The past centuries have seen a variety of cultural and technological shifts, and the fashion world has followed suit. These changes have also had a profound impact on the way we dress. In the 19th century, the commercialization of newly discovered aniline dyes for printed fabrics had a profound impact on fashion. The use of these synthetic dyes changed the way we colored fabrics, allowing manufacturers to scale up production. Aniline dyes made it easy for manufacturers to print on a wide range of fabric types all with consistent hue and tone of the color between batches. This allowed for the reemergence of the dyeing industry, which was formerly languishing because of its long dependency on expensive naturally derived pigments.
The Victorian era saw the rise of a multitude of bright colors in fashion. The first synthetic aniline dye to become widely used was mauve, thanks to chemist William Perkin. It was soon followed by a range of other vibrant colors, including greens, purples, magentas, yellows, blues, and pinks. Mauve and aniline green became instantly popular, establishing themselves as the fashionable colors of the day. This dye revolutionized the dyeing process by allowing for large quantities of different colors to be mixed in one manufacturing run, producing a wide array of dazzling shades and combinations. Aside from the multitude of colors available, aniline dyes also helped the textile industry to reduce waste. Aniline dyes could be used to print on a wide range of fibers, from cotton, flax, hemp to silk and even wool. It should be noted that aniline dyes were relatively toxic, as they are derived from coal tar, a form of creosote and a by-product of the coal mining industry. Of considerable concern were the significant levels of arsenic that were a by-product of their manufacture and use.
Today, there is a growing demand for more natural dyes that are compatible with current environmental concerns for our world. This will not be an easy task. It will likely require intensive farming of the plants and animals whose constituent parts are used to produce the dye, in order to meet current commercial demand. These techniques may not be sustainable in the long term. In the meantime, the dye industry has started to explore alternative methods of obtaining these materials. Currently, many eco-conscious fashion houses are focusing on dyeing with natural materials such as beetroot and mushrooms. Naturally colored fabrics are more environmentally friendly, but they are often more expensive to produce. This makes them a difficult choice for many designers who want to create pieces that appeal to a wider audience, while still maintaining the quality of their designs and products.
Aniline dyes are much easier to work with and produce a more consistent color between batches, meaning that manufacturers can create larger quantities of different styles that present a consistent color palette. This technological characteristic helps to keep the price of finished goods affordable for the general consumer and profitable for high-end clothing and accessories manufacturers. Another benefit of synthetic dyes is that they do not fade as easily as traditional dyes, so the colors tend to last longer. This is important for clothing that will need to be washed often or worn in extreme weather conditions.