To continue my series of velvet jackets, this one is by Klaus Rheiner, from Austria. It's the only orange velvet jacket I've ever seen. The label reads "Klaus / Rheiner / Mens : Attire : 1964".
From green to red. Taken on the same day as my His Lordship green velvet jacket — and how unattainable such an intensity of sunlight now seems — here are some photos of a bright red velvet jacket. The velvet is softer than in the green one, as can be seen from the way the pocket hangs. And once again, the jacket is from an exotic location. Thailand this time: the label says "Ravi Sehgal Bangkok / Since 1976 / www.ravisehgal.com". As there's a web address, this must be recent, at least by the standards of vintage clothes.
Ravi Sehgal is still going, with a website at the
same address. Most
garments on the site are less colourful
than my jacket, though Ravi does display one rather
fetching pink suit. Click the thumbnail to view it in his Instagram account at full size:Wayback
I haven't posted any clothing photos for a while, so here are some taken last summer. Several years ago, I was walking over Magdalen Bridge, and saw a student wearing a bright green velvet blazer with grey edging or piping. It wasn't in any college colours as far as I could tell: just an unusually vivid two-colour velvet. I liked it, so I was pleased when two years or so later, the owner of Unicorn pointed this one out to me. No edging, but the velvet was the same vivid green. There are several photos below, showing it under different early-morning lights. The label says "Exclusively styled for you By His Lordship, Wellington, New Zealand". It's the only clothing I've ever seen from there.
In previous posts, I've talked about how the shape of fonts connotes their "personality". Today's post is an example of how shape connotes personality in a more literal sense. Take a look at these two thumbnails:
Both drawings are by illustrator Nick Sharratt, who I'll introduce via this interviewWayback with Angela Ferguson for Northern Soul (20 October 2016). I know of Nick for the distinctive flat style of his illustrations for Jacqueline Wilson's books. However, these two images are for a different author's story, Mr Pod and Mr Piccalilli. You can see them at their proper size on Nick's page "Mr Pod and Mr Piccalilli: A story written with Penny Dolan" Wayback. Follow the link to see the full-size pictures, and thence to go to the rest of Nick's website (menu on top right) or to his publishers (link in footer).
Every line in each image is shaped to reflect the personality of its owner. I'll say more about this in my next post on the semantics of style.
Above are two very different images. On the left is an orange-red velvet dress embroidered with silver, from Unicorn. On the right, a detail from Sphere's cover illustration for The Saliva Tree, a science-fiction short-story collection by Brian Aldiss. The title story was rated by one reviewer as truly horrifying: an evaluation reflected in the illustration. Now, the saliva tree and the silver sprays both have "bits sticking out". But you would not want to wear the saliva tree on a dress, even were I to erase the mouth. What makes the two so different?
This question is related to the topic of my post "Assertive, Rigid, Rude, Sad, Unattractive, and Coarse: I Chose My Font Well for Mrs May’s Speech" about the personalities that people associate with typefaces. We associate personalities with decoration too, and I suspect this is for much the same reasons. What are they?
Part of the answer is denotation: what the picture actually represents. In the case of the saliva tree, this is a HIDEOUS THING WITH FANGS, drooling. But there's also connotation. The site OxfordDictionaries.com explains the difference thus:
Although both words broadly mean "to signify" they are technically quite different. "Denote" refers to the literal primary meaning of something, whereas "connote" signifies the attributes of a word aside from its primary meaning.
I've was prompted to consider this topic when seeking a font in which to render part of Theresa May's "Citizen of Nowhere" speech, but it's something I'd intended to discuss anyway. How might we build a Style Reader: that is, a program that can analyse decorations and predict their personalities? I shall give some thoughts on this in future posts. For the moment, here are some more images.
A few weeks ago, in "Citizen of Nowhere on a Brexit Farewell Tour", I quoted Theresa May's
If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don't understand what citizenship means.
This is a dreadful insult, from somebody who appreciates neither the opportunities offered by free movement within the EU, nor the attitude of people who wish to seize them. So to set her words, I wanted a font that would convey my opinion thereof. I also wanted it to stand out from the surrounding text, while still fitting in with the stark black and white design of the WordPress theme — presentation software — I'm using. So I Googled "typeface indicating anger". I was pleasantly surprised when Google came up with a relevant link in its second search result, to HubSpot's "Fonts & Feelings: Does Typography Connote Emotions?"†.
That post summarises research published in 2006 by A. Dawn Shaikh, Barbara S. Chaparro & Doug Fox at the Software Usability Research Laboratory, Wichita State University. Beware, because there's a link in "Fonts & Feelings" to the lab's website, whose domain has been taken over by a domain scammer. Luckily though, Shaikh et. al.'s paper is available via CiteSeerx, at "Perception of Fonts: Perceived Personality Traits and Uses"‡.
The authors introduce their research by noting that researchers have paid more attention to font readability than to personality:
Often credited with creating first impressions, fonts are typically classified according to unique typographical features (serif, sans serif, etc) and overall appearance. The combination of appearance and typographical features often lead graphic artists and typographers to describe typefaces using personality traits ("less cuddly, more assertive," Berry, 2004)§. In a BBC audio program (Peacock, 2005)‖, fonts were depicted as feminine and masculine, among other traits. Feminine fonts were described as fine, serifed, sleek, and elegant; masculine fonts were characterized as being blocky and bold.
Most empirical research concerning fonts focuses on the legibility or readability with little concern for the perceived personality of typefaces. Typographers and designers are often interested in the typeface personality or "typographic allusion" which refers to "the capacity of a typestyle to connote meaning over and above the primary meaning which is linguistically conveyed by words" (Lewis & Walker, 1989, p. 243)¶.
