In Fashion, what does "Ombre" Mean?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In fashion, the term ombre refers to the graduation of color in a garment. The word usually refers to a garment that is monochromatic but has a graduated variation in the saturation of the color. For example, a green ombre dress may be very pale green at the hem, but the fabric becomes deeper in color the as it reaches from the bottom hem to the shoulder straps at the top of the dress, where the color might be a very deep forest green.

The popularity of ombre is not limited to fabric.
The popularity of ombre is not limited to fabric.

There are a number of ways to create ombre fabrics. With current textile technology, it is possible to use numerous threads that range in color saturation or a single spool of thread that has been specifically dyed to create this effect. This kind of effect can also be created by dipping fabric into a vat of dye and very slowly pulling it out. In so doing, the part of the garment that is in the dye for the longest will have the deepest color. The variation will depend on how long each section of the fabric is left to soak in the dye.

Ombre coloring is popular in hair.
Ombre coloring is popular in hair.

While ombre fabrics can be used in any kind of garment and many kinds of accessories, it is most common in dresses. Many famous designers, including Alberta Ferretti, Zac Posen, Vivienne Westwood, Badgley Mischka, and Nicole Miller, have featured such dresses in their clothing lines. Some fashion commentators have regarded this effect as the new tie-dye.

This kind of coloring in fabric can be either very subtle or quite bold. A scarf that is dyed to go from a light camel color to a dark chocolate brown color, for example, is a rather muted example of how it can be used. As with the previous example with the green dress, however, the vibrancy of the colors can be much more dramatic. Furthermore, some designers include several ombre fabrics in a single garment in order to create playful palettes of colors within their garments.

With patience and a bit of skill, almost any piece of fabric made from natural fibers can be dyed to give it this effect. The process does require quite a bit of time and space. For this reason, many designers and even just people who enjoy making their own garments prefer to purchase pre-dyed fabrics instead of creating their own at home.

Some in the fashion industry have referred to ombre as the new tie-dye.
Some in the fashion industry have referred to ombre as the new tie-dye.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


Ombre garments don't necessarily have to stick to just one color. I have an ombre skirt that starts out yellow and fades into orange, deep red, and dark brown.

I suspect that it was dyed yellow first and then progressively dyed darker colors. I'm not sure how ombre is accomplished when four or more colors are involved, but there was a definite fading effect going on there.


I had an ombre sweater back in the year 2000 that I just loved. It faded from deep navy at the bottom to light blue at the neckline.

It just seemed to be melting into my dark blue jeans. I loved the disappearing effect it accomplished!


@kylee07drg – You can find ombre in several aspects of fashion. I can think of examples from clothing, hair, and wedding trends.

My best friend had an ombre rose bouquet, and her wedding planner suggested it. At the time, it was a fashionable idea, and I wouldn't be surprised if it continued to be popular, because it was quite beautiful.

She just had a bouquet of white roses on one side, slightly pink ones in the middle, and super pink ones on the other side. It was a very ombre effect, and since the bouquet was super tight, it worked.

She had her bridesmaids wear ombre pink dresses to match that were quite lovely. She also had an ombre rose cake with frosting that faded like the bouquet and the dresses.


I have heard of ombre hair, but I didn't know that this term also applied to fabrics. I used to see many women walking around with hair darker on top and lighter on bottom, and I wondered why until my stylist friend told me that this is called ombre hair.

Personally, I don't like it. It just looks like they decided to let their roots grow out without dying the bottom half to match.

However, it does look cool when they dye their hair two separate colors. I saw a woman who had auburn hair on top and blonde near the bottom, and it looked stylish.


I like ombres fashion for a perhaps slightly different reason than many others. I am middle of the road lady; in my 30’s, but still feeling the 20’s.

However, I am mature enough to know that I shouldn’t run around in teeny-bopper outfits (even if I think they are the cutest things ever!).

For me, ombre design gives me the opportunity to dress up my clothes a little, but in an age appropriate way. My heart yearns for vivacious and bright – but my older body is rebelling against me at this point!

My mind isn't quite ready to take on cardigans and florals just yet!

By buying a few dresses and pieces that use the ombre technique, I am indulging my creative side while also admitting that I just can’t pull off some of those other (younger) pieces anymore.


Ombre design is a great kind of fabric technique that some designers use when creating dresses that will help to maximize ladys' good points and minimize their flaws.

For instance, a nicely done ombre fabric dress can take the emphasis off of a larger waistline or hip area, and draw the eye to a more desirable area.

I, personally, have some extra weight around the middle but a decently nice bust and hip line. When choosing this kind of fabric, I tend to get the lighter fabric further up, with it becoming deeper the further down that it goes. That way it elongates my frame, and also draws attention up and away from my slightly bigger middle.

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