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Blue is the colour especially for fashion

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The colour red shocks and stands out, black and white contrast, but blue is just ‘there’ – it is so common a colour, we often forget to see it. Billions of humans have at least one blue item, for instance, the ubiquitous jeans, forgetting it is the colour blue. Yet, as the stunning exhibition Once in a Blue Moon (at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum and Art Gallery) shows, when blue is actually seen it is surprisingly vibrant, challenging and distinctive – turning clothing into anything but ordinary.

Man has been trying to ape the natural blue colour for centuries, using raw materials to create dyes. The rich, almost acid blue of azurite was only mimicked in the Victorian era, when Nobel Award winning Adolf von Baeyer created the synthetic dye. But, he was not the first to attempt it. William Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye, some 40 years earlier, called ‘mauveine’. Before then, plants, such as Indigo, were used (and still used), whilst artists used the stone Lapis Lazuli to paint the vibrant folds of dresses in medieval miniatures.

With over 20 items of clothing spanning two centuries, the Once in a Blue Moon costume exhibition shows how colourful and different blue can be: not just light blue to dark blue, but a complex range of blues that have hints of other colours emerging out of the shadows.

They range from the earliest item, a handmade blue Georgian garter (c.1780) to a 1980s handmade waistcoat. Whilst blue is often associated with boys, this exhibition shows that such colour stereotype is a recent development, particularly when it comes to adult fashion – from a blue cape from the 1930s to a blue swimsuit from 1910, to a 1930s evening dress and coat. One item that stands out is a peacock blue velvet suit made for a ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ of the late Victorian era. To see this, and all the other items in the Once in a Blue Moon Display, visit Horsham Museum and Art Gallery between 20 June and 20 December.

Horsham Museum and Art Gallery is open Monday to Saturday 10-5pm. Free admission. www.horshammuseum.org

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