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Beau Brummell’s Colour Principles

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June 1, 2013 by Ville Raivio

1. In the composition of colours for dress, there ought to be one predominating colour to which the rest should be subordinate.

2. To the predominating colour the subordinate ones should bear a relation, similar to that between the fundamental or the keynote [in music] and the series of sounds constituting a musical composition. And as, in a piece of music, there is a relation between the successive sounds or notes, so in dress the subordinate colours should be in harmony with each other. The power of perceiving this relation of colours constitutes the faculty called taste in colouring.

3. As painters —

Permit not two conspicuous lights to shine

With rival radiance in the same design

so in dress, one half of the body should never be distinguished by one colour, and the other by another. Whatever divides the attention, diminishes the beauty of the object; and though each part, taken separately, may appear beautiful, yet as a whole the effect is destroyed. Were each particular limb differently coloured, the effect would be ridiculous. It is in this way…that mountebanks are dressed, and it never fails to produce the effect that is intended by it, to excite the mirth and ridicule of common people.

4. The variety of colours which may be introduced in dress, depends on the expression of the predominating colour.

Delicate colours require to be supported and enlivened, and, therefore, are best relieved by contrasts; but the contrast should not be so strong as to equal as to equal the colour it is intended to relieve, for it then becomes opposition, which should always be avoided. Contrast, skilfully managed, gives force and lustre to the colour relieved, while opposition destroys its effect.

5. In the composition of the subordinate colours, there is a maxim of Du Fresnoy’s which applies as well to the arrangement of colours in dress as in painting:

Forbid two hostile colours close to meet

And win with middle tints their union sweet.

6. The choice of the predominating colour will be indicated by the situation, the age, the form and the complexion of the wearer.

~ Beau Brummell in his only study Male and Female Costume: Grecian and Roman Costume, British Costume from the Roman Invasion Until 1822, and the Principles of Costume Applied to the Improved Dress of the Present Day


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Only a beautiful life is worth living.


"If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed; but either too stiff, too tight, or too fashionable".
~ Beau Brummell