What colour are you? A focus on black

Black is the darkest colour, the result of the absence of or complete absorption of light.  Like white and grey it is an achromatic colour meaning literally ‘without colour’.

While white represents purity and innocence, black symbolises power and secrecy and is often associated with darkness and evil and is the traditional colour of witchcraft. “Black magic” implies magic for ‘evil purposes’. Black and white are often used to describe opposites; light and darkness, good and evil.

In colour psychology, black implies power and control and can appear intimidating and unapproachable. Black creates an air of mystery implying discipline and a strong will.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, machines and devices such as telephones, sewing machines, steamships, railroad locomotives, and cars were painted black, to stress their functionality. Henry Ford famously said “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black.” Today, black remains the most common colour for limousines and other official cars.

So how do we use black in everyday language?

If you’re blacklisted, then you’re placed on a list of undesirable persons.

Black comedy makes light of otherwise serious or morbid topics.

“In the black” means profitable, in contrast to ‘in the red’ which implies debt.

Black Friday began as a shopping day in the USA, which followed Thanksgiving each year, and is when the retailers offer big discounts and there are huge crowds. It has since spread to other parts of the world, and other times of the year, including the UK.

So how did black become such a fashionable colour?

In the early Middle Ages, the wealthy usually wore bright colours. Black was rarely part of the wardrobe, but this began to change. Importantly, better quality black dyes were developed, allowing garments of a deep, rich black. Achieving good colour fastness was an even more complex challenge. Government officials began to wear black robes, as a sign of importance. Then in some parts of Europe laws were passed which prohibited the wearing of certain colours and fabrics by anyone except the nobility. The wealthy people responded by changing to black robes and gowns, made with the most expensive fabrics.

The change to black was quickly picked up by the kings and nobility. By the end of the 16th century, it was the colour worn by almost all the monarchs of Europe and their courts.

In 1861, when Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria took to wearing black as everyday dress. This had a big influence on fashion, as people gradually adapted the Queen’s mourning wardrobe into everyday fashion.

In Europe and America, black is still commonly associated with mourning. Traditionally worn at funerals, in some countries, such as Greece and Italy, some widows wear black for the rest of their lives. In contrast, across much of Africa and parts of Asia, white is the colour of mourning and is worn during funerals.

Women’s fashion was revolutionized in 1926 by the French designer Coco Chanel, who published a drawing of a black dress in Vogue magazine. She famously said, “A woman needs just three things; a black dress, a black sweater, and, on her arm, a man she loves.” Although other designers contributed to the trend of the little black dress, Chanel is probably most famous for it. The motivation for the design was to create something that was versatile, affordable and appealed to the widest market possible. Hence it was created in a neutral colour.

Whilst fashions have changed, the black dress is still an element of many women’s wardrobes.

Black evening dress is still worn at many solemn occasions or ceremonies, from graduations to formal balls. Events which require formal dress are often referred to as ‘black tie events.’

Many designers and artists are quoted explaining why black is so important:

The Italian designer Versace said, “Black is the quintessence of simplicity and elegance”

Karl Lagerfeld said: “Black is the colour that goes with everything. If you’re wearing black, you’re on sure ground.”

Christian Dior is quoted as saying “You can wear black at any time. You can wear it at any age. You may wear it for almost any occasion.”

Neiman Marcus, the American luxury department store apparently announced: “Women who wear black live colourful lives.”

The Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo said “I work in three shades of black.”

However, Abercrombie & Fitch banned employees from wearing black to work. The company said in a statement in 2013: ‘Abercrombie & Fitch does not sell black clothing and discourages wearing it at our home office and in our stores, because we are a casual lifestyle brand and feel black clothing is formal. We have nothing against black clothing and feel it is perfectly appropriate for things like tuxedos.’ Although in 2014 it launched its first collection featuring black.

We’ll leave you with our favourite quote from Wednesday Addams, from the Addams Family: “I’ll stop wearing black when they invent a darker colour.”

Why not check out our blogs on other colours?

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