State-of-the-art science reveals secrets of 19th century fashion industry

December 1, 2015

The dye industry of the 19th century was fast-moving and international, according to a state-of-the-art analysis of four purple dresses. The study, published in Spectrochimica Acta, Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, reveals that a brand new purple dye went from first synthesis to commercial use in just a few years.

Before the 1800s, purple dye came at a premium, so it was usually restricted to royalty—hence the connection between royals and purple. The saw the discovery of several synthetic purple , making purple textiles more affordable and readily available. Understanding where these dyes came from and were used is therefore of historical interest.

In the new study, researchers from CSIRO Manufacturing and the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia show that the new purple dyes were part of a fast-moving industry, going from first synthesis to commercial use in as few as four years. This reflects how dynamic the fashion industry must have been at the time.

"Chemical analysis has given us a glimpse into the state of the dye industry in the 19th century, revealing the actual use of dyes around the world," said Dr. Jeffrey Church, one of the authors of the study and principal research scientist at CSIRO Manufacturing.

The researchers took small samples of fibers from four dresses: three 19th century English dresses and one Australian wedding gown. They extracted the dyes from very small silk yarn samples and analyzed them using a combination of chemical techniques: thin layer chromatography and surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy.

They found that the three English dresses were dyed using methyl violet; one of them was made only four years after the dye was first synthesized.

"The dress containing methyl violet was made shortly after the initial synthesis of the dye, indicating the rapidity with which the new synthetic dyes were embraced by the textile dye trade and the fashion world of the day," commented Dr. Church.

However, the Australian wedding dress incorporated the use of a different dye—Perkin's mauve—which was very historically significant, as it was the first synthetic purple dye and was only produced for 10 years. This was a surprise to the researchers, as the dress was made 20 years after the dye had been replaced on the market.

"The dress in question was made in Australia," explained Dr. Church. "Does the presence of Perkin's mauve relate to trade delays between Europe and Australia? Or was this precious fabric woven decades earlier and kept for the special purpose of a wedding? This is an excellent example of how state-of-the-art science and technology can shed light on the lives and times of previous generations. In doing so, as is common in science, one often raises more questions."

Explore further: Influence of sunlight exposure on rhizophora dye solution

More information: Andrea L. Woodhead et al. The purple coloration of four late 19th century silk dresses: A spectroscopic investigation, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.saa.2015.10.024

Related Stories

Influence of sunlight exposure on rhizophora dye solution

June 28, 2013

(Phys.org) —Natural dyes have been used as the colouring of natural fibres, in cosmetic products, to produce ink, watercolour and artist's paints. Natural dyes produce an extraordinary diversity of rich and complex colour. ...

Capturing light in an efficient dye trap

May 10, 2013

Chemical compounds that can efficiently capture and convert light energy are in high demand as key components of inexpensive solar cells and advanced optical sensors. Carbon-based organic dyes are particularly strong candidates ...

Recommended for you

Scientific advances can make it easier to recycle plastics

November 17, 2017

Most of the 150 million tons of plastics produced around the world every year end up in landfills, the oceans and elsewhere. Less than 9 percent of plastics are recycled in the United States, rising to about 30 percent in ...

The spliceosome—now available in high definition

November 17, 2017

UCLA researchers have solved the high-resolution structure of a massive cellular machine, the spliceosome, filling the last major gap in our understanding of the RNA splicing process that was previously unclear.

Ionic 'solar cell' could provide on-demand water desalination

November 15, 2017

Modern solar cells, which use energy from light to generate electrons and holes that are then transported out of semiconducting materials and into external circuits for human use, have existed in one form or another for over ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.