past & present

The History of Ombre

by Amy Azzarito

It’s easy to mark the beginning of a style obsession when you have a blog and a search feature. The design*sponge lust for ombré can be traced back to the 2008 “Mini Trend: Ombré “ and Grace revisited the trend just last week.   Even in 2008, it seemed like ombré was already everywhere. So it was a bit surprising when I had a bit of trouble turning up much about the history.

Image above: We Like It Wild: Late Summer Gradation

Image above: paint chip quilt in blue $400

It turns out that the word ombré is relatively new. In French, it means shaded or shadow, but in decorative arts it refers to a graduated color scheme that moves from light to dark. It’s not a new concept – it’s one that nature perfected. But historically, it refers to a method of dyeing fabric. The first recorded use of the word as a dying technique was in 1841, but didn’t even enter the Oxford English Dictionary until 2005.

To bring the ombré look home,  you can try your hand at dip-dying fabrics or paper cups. I’m planning on making an ombré fade cake for Valentine’s Day. There are also plenty of ombré options in stores.

Image above: Vase by Miyashita Zenji, 2001 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In textiles, you can achieve the ombré fade through dip dying. The same effect can be achieved in glass or ceramics. In ceramics, Japanese artist Miyashita Zenji has perfected the art of saidei – a technique of applying overlapping, irregular and extremely thin bands of tinted clay in graduated hues from top to bottom to create a graduated color scheme.

Image above: We Like It Wild: Dip Dye Cups

I was a little surprised and disappointed to not turn up much more on this new word and trend. (However, it seems that if you’re looking for ombré hairstyles, you have a lot of options.) If you have any sources to contribute, let me know. Otherwise, I’ll keep digging. In the meantime, enjoy the color fade!

Image above: DIY Project: Dip-Dye Lamp & Pillow

Image above: 1. ombre blanket 2. Le Creuset $194.95-304.95$245 3. peach fade vessel $46 4. emerald ombre covered dish $28 5. esque midcentury coolade pitcher and cups $420 6. dishcloth in basket $14 7. aged nursery pot $29.40 8. lotus dinnerware $4-10

Image above, from left: dip dye throw $39 and vintage silver ombre wine carafe and wine glasses $32

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  • Cool pictures! Don’t want to sound like a smart arse here but you might want to change “dying” to “dyeing”. Makes me feel sad to hear of dying fabric!

  • obsessed with those vintage silver ombre wine carafe and wine glasses, but the link associated with the text goes to the dutch oven. Where do I get them?!?! ;)

    • Hi Lara – I fixed the link! They’re vintage from etsy and there are certainly plenty of other options on etsy if you do a little search. They are also often called “Dorothy Thorpe” glasses. Dorothy was a designer in the 1930s and produced tableware items for Marshall Fields. She is best known for glassware with silver and platinum bands. Thanks so much! -Amy

  • ombre is such a simple idea yet so effective, i keep seeing it pop up everywhere at the moment! this is such a beautiful post x

  • It’s funny how things ebb and flow through the years. I remember in 1998 when I was a senior in HS a lot of the prom dresses were ombre and I really wanted one.

  • I’m usually not very big on purple, but I LOVE that Le Creuset pot! Yes, I remember when ombre was big when I was in high school back in the late 90’s. I had a few, very cool ombre sweaters.

  • Well a technique of applying overlapping, irregular and extremely thin bands of tinted clay in graduated hues from top to bottom to create a graduated color scheme….Really nice blog..enjoyed it.

  • You’ve brought back memories of this lovely turquoise & shades of grey ombre skirt I had from Banana Republic years back (silk with an apron front which tied in the back). Also, when I worked for Prada, they did an entire gorgeous colleciton of ombre (but didn’t like us to refer to it as ombre, they had their own term for it).

    I love the wine glasses above, kind of reminiscent of gold or silver rimmed glasses, ala the mad men midcentury era but with a twist.

  • Maybe people previously said “gradient” instead of ombre? It’s so funny… we talk about this at my studio all the time, one of my studio mates was really convinced I had made the word up, ha ha!

  • Thanks so much for this article! It’s always nice to be able to put a word to something you love, in this case, a design element/style. And I love Allison M.’s idea about Ombre painted walls! I’m getting ready to redo my studio…it’s an intriguing idea. :)

  • I’m pretty sure you can find the Ombre word used as far back as the 80’s or even late 70’s–when it was used to describe knit sweaters, among other things.

    • I remember those sweaters in the 70’s. I was in Junior high and I’m pretty sure we used that same word Ombre. There were also ombre bleached jeans, with the color gradient from white to indigo.

  • I. love. this. All those blankets are to die (dye) for!

    I’ve been obsessed with that word since Oliver’s ombre rabbit bedding skirt on project runway! I’ve been subconsciously channeling this as the backdrop of my jewelry shots for months. I had no idea!

    lovely post! nice research as always!

  • i too am surprised the ombre doesn’t go back further. huge fan of the look — even jumped on the hair bandwagon a few years back but fried my ends in the process!!

  • When I worked in product development for home goods (2008-2013) Ombré was a huge trend starting around 2011, and never seemed to die (dye?! ;^) ). I think it started on the runway with ombré at Prada and then trickled down to home fashion. Anyone else think so too? Regardless of origin it definitely has consumer appeal and staying power, as it still hasn’t faded away (forgive the puns!).

  • I’ve just gotta ask…how do you make an ombre cake? The icing I can visualize w/o much trouble, but the cake itself–no. This is something I’d love to try!


  • I have been a commercial woven designer for 20+ years. Ombre´ utilizes light to dark colors. Ombre´ goes back at least to 19th century silks in a jacquard construction type, more specifically used in lisserie´. Joseph Marie Jacquard invented the new machine mechanism in about 1830 in which the device was developed for the mass production of sophisticated patterns just as it had been done for the production of simple patterns. This style was sometimes striped with very detailed floral motifs in the warp (vertical) direction and can also be seen in oval styles with an enclosed floral combined with stripes. It was primarily seen in French textiles, thus the name lisserie´ where it originated. Lisserie´ imitates embroidery. Although many textile dictionaries say that it imitates silks because the use of wool followed afterward. It is a lovely progressively gradually shaded technique integrating other colors and can add tremendous depth to a design. It was also used in ceramics in the early 20th century. It is fun to implement and can be used in the warp and weft directions in dobby and jacquard wovens.

  • It’s interesting how something so old and simple that has been around forever is now becoming a trend. Now ombre can potentially find its way into almost every aspect of design.