The 11th Doctor’s velvet waistcoat is so-named because of the fabric it was made with.
However, the specific color of the velvet is something of an enigma …
It was unquestionably dark – so much so that it often looked black during the show.
This was also the case during many publicity photos.
It also looked black in some behind-the-scenes footage.
However, there were a few key moments in the show that we could see the velvet was actually dark purple!
Curiously, though, it sometimes appeared to be a “warmer” (more eggplant/burgundy-esque) purple:
This was usually the case when photographed under “warmer” lighting, and the effect could be seen in publicity photos as well.
Perhaps the “warmest” the velvet ever appeared was in this publicity photo, when it basically looked burgundy.
Of course, we all know that footage and publicity photos can be color-edited to the point of being utterly unreliable for color-matching purposes.
In fact, I found this velvet color so curious an aberration that I did a quick test and reduced the overall amount of red in the photo, and the colors seemed much more natural (just look at Matt Smith’s skin):
On this admittedly theoretical basis, I think it’s safe to assume that the waistcoat was not maroon/burgundy.
Unsurprisingly though, if the velvet appeared to be a “warmer” purple under warmer lighting, then it also appeared to be a “cooler” (bluer) purple under cooler lighting.
Publicity photos either taken under similar lighting or “color-corrected” after-the-fact yielded similar results.
Of course, the question then becomes, what was the actual color of the fabric
Fortunately, we have a few examples that may have been more accurately representative of the fabric’s actual color – not many, but enough to draw the closest thing to a conclusion that we can.
First, there was this moment in “The Snowmen,” when the Doctor was cosplaying as Sherlock Holmes and approaching the flashing “snow globe.”
In that instance, the velvet appeared to be the “cooler,” bluer purple.
There was also a nice, brightly-lit series of shots toward the end of “The Time of the Doctor,” which revealed a similarly “cool” purple – and the multitude of splotches on the distressed waistcoat.
A couple publicity photos, presumably from the season 7 finale (“The Name of the Doctor”), also indicate the velvet was this “cooler” purple color:
Again though, post-production color shenanigans know no bounds; remember how the 10th Doctor’s blue suit was even re-colored to be his brown suit?!?
Just look at how red Matt Smith’s face is in both examples below, but how different the color of the velvet waistcoat looks:
If anything, one might expect the waistcoat to look even redder in the 7b publicity photo.
Regardless, we thankfully have visual references of the velvet waistcoat formerly on display at the Doctor Who Experience, courtesy of Thomas Dunn.
Ultimately though, without an original waistcoat (or at least a swatch of the original fabric) in-hand, it’s anyone’s best guess to what the actual color of the velvet was.
For whatever it’s worth, my best guess based on my research and the evidence presented is that the original velvet was the “cooler,” bluer purple.
To some it looks like more of a “warmer” purple, and in lieu of anything screen-used to assess, I’d say that’s fair.
Regardless, the original velvet was quite dark, usually with only hints of its “actual” color being brought out by certain lighting/filming situations and at certain angles.