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kottke.org posts about clothing

A Genealogy of Blue

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 05, 2019

Blue - The History of A Color.jpg

Even colors have histories, and what vibrant histories they are. French historian Michel Pasteureau’s Blue: The History of A Color (he’s also done histories of red, green, and black) is capably reviewed by Jesse Russell in the Claremont Review of Books in an essay called “The Colors of Our Dreams.” Russell offers the following luminous details.

Blue was once little-known in the Western palette. Homer’s sea was “wine dark”; blue would not be used as water’s color until the seventeenth century. It has evolved from its original association with warmth, heat, barbarism, and the creatures of the underworld, to its current association with calm, peace, and reverie. Like the unruly green, the Romans associated blue with the savage Celtae and Germani, who used the woad herb’s rich leaves for their blue pigments. These northern barbarians also painted themselves blue before war and religious rituals. The ancient Germans, according to Ovid, even dyed their whitening hair blue.

The Romans, in contrast, preferred the color red—the Latin word, “coloratus” was synonymous with that for red, ruber. The Romans and Greeks did import lapis lazuli, the exquisite blue rock, from exotic locals such as China, Iran, and Afghanistan. But neither used the barbaric blue for important figures or images, saving it for the backgrounds for white and red figures. Even the Greek words for blue, like the names of colors in the Bible, largely were meant to evoke certain states or feelings as opposed to exact visual colors. Blue, like green, was the color of death and barbarism. The nobler colors—white, red, and black—were preferred.

Kind of Blue.jpg

Blue’s fortunes changed in the Middle Ages when it became associated with both the heavens and heaven, and particularly an association with the Virgin Mary. French royalty adopted blue as their official color; and in modernity, the introduction of indigo from the Americas and the invention of Prussian blue in the early 18th century helped cement blue (along with white and red) as part of a tripartite color scheme that gave us the flags of Great Britain, the United States, and France.

And then along came Goethe:

By the mid-nineteenth century, blue became a Romantic symbol of melancholy. Among those guilty of luring the moody young to dress in blue was Wolfgang von Goethe who, in The Sorrows of Young Werther, depicted his title character in a blue coat. This, coupled with Werther’s untimely death, inspired a craze for blue coats and a mania for suicide among melancholy European youth. Werther’s blue jacket was matched by the blue flower in Novalis’s unfinished posthumous piece Heinrich von Ofterdingen, which narrates the tale of a medieval troubadour who seeks out the flower as a symbol of the authentic life of beauty and art. Young, melancholic Frenchmen were doubly encouraged in their swooning by the closeness shared by the French word for blue flower, “ancolie,” and the ending of “mélancholie.”

From Romanticism’s murky forest a host of verbal expressions bloomed, linking blue with odd, melancholic reverie. Fairy tales were known as “blue tales”; to be terribly drunk in German became known as “being blue” or “Blau sein”; and the “blue devils,” from which we get the great American expression (and musical genre) “the blues,” meant to be afflicted with a lingering sadness.

Joni Mitchell - Blue.jpg

Blue has a curious oscillation between conservativism and rebellion, perhaps especially in France, but throughout the world:

The navy blazer, a sign of conservativism and preppy formality in the twentieth century, was once a mark of the avant garde Westerner, adorned in what became known as “sportswear.” Aspiring radicals wore blue jeans, made from denim dyed with indigo, but ultimately derived by Levi Strauss from the pants made from tent canvas for California prospectors. Eventually, jeans became leisurewear for Americans from the East Coast who wanted to dress like the cowboys of the increasingly tame “wild west.” As the tides of early twentieth-century fashionable rebellion swelled, blue jeans were given the stamp of haute couture in a famous 1935 edition of Vogue, and, after World War II, were a symbol of rebellion and nonconformity—especially in newly liberated Europe. But in the West, jeans eventually became blasé (but comfortable) everyday wear when everyone—even conservative squares—started wearing them. This did not stop blue jeans from becoming symbols of rebellion in Communist countries during the heady days of glasnost and perestroika, and later in the Muslim world a symbol of youthful rebellion.

