WRITTEN BY ANDREA WETZLER
SEPTEMBER 20, 2020
It’s odd to realize post-fact that your style is monochrome. I especially like red, which I often wear from top to bottom — if we pretend shoes aren’t a part of the mix — even though they really are (I am just waiting to get my hands on some lovely red somethings). But that’s beside the point, because monochrome doesn’t need red to be monochrome — it’s not about a color, it’s about the use of color.
It is hard to pin-point when my monochromatic style began. I can’t recall any monochrome in my high school outfits, and even the year after high school I didn’t wear much of it. Though my style has rapidly evolved in the past two years, and I like to think I have now come into my own kind of realm.
I also enjoy the color yellow — although, all warm colors (or just all colors) work fabulously in the monochromatic style. Monochrome, personally, is less about rules, and more about understanding the bonds between similar hues; however, I feel even that’s too dogmatic. Perhaps the best way to think about it is all those all black outfits – all those artists have been monochroming since day one!
But colors are relative – it’s the harmony between colors that evoke aesthetics. I don’t know if I would say colors deceive as Josef Albers would – it seems way too antagonistic (though that may just be semantics). But I do agree in the instability of colors, how one can seemingly change in relation to differing backgrounds. Perhaps what Albers was trying to get to was the destabilizing quality of that reality, that because colors are relative, and that in our reality they are always relative (even if we try to have them separate), that we as humans only know colors in terms of other colors. There’s a form of “deception” in the disconnect between knowing you’re seeing a color, at the same time as knowing you’ll never actually know what that color looks like on its own.
I’m sure most kids, at one point or another, found themselves with a peer that proudly announced the impossibility, or a teacher that challenged you to invent a new color. Again, destabilizing. Just try to explain any primary color without any other colors. It would be done relatively, with examples of items in such a shade or the kind of emotions such a color has been deemed to symbolize. It’s almost as hard as trying to mix yellow without yellow.
On the other hand, relativity creates the color wheel and the context for color harmonies. I like to think one of the greatest joys of life are the aesthetic pleasures, a joy that color harmony fulfills. It presents a sense of order in what, if you, like me, have jumped on the relativity-train hard, could be incredibly destabilizing. Almost existential.
Color harmonies, like complementary colors, are easy to know. Blue-orange. Red-green (a bit too Christmas-y for my taste, thank you advertising). Yellow-purple. You probably painted or drew countless color wheels between preschool and elementary classes.
But perhaps I was always more drawn to analogous color combinations, the variations softer. I loved the mixing of hues, and would almost stubbornly slightly tweak any acrylic color from the tube just to know it was my own. Because we see each other in color (even if we’re color-blind). It’s what made me love Hope Gangloff’s work so much, because she under-painted so clearly that the color became a part of the figure she painted (plus I love black laced silver Wyandotte’s (the chicken)). (I know, like what even is that? They’re the black and white speckled chickens, and I had to look it up too)
And perhaps the monochrome comes from my childhood. My siblings and I each were designated a color (red, blue, or green) and though often I was ultimately left with all of the items as the shortest of my sisters, I would usually start out with red. And red is a powerful color. It evokes passionate emotions, and in many cultures, is the color for brides (it was also the color in my mom’s custom velvet dress). I always loved that idea, marrying in a velvet red dress. Walking into city hall in red? Amazing.
There is no way to separate the connection between color and items. I like red, and I like the glow of juicy plums, deep sunsets, and the ever-comforting Citgo sign. I like orange and the color of cloudberries from hikes in the marsh and the runny yolks in my morning eggs. Humans learn language in prescriptive ways, learning words in fluid categories; it’s how we understand words relatively.
In the color naming debate – a lovely little subsection of linguistics, anthropology, cognitive science, and philosophy – the development of color terminology is studied. Some claim culture-specific phenomena, while others claim the development has absolute universal constraints. Because color exhibits both biological and linguistic aspects, the importance of which should not be neglected in other spheres of our lives — such as in fashion. Doesn’t that blow your mind a bit?
But we know that some people can see more colors. Those lucky few who have four different cone cells in their eyes – leaving them with not only another primary color but also a four-dimensional color space. It’s the kind of reality that seems so unrealistic to humans, and yet many species in the animal kingdom see in very different dimensions that we do. Can we ever actually know what it’s like to see like someone else can? We often take for granted the work our eyes and brain do and project images in our mind, which we can easily do “incorrectly” – just ask anyone with glasses.
Oftentimes color — being non-exclusive from the items themselves, and thus an integral part to examine as part of a piece of clothing as much as its cut or material — isn’t the only aspect that brings significance. Take the Mughal Empire, which combined local architectural traditions of white marble, symbolic of the Brahmin class, and red sandstone, symbolic for the Kshatriyas, to symbolically portray through palatial architecture the Mughal dynasty as a combination of military and spiritual strength. Color has power, especially relatively.
I don’t think colors in my wardrobe hold as much significance, but I do notice how differently colored outfits lend to differing facets of my personality. Red feels powerful, blue a bit more subdued, and anytime I try all white I know I have to be extra careful as the klutz that I am. And honestly, I don’t make outfits based solely on color. Texture and cut are also important, almost as important as my mood or the day’s happenings (I would be lying if I didn’t say that totally frankly the weather often is the major dictator, even if I often end up not dressing correctly for said weather).
I find outfits are often more about at least one interesting piece that excites me, and then I want to find whatever can bring harmony to that piece. Outfits make me feel almost giddy at what I can create, and perhaps, for me, the instability of color makes me want to work harder to create a sense of stability with a monochromatic palette.