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What is vintage mauve color?

What is vintage mauve color?

Vintage mauve is a pale purple color that was wildly popular in the Victorian era of the late 19th century. Mauve became a sensation after the first synthetic dye was invented in 1856 that could produce the elusive color. Prior to this, mauve clothing and accessories were expensive and restricted to the upper class. But the new affordable synthetic mauve dye democratized the color and made it accessible to the growing middle class. Mauve became the “it” color of the late Victorian period, with entire outfits and households decked out in shades of mauve.

The vintage mauve craze speaks to the values and tastes of the Victorians. As a soft, subtle alternative to bold primary colors, mauve reflected the feminine sensibility of the era. The ability to produce the color cheaply also fit with the rising consumerism and desire for novelty. Vintage mauve remains nostalgic for a bygone time when a new color could take the fashion world by storm.

What is mauve?

Mauve is a pale purple or lilac color that takes its name from the French word for the mallow flower. On the color wheel, mauve sits between violet and pink and is created by combining red and blue.

There are a few shades that qualify as mauve:

Lilac mauve Almost a pastel purple
Pale mauve Diluted and soft mauve
Bright mauve More saturated version

Lightness or brightness distinguishes different mauve hues. So a pale mauve will be light and desaturated or “dusty.” A bright mauve will be bolder and more vivid. All variations share the same blue and red undertones that place mauve in the purple color family.

The invention of the first synthetic mauve dye

In 1856, chemist William Henry Perkin accidentally discovered the first synthetic dye while attempting to create quinine, an antimalarial drug. The chemical mixture produced a new purple color that Perkin recognized as closely related to the elusive mauve pigment derived from the mallow flower.

Perkin patented his mauveine dye and begin manufacturing it in factories. The new synthetic dye could be used to color fabric, paints, and other products that were then in high demand during the industrial revolution. Prior to this, mauve clothing and goods were expensive because the pigment had to be painstakingly extracted from plants.

Perkin’s mauve dye made the color affordable and accessible for the first time. The synthetic dye quickly caught on in the fashion world, as mauve dresses, jackets, shoes, and hats flooded the marketplace. The Victorians were charmed by the new color that seemed luxurious yet soft and understated.

Queen Victoria and the mauve craze

Queen Victoria herself had a role in propelling mauve into a fashion sensation. Legend has it that the Queen wore mauve to the opening of the Royal Opera House in 1858. This imprinted the color as fashionable and royal in the minds of the public.

Whether or not the legend is true, Queen Victoria was known to favor mauve. The Winterhalter portrait painted of her in 1859 depicts the monarch wearing a lavish mauve silk gown. As the style icon of the era, the Queen’s preference for mauve gowns sparked a frenzy of imitation among middle and upper-class women.

Year Mauve Milestone
1856 Perkin invents first synthetic mauveine dye
1858 Queen Victoria allegedly wears mauve to Royal Opera House
1859 Winterhalter portrait of Queen Victoria in mauve dress

Queen Victoria made mauve a household name and cemented its status as the fashionable color of the era. Mauve came to represent feminine beauty, refinement, and nobility thanks to its royal associations.

Popularity of mauve in Victorian fashion

In women’s Victorian fashion, mauve became ubiquitous by the late 1850s. Every dressmaker and milliner was producing gowns, dresses, ribbons, shawls, and hats in the coveted mauve color. Fashion magazines and catalogs were filled with a rainbow of mauve clothing and accessories.

Different mauve shades came in and out of vogue. Lilac mauve was an initial favorite, later replaced by a brighter, more vivid mauve in the 1860s. Pale and grayed mauves were preferred in mourning wear. Working class women could afford simple mauve calico dresses.

The enthusiasm for mauve was not just limited to women’s fashion. Mauve neckties and waistcoats were fashionable menswear items. Mauve became a favorite decorating color from wallpaper to upholstery. Brides carried mauve bouquets and wore mauve accents on their white dresses. Clearly, Victorians were head over heels for mauve style.

