General Question

wildpotato's avatar

Why is Western clothing often monotone or neutral?

Asked by wildpotato (14903points) May 24th, 2009

Especially noticeable if juxtaposed with non-Western clothing, like saris, sarongs, kimonos, etc. I walked past a group of Indian women today and felt like a sparrow next to peacocks.

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26 Answers

Darwin's avatar

Try moving to Key West or Hawaii. There is a lot more color there in everyday clothing. I made the mistake of moving from Key West to Tucson, where my “Hawaiian-Floridy shirts” stood out like an eyesore against the earth tones worn by everyone there.

I still cannot wear beige.

Saturated_Brain's avatar

Probably has something to do with the working Western culture. I mean, Western clothes certainly do have colour. I’m thinking about the Victorian Balls they had. Ahh… the colour…

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Western as in American? America was founded by people socially rebelling against flamboyance and it’s carried over into modern clothing. Men’s suits choices here are more conservative cuts than in Europe, for instance.

asmonet's avatar

Psst, ‘monotone’ refers to sound.
Perhaps, you were thinking of ‘monochromatic’? But I don’t think that works very well either.

Darwin's avatar

I must admit that New York in the winter seems to be a sea of black and gray wool, with a rare punctuations of white or red. I much prefer living in the South, where even camouflage can be colorful. I saw a lady the other day wearing purple camouflage pants, a pink camouflage top, fake autumn leaves camouflage Crocs. I am not certain where she was planning on hiding but it certainly was a cheerful outfit.

YARNLADY's avatar

I have noticed that in many photographs I see, as well. The clothing shown in the marketplaces is very colorful, while there is a lot of monotone in the cities of the US and Europe. I think they hand dye their clothes, and ours are mass produced.

YARNLADY's avatar

@asmonet A monotone color scheme is just one single hue

asmonet's avatar

I have always said and heard monochrome, however, through googling it seems people use them interchangeably. It kind of irks me. :P

YARNLADY's avatar

@asmonet I agree, that was my first thought also

fireside's avatar

@asmonet & @YARNLADY – graphic designers use Pantone colors, so monotone doesn’t really bother me.

Do hippy clothes not count as western?

What about disco?

Cowboys can get pretty colorful

Let’s not even talk about spandex

essieness's avatar

@fireside Great examples, but I think @wildpotato was referring to clothing that is actually in style, lol.

Darwin's avatar

@essieness – So you insist on a narrow definition of style? I think several of @fireside ‘s categories represent western clothing as worn today.

But then I am in theater.

Likeradar's avatar

Maybe Westerners wear a lot of black, white, and tan because it’s easier to match (and maybe we’re lazy dressers?). But there are tons of bright colors out there. American Apparel, for one, is like a rainbow. And fashion magazines promote juicy colors every spring and summer.

essieness's avatar

@Darwin Just because those clothes are worn today, doesn’t mean they should be! I was trying to be funny… Guess it didn’t translate.

Darwin's avatar

@essieness – Some of us have outgrown fashion literally and feel that as long as the wearer likes the clothing it is stylish enough. Although it is easier now to find variety in the larger sizes there are still a lot of things we large folks can’t find.

And yes, I can see you were trying to be funny, but then so was I, unsuccessfully.

Often what controls what I wear is whether it is big enough and it is clean. Bright colors are considered a plus.

YARNLADY's avatar

@fireside I did some research on the “google images” section, and I can definitely see what wildpotato is getting at. Look at pictures of large gatherings like the Bazaar in India, or a concert scene, with all the colorful clothes, then look at a similar scene of a mall or concert in the US. It is quite a contrast.

rooeytoo's avatar

I love the colors in the traditional dress of Indian and Asian women but I can’t picture myself wearing anything quite that vivid

I prefer to dress and decorate my home in neutrals and then go a little wild with accessories and accents.

alive's avatar

i know what you mean! but i think not only the place that matters, so does the time (i.e. era)... i mean lets think of the 80’s. i think the mellow colors are a response to people who look at their high school pics from the 80’s and ask “wtf was i thinking!” haha… and the 70’s had colorful psychedelic clothes as well.

now colors are coming back. neon is big, or at least getting big in the LA hip hop scene, indie, and electro culture.. i assume it will spread from the big cities to other places soon enough…

fireside's avatar

These outfits and designers are pretty recent.

I’m sure there are psychological reasons for color choices as well.

I think Saturated Brain was right to note that working attire is different from casual wear.

dynamicduo's avatar

I do not believe your hypothesis. I believe you are suffering in part from confirmation bias.

There have been many waves of fashion that feature color prominently, such as those mentioned: hippie clothing, 80s neon, etc. There are also many streams of fashion going on at one time, from the high fashion created on runways to what a farmer may wear day to day. All of these include both color and monochromatic tones.