Taken together, the genealogy of blue is a history of finding meaning in difference, whether it was the Germanic blue facing off against the Roman red, the vibrant blue jacket against the staid black coat, or the heavenly Marian apparition set off against the profane, multicolored world below.

(Via The Browser.)

The history of technology is the history of pockets

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 08, 2015

Pocket Calculator.jpg

Diana Kimball writes on the complex symbiosis of devices, clothing, and the body:

In a very real way, what people tuck into their pockets signals what they care about. Ötzi the Iceman carried fungus to make fire. Japanese men in the Edo period carried medicine and seals. Queen Elizabeth I carried a miniature jewel-encrusted devotional book. European women in the 18th century carried money, jewelry, personal grooming implements, and even food. Here in 2015, we carry cellphones?—?never letting them out of our sight.

If what we put in our pockets is important, to advertise a product as pocketable is to imply that it’s indispensable: something you’ll always want by your side. Pocket watch manufacturers adopted this approach early; purveyors of pocket knives, pocket handkerchiefs, and pocket books (also known as paperbacks) followed suit. Technologies all, these tools still seem primitive relative to slim electronic bricks we haul around today. To find a direct ancestor of the cellphone, we need only look back as far as 1970: the year the pocket calculator was born.

It’s a short essay, but still manages to cover multiple historical periods, eastern and western traditions, different problems faced by men and women — remarkable range. A beginning.

(photo via Matthew Rutledge at Flickr)

Here’s a line of pre-pixelated clothes suitable

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2006

Here’s a line of pre-pixelated clothes suitable for wearing on television shows where the producers don’t want to worry about clearing the rights to clothing logos. Fun idea.

What’s wrong with the Gap? Daniel Gross

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2006

What’s wrong with the Gap? Daniel Gross approaches it from an economic standpoint (with a Jared Diamond analogy, no less) while Lucinda Rosenfeld examines the retailer’s clothing woes.

Velour sweatpants with “del.icio.us” on

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 03, 2006

Velour sweatpants with “del.icio.us” on the ass, modeled after Juicy Couture. (thx, katie)

Scans of the Victoria’s Secret catalog from 1977.

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2006

Scans of the Victoria’s Secret catalog from 1977. Compare with the catalog from 2003.

For the nerd in your life: a

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2005

For the nerd in your life: a hand-crocheted scrollbar scarf, with repositional scroller.

For those of you who are Napoleon

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2005

For those of you who are Napoleon Dynamited out, how about a “Pedro Lacks Political Experience” tshirt?

A series of art projects based on

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2005

A series of art projects based on Flickr. The Flickr tag cloud tshirt is clever; the printing on the shirts is reversed so that you can read them in the mirror…”the [Flickr user’s] narrative is actually addressing himself while claiming to address others”. (via ia)

Teenaged necktie maven Baruch Shemtov. He made

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2005

Teenaged necktie maven Baruch Shemtov. He made his first tie for school and has since turned it into a business, selling his wares in Fifth Avenue shops and online for $100 apiece.

Interview with the fellows from skinnyCorp. Half

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2005

Interview with the fellows from skinnyCorp. Half of my current wardrobe is from Threadless and I haven’t had occasion to wear my nifty Naked & Angry tie yet.

Fans of Six Feet Under will want

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2005

Fans of Six Feet Under will want to get their hands (and arms) on a Narm! tshirt. Narm. Narm!

Limited edition tshirts are all hip and such right now

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 21, 2005

Limited edition tshirts are all hip and such right now.

75 creative workers were asked to choose a

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2005

75 creative workers were asked to choose a color for each day of the week and this 7-pack of tshirts is the result.

Interview with Nigo, founder of the Japanese

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2005

Interview with Nigo, founder of the Japanese clothing label, A Bathing Ape.