Mauve in the home

The mauve trend extended from clothing into interior home decorating. People adorned their parlors and sitting rooms in various shades of mauve.

Soft lilac mauve walls were popular as an understated background. Upholstered chairs and chaises in mauve velvet or silk brought color into the Victorian home. Mauve was also used in decorative items like vases, lamps, and pillows. The relatively affordable synthetic dye meant average households could decorate in mauve accents.

Wealthier Victorians took the mauve home decor trend to the extreme. Entire rooms decked out in mauve with mauve floral wallpaper, rugs, furniture, and upholstery were the height of fashion. Even mauve feathers were used in floral arrangements.

Why did Victorians love mauve?

What was it about mauve that so thoroughly captivated 19th century tastes? A few key factors contributed to mauve mania:

Novelty Mauve was a new color sensation not widely attainable before 1856.
Affordability Synthetic dye made mauve clothing & goods affordable to the middle class.
Femininity Soft, subtle mauve represented Victorian ideals of delicacy.
Luxury Mauve was associated with upper classes and royalty.
Charm Grayish purples like mauve had an intriguing je ne sais quoi.

In many ways, mauve was the perfect color for the Victorian era. The combination of its novelty, price, feminine allure, and royal connections primed mauve for fashion prominence. For a few decades, Victorians went wild for all things mauve.

Mauve wedding dresses

Victorian brides looking to be stylish often incorporated the fashionable mauve color into their wedding attire. While white wedding dresses were worn to symbolize purity and virginity, they were relatively plain. Brides would add mauve accents to bring in current fashion.

Mauve flower bouquets were a popular way for brides to work in the trendy color. Lace, ribbons, and embroidery in mauve decorated white wedding gowns. Some daring brides wore mauve ballgowns for their weddings rather than traditional all-white.

Wedding cakes, invitations, and bridesmaid dresses also got the mauve treatment. While Queen Victoria herself wore white when she married Prince Albert in 1840, by the 1860s and 70s she had made mauve the “it” nuptial color.

Decline of mauve fashion

By the late 1870s, mauve began fading from the forefront of Victorian fashion. Critics started voicing distaste for the color’s ubiquity, especially the garish brighter mauves. Fashion had moved on to embrace greens, browns, and aesthetic dress styles.

However, mauve did not disappear completely. Softer, muted mauves became staples for elegant dresses, ribbon accents, and flowers. Deeper plummy mauves came into vogue at the turn-of-the-century. Mauve retreated from dominance but held on as a key shade in the fashion spectrum.

Vintage mauve today

During its Victorian heyday, mauve reigned supreme as the fashionable color of choice. Today vintage mauve evokes nostalgia for 19th century style and sensibility.

Getting the look: Adding mauve clothing, decor items, or accessories can inject a touch of vintage allure. Look for soft, dusty mauves with gray undertones that resemble historical mauve dye hues. Avoid bright, overly saturated mauves.

Weddings and events: For brides or hostesses wanting to incorporate vintage flair, consider mauve invitations, ribbons, flowers, or table decor. Add mauve accents to dresses or cakes.

Home decor: Use pale mauve paint, pillows, art, or fabric in living spaces. Antique mauve glassware has old-world charm.

With its long-standing history and feminine aesthetic, mauve continues to enchant generation after generation. A dash of the vintage color can create mystery and romanticism. Mauve may never again gain the widespread devotion it held in the 19th century, but the color always conjures up daydreams of the past.


Vintage mauve was the rockstar color of the late Victorian era. The invention of affordable synthetic mauve dye opened the floodgates for mauve fashion. Queen Victoria and the rising middle class created mauve mania that dominated style and home decor. Mauve came to represent luxury, femininity, and a touch of the exotic. While mauve faded from the forefront of fashion, it left a legacy as a nostalgic vintage color that still inspires style today. A palette of dusty mauves can add old-world romance to everything from dresses to weddings to decor.