Parti-clothing or mi-parti fashion describes a method of decoration where one half or one quarter of a garment was made in one colour and pattern and the other or others in a different hue. The fashion first appeared in the 12th century Europe and became a fashion zenith into the 15th century. Commonly worn by either sex, from ladies’ gowns to men’s tunics, hoods and cloaks, were all made in parti-colours, but it was masculine hose which were most often treated in this way. Described by Lewandowski (2011), these were divided vertically down centre back and front and sometimes quartered at the knee which according to Yarwwod (1981), highlighted accent and distinction to a well-turned leg.
Parti-coloured garments were thought to have became popular with the rise of heraldy . Among the titled the display of a coat of arms became popular according to Wilcox (1969). Costumes were divided into variegated colours displaying the family coat-of-arms, stamped in gold and silver leaf and coloured enamels. When these families intermarried their colours and coats of arms were conjoined. These costumes were passed down the family and valued as historic dress. Parti-coloured garments soon became a wider fashion trend.
During the late Middle Ages, European clothing began to evolve into fashion. No longer just costume with styles that varied little over time, the cut, shape, style, and decoration of clothing changed at a much faster pace. Fourteenth century, hose or chausses covered men’s legs were made of wool and generally brightly coloured. Wool fabrics were available in a wide range of qualities, from rough undyed cloth to fine, dense broadcloth with a velvety nap. High-value broadcloth was a backbone of the English economy and was exported throughout Europe. Wool fabrics were dyed in rich colours, notably reds, greens, golds, and blues.
After the spinning wheel replaced the drop spindle and distaff (a hand held spindle), the horizontal loom with foot treadles and shuttle simplified the production of textiles and clothing. Attractive clothing became more available and affordable and the emerging middle class began to emulate the styles of the elite. Improved tailoring techniques allowed hose to get longer, and by the last quarter of the fourteenth century the two separate legs of hose reached the waist and were joined into one garment, similar to what we today call tights. Some had leather soles and could be worn without shoes. At first, full length leg coverings were made of two separate pieces tied with laces called points to the breech belt, or to the breeches themselves, or even a doublet (a short, close-fitting jacket). Chausses were usually seamed up the back and closed over the crotch with an overlapping panel or a codpiece. As shorter clothes for men became vogue, chausse were made as a single garment similar to modern tights. Often the parti-coloured hose were matched with different colour shoes. In fourteenth century, red and blue were especially popular colour combination clothing.
The techniques of Italian tailoring allowed full-length parti-coloured hose to be cut in woven fabrics in separate panels. Using curved seems the leggings coul fit tightly to the leg and lower torso. Closer fit over the body became the fashion and well-fitted hose were an important fashion item for men of the gentry and nobility. As men's legs and leg coverings became more prominent, parti-colour hose were worn without the corresponding top, so the colour split was contained to just the legs,and each leg was a different colour. Various trends in colour and patterning were seen in men's hose throughout each period of their predominance. In fourteenth century, red and blue were especially popular colour combination clothing. The fabulous clothing once restricted to royalty now became available and affordable for the merchant class and a new upwardly mobile urban middle class. Fashions of the Late Middle Ages were influenced by the Gothic style, a look that accentuated slenderness and an elongated form for both men and women.
The fashion for long toed shoes (poulaines) became an obsession for men in the Middle Ages. Over this period in European courts the size of men's shoes got longer and longer until they were 24 inches longer than the foot.
By the late 14th century wooden or cork overshoes (pattens) fastened to the foot with leather cross straps and were worn to protect the foot segments of chausses. Fashionable courtiers could wear their peaked pattens at the height of fashion and protect their fine leggings
At first court jesters relied on elaborate skills such as singing, music, magic and storytelling to earn their place in the court. Then towards the end of the Medieval period when parti clothing became less fashionable, jesters frequently wore a coat made from motley colours, usually bright and patterned irregularly. Under this coat, they wore tight breeches often with one leg coloured differently from the other leg. Whether this was to lampoon parti clothing which had become passe, no one knows. The site of a fool dressed in gaudy clothes, using mismatched colour schemes and different comical embellishments gave instant amusement .
Fashion for parti coloured clothing fell into abeyance for centuries. Disdain for parti-clothing was reflected in the uniforms of 18th century convicts in Western Australia.
Then in 1906, Spalding a sports company introduced Saddle shoes (saddle oxfords) which included different colours segments. Originally the white soles had black & white uppers and became popular among young Americans for leisure wear. The overlaying saddle gave additional strength over the flexor surface of the shoes where the point of greatest stress occurs. These were quickly adapted to popular sports and many private schools adopted saddle shoes as part of their school uniforms with the shoe colour selected to match with school colours.
Contemporary with Saddle Shoes were spectators (two tone brogues), initially worn for golf then later in the Jazz Age.
Spectators became fashionable dance shoes for both men and women. With greater acceptance of black musicians, fans of jazz supported racial harmony by wearing two-tone footwear. The fashion reached its zenith in the thirties.
In the 1960s, Mod designer like Mary Quant reintroduced two tone into her outfits with mini dresses in vintage block colour patterns. Always looking to develop new ideas, she wanted matching leg coverings to enable women to dance, run and move.
The recent introduction of tights inspired the designer to partner with the Nylon Hosiery Company, They had developed a technique of making long stockings which joined together at the top, and were specially dyed to contrast and co-ordinate with Mary Quant separates.
For a brief period in 1966 parti-clothing popped up again when pop stars Dave Dee , Dozy, Beaky Mick and Tich adopted mi parti fashion for their on stage gear. The peacock fashion fab did not last
More recently some attempts were unsuccessfully made to reprise parti coloured fashion on the cat walk with the appearance of different coloured shoes. However, the novelty failed to catch public attention.
Lewandowski, E J. 2011 The Complete Costume Dictionary. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press
Wilcox, R. T. 1969 The Dictionary of Costume Charles Scribner's Sons
Yarwood, D. 1981 Costume of the Western World: Pictorial Guide and Glossary New York: St. Martin’s Press.