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.
Through color, beauty in clothing becomes as fundamental an expression of the art impulse as painting, music, poetry or the dance. Color is the first thing which attracts or repels in a costume. It makes or unmakes the wearer more than any other element of her attire.
The sensation of color is universal, since it is derived immediately from our sense of sight; but full enjoyment of color as beauty depends upon the taste of the observer, the ability to discriminate, judge and understand the higher forms of achievement in its use, and this appreciation is the result of the training and exercise of the faculties involved.
There are a few people naturally endowed with a fine instinct for color - these we need not consider - but, for the majority who are guided by vague and uncertain feelings, we realize more and more that color should be made as definite a study as the art of music. Though, to the artist, color is the music of light and is often associated with music, a theory of color should be based upon qualities quite distinct from musical theory. At present, even the terms used popularly to convey color ideas are confusing and inadequate. John Addington Symonds has well expressed this in his little essay "In the Key of Blue." He says: "The nomenclature of color in literature has always puzzled me. It is easy to talk of green, blue, yellow, red. But when we seek to distinguish the tints of these hues, we are practically left to suggestions founded upon metaphor and analogy. We select some object in nature which possesses the particular quality we wish to indicate and we talk of grass-green, olive-green, emerald-green; of sapphire, forget-me-not, turquoise, sky-blue, or else we use the names of substances from which the pigments are compounded; as yellow-ochre, burnt-sienna, lamp-black, madder, cinnabar, or to indicate very subtle gradations, the jargon of commerce supplies us with terms like mauve, magenta, peacock, Prussian-blue, crushed strawberry, or Venetian red. The most precise terms often fail. What the writer wants would be a variety of broad terms to express the species, tints of each genus
(hue). In such terms some of the colors are richer than others. Green, I think, is poorest of all; after verdant, it has to be contended with compounds of itself, like pea-green and those cited above. Blue fares better, with its azure, cerulean, celestial, amethystine. Yellow is still more fortunate, rejoicing in golden saffron, orange, flaxen, tawny blonde. Red stands at the head of the list, possessing a copious vocabulary of ruddy, rosy, russet, crimson, scarlet, pink, sanguine, mulberry, carnation, blushing. It will be noticed that all these words denominating tints are eventually derived from substances which have been accepted in common parlance."
This quotation shows both the poverty of ordinary language in describing color and especially the inexactness of terms which makes uncertain the meaning intended, since a term based on analogy, "sky-blue" for example, means one thing in Italy and another thing in New York. The need of a more accurate color terminology is obvious, for while a fanciful association of ideas is pleasing, more definite terms are necessary in order to convey clear mental images of color.