors to the eye. Gray and white, which is at the same time no color and a union of all colors, are often called neutral. All colors seem brighter on black ground and darker on white ground.
Color is an important element in the design of cloth. Whether the pattern be striped, checked, figured, or an intermingled effect, it obtains its outline and detail from the method of coloring adopted, and to remove the color would, in many cases, erase all design and ornament. The color, therefore, often determines whether a certain material shall be used or not.
The material, also, has much to do with the combining of colors. For instance, the brilliancy of satin and the sheen of silk unsuit them for use with many kinds of woolen goods, particularly the rougher sorts, even though the colors of the two materials harmonize. On the other hand, velvet lends itself to a happy blending of color on account of its soft lights and rich shades; while the fullness, the delicacy, and depth of color in woolen materials offer great possibilities in the way of harmonious combinations.
Dress is a form of decoration, as well as a means of comfort, and the well-dressed person usually selects quiet colors, or, if stronger colors are used, they are carefully chosen and combined so as to produce a harmonious effect.
In general, it may be said that combinations are improved by avoiding the contrast of bright colors. The dull greens and blues of Scotch plaids and the soft colors of Oriental rugs are examples in point. An India shawl, in which the gayest colors are used is kept low in tone by the black outlines, which prevent violent contrasts in bright colors. Nature is the best teacher in the use of colors. In the plumage of the humming bird, the feather of the peacock, the lining of a shell, the carpet of moss and lichen in the woods, are found lessons in color harmonies which no painter or weaver ever surpassed.
A particular color in a garment is becoming only if it harmonizes with the complexion of the wearer; but in proper material, white is suitable to all ages and complexions. It is worth while noticing, however, that so-called white goods rarely are absolutely white. They have tints, and are made more becoming thereby.
One lesson cannot contain all there is to learn about combinations of color. This knowledge must be acquired little by little - by looking at color harmonies in nature or in manufactured objects which you know are liked by cultivated persons, and by combining colors for yourself until you become familiar with their relations. Until you are perfectly sure of your knowledge, bright colors are to be avoided either singly or in combinations.