History Friday- yes, bring it back! I had forgotten. I only have a side dish for this potluck, but here it is.
The orangey-brown you see on the leaves now is a puritan color. We call it russet. It was then called “Philly Mort,” a corruption of the French feuille morte.* They preferred the restrained, subdued hues called sadd colors, which those who have read Albion’s Seed may remember. Puritan hats were black. Black was otherwise considered a bit pretentious, or at least over-formal. Clerics adopted it as time went on, reflecting their increased self-regard. But for everyday, the colors which occurred in nature were considered acceptable, though even a few of those were suspect.
Consider, for example, the dull magenta which Harvard calls “crimson,” and the dull blue and gray of Yale, or the dark Dartmouth green. And of course Brown has the color…brown. The colleges and universities in other parts of the country have more exciting colors. Here, it is rust, puce, tawny, forest green, and other somber shades.
Those are the old New England colors you could still find until after WWII. Immediately afterwards, all those gaudy golf/Bar Harbor/LL Bean colors suddenly became the mark of the moneyed, salt-water elite. I don’t know why, but I suspect that the universality of the dull colors even among the poor here created a counter-reaction of adoption of shades that had heretofore been favored by the gaudy urban and ethnic poor. Just a guess on my part. But you will remember the preppy look of the 70s and 80s which tended toward pink and bright green. Or lemony yellows, Nantucket Red, and all the rest.
*There is a minority opinion that philly mort was an even duller, gray-brown color, but I am following the decisions of Plimoth Plantation on this.
3 thoughts on “Sadd Colors”
It may have been dull but it was healthy. Up until the advent of coal-tar derived dyes, in the later 19th century, bright colors came from metals like arsenic, antimony, lead and mercury. The 20th century made up the difference with tetraethyl lead in gasoline.
Whats in a name? I did colour photography for a long time. I souped my own E6 and printed my stuff in several ways. Its all just CMYK to me. ;)
Perhaps immigrants from Afro/Caribbean and other places where bright primary colors are used for homes and clothing have been one source of the counter-reaction favoring bright colors.
Comments are closed.