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Clothes' colors

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Jul. 7th, 2013 | 04:42 pm

When browsing through an outdoor catalogue earlier today, I noticed how outlandish most of the terms used to describe clothes' colors are. So since it's a Sunday and I've got nothing better to do, I made some lists and took a look at the numbers.

Preparations (aside from the transcription itself) included adding whitespace were appropriate and weeding out obvious misspellings (e.g. "light onix"). "Grey" was normalized to "gray", and the few German terms there were were translated into English; French terms were kept as intentionally fancy variations. A couple of "checks" colors were un-checked (as it were), as "checks" was deemed to be a pattern rather than a color proper; "melange", OTOH, was kept.

After all this, the grand total was 556 terms. I initially thought that female clothes would be described in much fancier terms than male clothes, but not so: 330 terms (59.35%) were used for female clothes' colors, 300 terms (53.96%) for male clothes' colors, and 92 terms (16.55%) for unisex clothes' colors.

There was less overlap than I expected; 208 terms (37.41%) were exclusive to female clothes (63.03% of all terms used for female clothes), 173 terms (31.12%) were exclusive to male clothes (57.67% of all terms used for male clothes), and 42 terms (7.55%) were exclusive to unisex clothes (45.65% of all terms used for unisex clothes).

116 terms (20.86%) were used for both female and male clothes, 44 terms (7.91%) for both male and unisex clothes, and 39 terms (7.01%) for both female and unisex clothes. 33 terms (5.94%) were used across all three categories.

You can find all the lists here. Note that the filenames contain unicode characters, namely ∩ and ∪, so switch to a Unicode encoding if your browser doesn't autodetect this.

Looking at the colors themselves is fun, too. There seem to be five rough categories:

  1. Basic colors: red, gray, blue etc.; colors for which we have specific words.

  2. Generic modified basic colors: dark red, medium gray, light blue etc.; basic colors with generic modifiers.

  3. Evocatively modified basic colors: cherry red, asphalt gray, cornflower blue etc.; basic colors with specific modifiers that evoke certain mental images.

  4. Evocative colors: habanero, pewter, glacier etc.; terms that evoke specific mental images, without any basic color names.

  5. Fancy colors: microchip, radiation, t.moro etc.; non-descriptive terms that cannot (easily) be understood without having seen the color.

Other interesting ones: "core energy", "gulf stream" and "tiznit cru" all made me wonder just what the heck I'd be looking at. On the other end of the proverbial spectrum, there were such colors as "real red" and "true black" — as opposed to fake red and false black (blue and white, one presumes)?

"London fog" and "smoked pearl" were both great and very evocative examples of category four colors that'll immediately give you an idea of what you're looking at. "Ultrapeach" was cute, but "old loden" sounded rather unappealing, and "tendril" may have been one of the grossest ones the list (I'm almost surprised noone went for "slime"). "Habanero" may go well with "zing", but unfortunately there was no "red hot" to complete the triumvirate.

"Stretch limo" deserves an award for being not just unevocative but also actively misleading: it was black, but all the stretch limos I have seen myself have been white. And finally, whoever came up with "potting soil" was probably trying to get fired. :)

There's still room for further "research", too. For instance, you could categorize the colors according to the above scheme and see how the categories are distributed for male, female and unisex colors (total and exclusive). The usual cliché is that terms used for female clothes are more likely to be in the higher categories, but is this actually true?

Also, you could classify the colors in the higher categories according to what sort of entity they invoke. It appeared to me that male clothes' color were much more likely to be described in terms of metals, for instance; it'd be interesting to see if this is true, and if there's any other such trends and tendencies.

And finally — this WAS an outdoor catalogue. How does it compare to clothes from "regular" mail-order catalogues? Is it as fancy, or less so (or more so)? And so on.

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Comments {6}

citrakayah.dreamwidth.org

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from: citrakayah
date: Jul. 7th, 2013 05:39 pm (UTC)
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Hmm. So does the radiation color result in tumors and horrible sores covering one's body? Does 'core energy' involve incineration?

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jul. 7th, 2013 06:47 pm (UTC)
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I sure hope not — it might explain "tendril", though.

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Marko the Rat

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from: marko_the_rat
date: Jul. 8th, 2013 12:06 am (UTC)
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I was curious about your comment about normalising "grey" to "gray". In Australian (and I think British English) we spell it "grey" and American English spells it "gray". Does Germany follow American English spelling then? (To the extent that a non-English speaking country would follow one standard or another, which I think is also an interesting subject.)

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jul. 8th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC)
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In German it's "grau", actually, but 99% of the colors given in the catalogue were in English. I changed all occurrences of "grey" to "gray to make sure I'd not accidentally count colors as distinct just because they were using a different spelling.

Generally speaking, BTW, I think German schools teach British English. At least mine did, and this went so far that US-American spelling, pronounciation etc. was considered incorrect, although exceptions were made for those who'd been there as exchange students. Outside of schools, I don't think it's an issue (anymore than, say, German vs. Austrian German would be in Australia); I imagine a fair number of people won't even be aware that there's a difference.

Myself, I tend to stick to US-American spelling these days.

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Feffeli Sidereus

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from: feffeli
date: Jul. 8th, 2013 06:50 pm (UTC)
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Working in a home improvement store in the US, I notice that our paint and carpet colors are equally outlandish. We loan out carpet samples on boards with a spectrum within a particular style/brand/color family, etc. Some colors are named after cities only, or weather phenomena. I recall one board that read like an airline destination board. "Gdansk, Lisbon, Barcelona, Sheffield, St. Louis, Ontario, Havana, Moscow, Tokyo, Beijing..." All were muted shades of red, green, and blue. x.x

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Jul. 8th, 2013 07:44 pm (UTC)
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Hah, nice. :)

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