The dress you speak of, kimonos and saris, are often traditional garb which feature and highlight cultural diversity and significance (especially in choices of color or symbolism of design patterns). Some are meant to be worn outside or for special occasions and thus feature lots of color and wonderful elaborate designs. There are plain kimonos and saris, it’s just that these aren’t seen in public as often.

Take a look at this blipster fashion article and tell me this is monochromatic or neutral. Similarly, I would be hard pressed to find a Goth example that wasn’t monochromatic. Western clothing more readily represents groups or cliques of fashion, whereas many Eastern clothing more readily represents your culture (especially traditional garb). You could look into the history regarding kimonos or saris to learn why fancy colorful ones are appreciated more.

wildpotato's avatar

@dynamicduo Oh sure, I agree with what you are saying, and I didn’t mean for my question to sound like it was automatically relegating the examples you give in your 1st and 3rd paragraph to an “exception to the rule” category. I should have been more careful to explain that I was wondering about how the monotone/chrome thing seems to have become prevalent (but not exclusive) in many current Western and increasingly Westernized cultures.

Some examples: When I shop in a Walmart or Target clothing section I find myself confronted with almost all kahki, white, grey, black, and dimmed-down plaid. When I worked as a farmer, the clothes my friends and I wore were mostly of this color scheme, too. And now that I live in NYC and see stuff of high fashion every single day when I walk past the Pasons School for Design, I find that they often involve white, black, or neutral tones. I will admit, when I used to go for hippie garb in college I wore more colorful stuff, but I also wore a good deal of undyed fabric, especially hemp.

I do take issue with your comment about Goth style – when I used to wear Goth stuff in high school I did indeed wear mostly black, but it is hardly a difficult thing to see that the Goth style also enjoys stuff like neon pink and green. I might even speculate that it has mingled with emo clothing to some extent – go look in a Hot topic. I myself have some kelly-green Tripp pants I still wear sometimes.

And I did look into the history of kimonos and saris. What prompted me to go ahead and ask this question is that while there are social and religious reasons for more elaborate garb and certain colors of dye (like Tyrian purple), but the lower classes of many non-Western societies do also wear colorful stuff. So that is why it seems to be a “whole-cultural” trend, if you will. anthropologists in the house? Is there a term for what I’m trying to say here?

Could you be more specific on what exactly the difference is between “groups or cliques of fashion” and “culture”? I believe that these categories have significant overlap. In a related objection, I find a great deal of similarity between these situations: different towns in India have different ways to pleat saris, and Florida clothing is different from New York clothing.

Darwin's avatar

@wildpotato – I think you must shop at a different WalMart and Target than I do. The one near me has very little beige, black, white, etc. Instead, there are slightly sanitized but ethnic fabrics in a wide variety of colors, including hot pink, purple, lime green, and so on. The “slightly sanitized” bit is mostly so everything is machine washable.

But then we aren’t in New York.

wildpotato's avatar

@Darwin Oh I haven’t found a readily available WalMart in New York yet; I think the closest is somewhere in east Jersey. I was thinking of the WalMarts along the Front Range (Palmer Lake, Monument, Colorado Springs, Pueblo) – but I don’t imagine that WalMarts in Tuscon would be too much different… Maybe I just have selective vision.

As to Target, the trend definitely stood out when I was there recently. But another thought occurs – might this have something to do with gender? I just realized that when I was thinking of my experience at Target, I was shopping for clothes for my boyfriend – and Darwin, if I am not mistaken you are female? If that is the case, maybe it is mostly men’s clothing that makes the apparent difference in clothes’ cultural color schemes. hooray for consonance!

Darwin's avatar

@wildpotato – Actually, I would indeed expect WalMart and Target both in Tucson to carry mostly earth tones, because that is what people in Tucson seem to think is the right color scheme for living there (perhaps they don’t want to outshine the landscape?). It was one of several reasons why I left Tucson without looking back. They seem to be rather outspoken there about a number of things that I consider to be personal matters, such as weight, race and religion, as well as wardrobe.

In my experience with Colorado, they also seem to like earth tones a lot. Some of my in-laws live there and they dress themselves and decorate their surroundings in beige (yet, they are Japanese so wouldn’t one expect eastern color choices to rule?).

However, at this point I live in South Texas, where we do wear colorful clothing. In addition, I may be female but I shop for male clothing for my son and husband, and I often wear men’s shirts because they fit me better (and because my husband and I wear the same size). Jointly we have some truly eye-catching shirts.

wildpotato's avatar

@Darwin Hmm. So then I guess we come back to the regional thing. I guess in the end it depends on many more factors than simply Western v. non-Western. Thanks for the thoughtful conversation!

Darwin's avatar

@wildpotato – You are most welcome.

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