“I took the liberty a few days ago of asking your black velvet bonnet to lend me its cawl, which it very readily did, and by which I have been enabled to give a considerable improvement of dignity to cap, which was before too nidgetty to please me. I shall wear it on Thursday, but I hope you will not be offended with me for following your advice as to its ornaments only in part. I still venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one as being smarter, and besides coquelicot is to be all the fashion this winter. After the ball I shall probably make it entirely black.”
Jane Austen to her Sister Cassandra
December 18, 1799
Colours are always integral to fashion and the names given to the new shades of the season as imaginative as they are confusing. Where trend gurus of 2006 push aubergine, petrol, raspberry, mustard, and moss on us; their counterparts of two centuries ago were not slow in urging its female readership to wear coquelicot, canary, pomona, jonquil or puce. But what did the colours really look like?
While ivory, rose, peach and lavender are quite easy to figure out, others are more obscure. Many colours were named after plants; roses being rosy red and lavender a delicate pale greyish purple. Slate, a dark grey reminiscent of paving stones, was popular