Only black is the new black: the cultural history of the favorite shade of fashion.
The fall-winter 2007 collection by Yohji Yamamoto, the “poet of black.”
When the group Time’s Up encouraged all the actresses who were going to travel the golden globe on the red carpet to dress in solidarity against the sexual harassment of women in Hollywood and other workplaces, the color that they asked them to wear was black. On January 30, a group of women in the US Congress, in the United States followed suit, dressed in black, for the first speech on the state of President Trump’s union, which has been accused by many women of sexual abuse.
There is nothing about Black that inherently implies a protest, but really no nuance would send such a clear message. There is a reason why the legend of the country, Johnny Cash, also chose Black to remind Americans of the daily injustices within them.
Black clothes have an undeniable strength. Unlike red or green, which represents specific wavelengths of light, black is not exactly a color; this is what we see when an object absorbs all visible wavelengths, categorizing it by itself. Its unique obscurity has a unique visual power, and its adaptability has long opened the interpretation of many groups who have adopted it. Black denotes seriousness and diligence, as does the black used by religious orders. He can be vicious or rebellious, like black witch coats or black leather jackets worn by biker gangs. In many cultures, it is the color of mourning. But at the same time, it can be a model of elegance and sophistication, but loaded with eroticism.
All these qualities have given black a recognizable position in a way that no other color knows. The little purple dress is not known; “yellow tie” is not a recognized dress code. Only black will ever be the new black.
Black is in
Among the endless variety of colors and combinations offered by fashion retailers, black has been a popular choice for many years. In a recent analysis of more than 183,000 dresses sold online in the United States, retail technology firm Edited found that around 38.5% were some shade of black, making it the most common color available. Only about 10.7% of the dresses arrived as the second most popular shade, white.
Now, the popularity of black also seems to be increasing. According to Edited’s data, black dresses sold in much larger quantities in the first weeks of January 2018 compared to the same period last year. Edited noted that Time’s Up has an effect, although it’s edunclear what exactly drives the trend, as greater availability of black clothing online preceded the move. Between the third quarter of 2014 and the same time in 2017, Edited found that black women’s clothing increased considerably in several fast fashion brands: 269% at Boohoo, 145% at Zara, 114% at H&M and 89% at Forever 21
Katie Smith, director of information and analysis for retail, attributed this to brands “using black to try and establish the longevity of their ranges, and appeal to a wider customer base.”
The figures speak of the breadth and strength of the attraction of black. It works on all skin tones, all body types, and is generally a safe choice to buy because even if the demand goes down, it never goes out of fashion.
Naomi Campbell in classic black on the Louis Vuitton fall-winter 2018 runway.
A cultural history
There is no official start to the modern popularity of black in European and American women’s fashion. Historically, this was a sign of pain, going back at least to the ancient Greeks. But it is also widely appreciated for its appearance. In his book –The Story of the Black-, critic John Harvey notes that although the Romans mostly blackened clothing out of grief, there are indications that they appreciated it for its elegance. In the 16th century, there was a trend for black clothes, the notoriously expensive, among the wealthy in Europe, from Spanish nobility in the south to Dutch merchants in the north.
But a great turning point in Black’s last reign occurred in the early 1900s. That, Harvey, writes, when the Black “came to the center stage.” Attention was drawn to him in 1926, with the introduction of the famous Chanel little black dress.
A series of black dresses from the Museum of Modern Art “Articles: Is it modern fashion?” exhibit.
Before this period, black was the standard uniform color for domestic servants and “shopgirls” who worked in stores. However, social norms lose the traps of formality. Sportswear began to grow, and the edges were already more significant as the women of the young company moved away from an era of sumptuous and restrictive clothing. Shelley Puhak describes in The Atlantic how the upper classes co-opted the easy, modern shopgirl style for themselves. “In the early 1900s, high society people who wanted to look particularly young and sharp wore little black dresses,” she writes.
When Vogue put a sketch of Chanel’s simple and practical black dress on the cover in 1926, calling it “The Ford” of the female wardrobe, it officially seemed like a new era in women’s clothing. He also promoted black as smart, elegant, and attractive.
Coco Chanel lounging in black in 1944.
In addition to fashion, black had another strong force that helped it stand out: film. “The other great promoter of Little Black Dress was the camera, especially the movie camera,” art and costume, historian Anne Hollander wrote in her excellent 1984 essay. A new world of entertainment, romance, and movie stars were opening up to an enthusiastic audience—all in black-and-white.
The brilliance of black
The black effect on the eye gives an irresistible visual appeal. “The black dress seems to make the body cleaner and smaller and put the pieces together,” says Hollander. “Because many bodies are not slender and lack perfect harmony or complete coordination, a black dress can give them that pretty stretchy limousine look that seems desirable in today’s fashion climate.”
However, black has a remarkable tendency to differ without overshadowing the wearer, in a sense that amplifies the person. Hollander shows a scene in Anna Karenina, where Anna attends a dance. Tolstoy describes another woman, Kitty, commenting on her black dress. She realizes that Anna couldn’t wear lilacs, which was more attractive when she stood out from the outfit. “And a black dress with luxurious lace was not seen there.” Tolstoy writes: “It was only a frame, and only she was seen.”
Although not precisely analogous, a recent study of male birds of paradise reveals a surprisingly similar power in their black feathers. Birds are well known for their court dance, but according to researchers, it is their color that determines their success in mating. Blackbirds especially raise their wings to form a field that absorbs light, making their other colors appear more brilliant.
“The composition of black and darker colors creates for humans, and birds eyes was basically an advanced optical illusion,” said Harvard University evolutionary biologist Dakota McCoy. “This study shows us that black makes us glow “.
In humans, black is considered precious and reasonable. In his book of the Courtier, a sort of guide to life in the aristocratic courts of Renaissance Italy, Count Baldassare Castiglione affirms that black is the preferred color for a man or at least a little dark. Harvey in “The Story of Black” points out that black has been the norm for men’s sleepwear since the 1810s, thanks in large part to the defense of Beau Brummell. The name may be familiar to some men. He is considered the inventor of the modern men’s suit and the father of the founders of contemporary menswear.
Actor Sean Connery showed during the filming of the James Bond film “You Only Live Twice,” 1966.
Black’s hold on high-fashion
Many designers have embraced and elevated black for their purposes in the decades that have passed since Chanel’s Vogue wrapped up in a compact black number. Cristóbal Balenciaga wore it for its elegant architectural silhouettes and Yves Saint Laurent for its androgynous “le smoking” women’s tuxedo. In the second half of the 20th century, he was closely associated with marginalized groups and riots. Bikers and beatniks have turned black. Then a wave of Japanese design by Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons created a new art form with a black appearance. Fashion journalist Suzy Menkes asked Yamamoto what was behind her famous predisposition to black in a 2000 interview with the International Herald Tribune. Yamamoto’s answer sums up the feelings of black worshipers so much that it has been circulating on social networks like Tumblr and Instagram for some time now. “Black is both modest and arrogant,” he said. “Black is lazy and easy but mysterious …Black can swallow light or make things look good. But above all, the black man says this: “I don’t bother you, don’t bother me!”
Given the adaptability and charm of black, it’s no wonder that it is still a popular choice for all types of styles. The black masters obsessed with the masters of men’s clothing, implement it with their great leather jackets. Designers like Ann Demeulemeester gravitated towards her romanticism, others like Olivier Rousteing of Balmain for her elegance. Black colors are great for cocktails, and Gothic kids combine clothes with black eyeliner just as effortlessly as socialite go black for a night out.
By all indications, its attraction is not diminishing. We will carry the black flag for years to come.