In my last post, I mentioned Alfred’s cream linen suit. Let’s take a closer look at how Kate Furnivall influenced our mental movements of the uppity Englishman by her costume choice for this character’s stage entrance. We’ll do this by examining her selections of color, fabric, and garment construction.
The Color: Cream
“Of all God’s gifts to the sighted man, color is the holiest, the most divine, the most solemn.” –John Ruskin
What Ruskin was saying is that color has an immediate subliminal effect upon us. The first thing we notice about our best friend’s new blouse is the color. The second thing that comes to mind is whether or not she’ll hate us if we tell her how awful she looks in that particular color.
Color can influence moods and affect behavior because our reaction to color is almost instantaneous. Ever noticed how many doctor’s office waiting rooms are painted pale shades of blue? The color was chosen to elicit a calming response from you, especially once you see the doctor’s bill. Doctors and decorators have known for years what we writers often overlook: Color can evoke a response powerful enough to impact our choices.
I don’t think Kate’s choice of cream for Alfred’s suit was an accident. She had every color in the world to choose from, including beige. So why cream? I think she chose this color with every intention of giving the reader a subliminal message, to add another layer to her character with one simple word…cream. Say it out loud and let the word roll off your tongue. Smooth and silky, right? In fact, you can almost taste it.
The color cream is a variant of white tinged with a dash of yellow pigment. While white projects purity, goodness, cleanliness, and fresh beginnings; yellow is optimistic, the color of sunshine that warms the darkest of places. Yellow carries with it the promise of a positive future. But yellow was a bit too bright for the future Kate had planned for Alfred. So with her choice of cream, Kate dulls the glare of sunshine and foreshadows the troubles this optimistic guy will face in his future—Alfred’s life in Junchow, China proves anything but sunny, but despite his trials this man of principle remains pure. Cream, a color combination of white and yellow, gives the reader the clever subliminal message that Alfred’s character is conservative yet eternally hopeful.
With one word, a costuming word, a flat Alfred rises off the page just a bit. And it is in this flutter of life that a well-drawn character begins to take shape in our mind.
When costuming your characters, take a moment to do some color homework. What stage of life is your character in? Are they lost? Then black might be appropriate. Are they in the money now? Then perhaps they should wear something green, maybe even emerald. Are they fighting depression? Drape them in gray.
Google color meanings and open the door to a fun and colorful world of literary symbolism.
Next time we’ll investigate how the fabric of Alfred’s costume added another layer to his character.