Brumberger (2003)◊ describes the Bauhaus school of design and their belief that the "content and purpose of the text should dictate the design — the form — of a document, and that form, including typography, should express the content just as the verbal text itself expresses content" (p. 207). Within communications research, many experts suggest that typefaces can convey mood, attitude, and tone while having a distinct persona based on the font’s unique features. Each document should be rendered in a font that connects the mood, purpose, intended audience, and context of the document.
The authors aimed to provide empirical evidence to make up for this lack. They actually carried out research on both the personality of fonts, and their uses, but I'm going to describe only the former. They began by choosing 20 fonts to investigate:
- Serif fonts: Cambria, Constantia, Times New Roman, Georgia;
- sans serif fonts: Calibri, Corbel, Candara, Arial, Verdana, Century Gothic;
- scripted/fun fonts: Rage Italic, Gigi, Comic Sans, Kristen ITC, Monotype Corsiva;
- monospaced fonts: Consolas, Courier New;
- display or modern fonts: Impact, Rockwell Extra Bold, Agency FB.
As well as deciding on fonts to rate, the authors worked out 15 pairs of contrasting personality adjectives, such as sad/happy, conformist/rebel, polite/rude, and cuddly/coarse. They say that they determined these through personality research, adjective lists, and pilot testing. Here's the complete list:
With these starting materials in hand, the next stage was an online survey. Each subject was shown a sample of text in each of the 20 fonts, and asked to rate it on the scales above. Text was displayed online, because the authors were interested in on-screen fonts rather than printed. 561 subjects answered.
The outcome (I presume) was that the authors ended up with 561 ratings for each font. Each rating would have been a collection of 15 numbers between 1 and 4, thereby classifying it along 15 personality dimensions.
This is a lot of data, so the next step was to simplify it by so-called "dimensionality reduction". To see how this works, imagine that instead of 15 pairs of adjectives, there had been just 3: sad/happy, conformist/rebel, and cuddly/coarse. Suppose also that subjects always answered conformist/rebel and cuddly/coarse in the same way, so that both always got the same numeric values. We can see that as both values are always the same, one is redundant: it doesn't tell us anything the other doesn't.
Here's a possibly helpful way to visualise this. Imagine each rating as a point in three-dimensional space with an X distance along a sad/happy axis, a Y distance along a conformist/rebel axis, and a Z distance along a cuddly/coarse axis. But the Y and Z distances are always equal, so we can drop one of them, thereby reducing the number of dimensions from 3 to 2.
In practice, data is never neat, and different dimensions are never perfectly correlated. Nevertheless, it is still possible to dig out some correlations. Using a technique called principal-component analysis, the authors did so, and reduced the number of dimensions from 15 to 5. In effect, the ratings, taken over all subjects, ended up classifying the fonts into five groups or clusters, which corresponded to the original division into serif, sans serif, scripted/fun, monospaced, and display or modern. Interestingly, subjects were fairly consistent about how they assigned personality traits to these, as shown in the list below:
- Serif fonts: Cambria, Constantia, Times New Roman, Georgia. Scored highest
on traits such as Stable, Practical, Mature, and Formal;
- sans serif fonts: Calibri, Corbel, Candara, Arial, Verdana, Century Gothic. Did not score extremely high or low on any personality traits;
- scripted/fun fonts: Rage Italic, Gigi, Comic Sans, Kristen ITC, Monotype Corsiva. Had the highest
means for Youthful, Happy, Creative, Rebellious, Feminine, Casual, and Cuddly;
- monospaced fonts: Consolas, Courier New. Had the highest means for Dull, Plain, Unimaginative, and Conforming;
- display or modern fonts: Impact, Rockwell Extra Bold, Agency FB. The traits Masculine, Assertive, Rude, Sad, and Coarse were most associated with these.
We can invert this. Instead of looking at the personality traits associated with a font, what were the fonts associated with each personality trait? The authors show this in their Table 3, which
lists the fonts rated the highest for each personality trait
evaluated in the survey:
So now you know why I chose Impact. As the table shows, it was rated assertive, rigid, rude, sad, unattractive, and coarse. (And masculine, but let's ignore that.) Just like Theresa May's Citizen of Nowhere insult.
†"Fonts & Feelings: Does Typography Connote Emotions?" by Sophia Bernazzani, in the HubSpot blog, 2 Jan 2017, updated 18 April 2018.
"Perception of Fonts: Perceived Personality Traits and Uses" by A. Dawn Shaikh, Barbara S. Chaparro & Doug Fox, in Usability News, Software Usability Research
Laboratory, Wichita State University, February 2006.
§ Berry, J.D. (2004). Now read this: The Microsoft ClearType font collection. Seattle, WA: Microsoft Corporation.
‖ Peacock, I. (Speaker). (2005). From Arial to Wide Latin (Radio Broadcast). London: BBC Radio. (Available online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/fromarialtowidelatin.shtml )
¶ Lewis, C., & Walker, P. (1989). Typographic influences on reading. British Journal of Psychology, 80, 241-257.
◊ Brumberger, E. (2003). The Rhetoric of Typography: The Persona of Typeface and Text. Technical Communication, 50(2), 206-223.
The quote below is from an article about the history of science fiction: Brian Stableford's "Adolf Hitler: His Part in Our Struggle. A Brief Economic History of British SF Magazines" from Interzone number 57, March 1992. Replace "sf" by "vintage clothes", and perhaps "thought" by "senses", and it would be spot-on for those.
As products go, sf has a lot to be said for it: it doesn't kill anybody, it doesn't use up much in the way of non-renewable resources, it doesn't create much waste, it's mostly fun, and it offers food for thought which is occasionally nourishing as well as flavoursome.