Attire Club Mood Board: The History of Color Systems

A color system is a model which describes the ways in which colors relate to each other. Mostly, color systems are based on three primary colors – although in some cases there were even five primary colors, from which every other color is derived. Colors are set in relation to each other – some are in opposition, some are in the vicinity of each other. In many color systems, especially from the past, colors are even associated with certain traits, concepts or things.

For example, J. W. Goethe, whose color system lies at the color wheel as we use it today, said that colors are affected by and would impact a person’s emotion and mood. He made a distinction between “plus” colors and “minus” colors, where yellow and yellow-red were “plus” colors, because, they are life-enhancing and positive in character, as he claimed, while blues, purples and blue-greens were categorized as “minus” colors, because, according to Goethe, they evoke restlessness and anxiety.

An older system, namely the one created by Pythagoras, associated colors with musical notes. On the other hand, others suggested more work-ready systems. For example, Leonardo da Vinci and the architect Leon Battista Alberti worked on color systems that were meant to help them mix colors better.

Other color systems were designed to answer questions. In Athanasius Kircher’s model from 1646, which was developed in Rome, the German scholar tries to answer questions such as why the sky blue is. As another good example of why scholars created color systems, in 1758, mathematician and all-around scientist Tobias Mayer tried to find out through his color system how many colors the human eye can see.

Today, color systems are more about technical aspects and being clear as to what colors are created and displayed on screens, paper, building walls and so on. Of course, today we know a lot about how the technology behind colors works and we also know that colors to impact one’s mood, which is why, as we always say, the clothes you wear and the way you design your environment should be chosen carefully and in a way that will enhance your attitude and mood.

It is very likely, that, even with all the knowledge we have today about colors, there is still a lot to find out. There is obviously an objective aspect to colors that we can see and study, but there are also many mysteries that we might uncover and reveal in the future.


Pythagoras ~550BC


Athanasius Kircher 1646


Ignaz Schiffermüller 1772


Tobias Mayer 1775


J. W. Goethe 1809


James Sowerby 1809


Philipp Otto Runge 1810


George Field 1817


Albert Henry Munsell 1915


Michel Albert-Vanel 1983


Fraquoh and Franchomme






Further reading:

Choose the colors of your clothes like a pro

A guide to coordinating the colors of your clothes (+examples)

Choosing the colors of your clothes according to your skin tone

Discovering what colors to wear according to your natural features

Choosing the best color of clothes for dark skin tones

P.S. We want to hear from you! What is your favorite color? What do you like to wear it with? Which is your favorite color system? Share your feedback, questions or thoughts in the comments below! For more articles on style, fashion tips and cultural insights, you can subscribe to Attire Club via e-mail or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!



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