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(Woman in White: wedding dress; important character; Man in White: God-like; Baby White: purity, innocence, Whiteness)

White is the color of snow, the polar bear, milk, ivory, marble, and alabaster. White is also the term used to designate people Euroethnics (Bowles et. al., 2011, 62). The color is associated with purity and innocence in the Euro-American context. Hence the custom of marrying in virgin-white. „Before 1900 most babies in the United States wore white clothing that signified their age but not their sex, consistent with cultural norms“ (Paoletti, 2012, 85). It was in late 18th century that bleaching and inexpensive cotton were introduced. Infants were subsequently dressed in long white dresses. „White baby clothing, which could withstand frequent laundering with boiling water, probably owed ist long popularity in part to those practical considerations in addition to ist connotation of purity and innocence“ (Paoletti, 2012, 87).

Adult woman’s fashion periodically plays with white’s seeming innocence and purity, be it by invoking a seductive and provocative Lolita-image or an ethereal angel or fairy-like quality. The establishment of modern architecture in the late 19th and early 20th century was predicated on positioning the color white as the antithesis of fashion. Minimalist whitewashed facades, Wigeley argues, supported the notion that modern architecture was pure and clean, attributes that were believed to distinguish architecture from fashion’s licentious, colorful and fleeting ornamentalization (Wigley, 39). Indeed, a virtuously white building structure was to mask, contain and discipline ornament, and to relegate the latter to the interior and private.
The connotations of the color white as light, pure and innocent are pervasive in Euro-American socio-cultural history (Morrison; Dyer), so pervasive in fact, that racism-scholar Zack argues that „the black-white sin-virtue dichotomy was available historically as justification for the exploitation of blacks by whites when Europeans first began to exploit Africa, the ‚dark’ continent“ (Zack, 154). The actual skin color of a person categorized as white or the skin color of her ancestors is never really white, nor is it expected to be. Zack deduces „that the racial words ‚black’ and ‚white’ are not the color words that they purport to be but a label that refers to nineteenth century concepts of race, which associated nonphysical characteristics with racial designations“ (Zack, 155).
Bowles, John P., Olu Oguibe, Karen Stevenson, Maurice Berger Ellen Fernandez-Sacco and Adrian Piper. “Blinded by the White: Art and History at the Limits of Whiteness,” in: Art Journal 60.4 (Winter 2011): 38-67.
Richard Dyer (1997): White: Essays on Race and Culture, London: Routledge.
Toni Morrison (1992): Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
Naomi Zack (1993): Race and Mixed Race, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Mark Wigley (2001): White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


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© 2013 by DOMINIQUE GRISARD. All rights reserved.
Power of color