∼ by Ann Wilson ∼
Color forecasters like Pantone and WGSN provide a wealth of information to help modern designers create textiles and fashions that are relevant to trends. But long before these resources existed, the first source of standardized color in the U.S. was the Textile Color Card Association of the United States, and its creation is a story of war-time necessity and innovation.
At the onset of World War I, the textile and fashion industries, along with apparel and accessory wholesalers and retailers, found themselves in a crisis. The primary source of style and color trends was France, and 80% of the dyestuffs used in the American industries came from Germany. With supply chains disrupted by the war, the reality for the American textile and fashion industries was that dependence on Europe was no longer sustainable.
The U.S. was interested in creating fashion lines that could be produced in cost-effective ways and at high quality, then sold at competitive prices to appeal to the mass market. Identifying colors that would appeal to the American consumer was critical to this approach.
When the French “color cards” (collections of dyed swatches) of 1914 did finally make it to the U.S., delayed by the war, Americans found the colors presented to be somber and unoriginal. Understandably in a time of war, European fashions would tend toward somber colors. America did not enter the conflict until 1917 and a much brighter and lighter palette was forecasted in the U.S. This divergence in color preferences, combined with wartime necessity and a mass market business approach, compelled the U.S. to create a system that reflected American tastes and to establish the Textile Color Card Association of the United States (TCCA) in 1915.
The TCCA was founded on the principle that colors shouldn’t be dictated by one or two people (as was usually the case with European color cards), but that a board of industry experts would submit, review, and ultimately approve of select colors found to be reflective of not only American tastes, but of its history, contemporary events, and cultural assets. The goal was to capture the mood of America through color. (image: Fall 1940 Woolen Color Card, TCCA)
Founded as a non-profit, members of the TCCA were experts with an interest in the U.S. textile and style industries who understood trends, production economics, and distribution. Among them was a person of local interest, William J.R. Frutchey, silk buyer for Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker.
The standardization of color was fundamental to the TCCA. Prior to standardization, American mills, wholesalers, and retailers would receive color cards from different European sources, and each of those sources would have its own series of reds, greens, or blues, etc. With no recognized color standards, consider the frustration of retailers and consumers trying to color match all aspects of an outfit, including fabric, thread, buttons, ribbons, millinery feathers, shoes, and so on.
The TCCA produced the Standard Color Card of America twice a year to forecast the Spring and Fall seasons. Each color was standardized by way of a name and a coded number representing the principal color, its primary blend, its secondary color, and its intensity. The cards were distributed widely across all areas of the textile and fashion industry, forever changing color marketing and forecasting in the U.S.
Anja Kirberg (2015) Forecasting, Standardization, and the Americanization of Color, Dress, 41:2, 81-94.
Regina Lee Blaszczyk. The Color Revolution. (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation.) Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2012
Our collection of TCCA color cards
The Design Center holds an extensive collection of color cards from the Textile Color Card Association. We are in the process of doing a complete inventory of our holdings. There is much to learn and write about the TCCA and its evolution through the 20th century, and we plan to share more of our research. For now, here is a small glimpse into our collection.