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Colours in Fashion: i. Black

  • Is black a colour or is it lack of colour and light? After all, when the sun goes down and the lights are out, or when we close our eyes, black is what we are aware of when we can't see shapes and colours.

  • On the colour wheel, it represents complete colour saturation and complete darkness. Due to its complete lack of warmth, it is perceived by our eyes as cool. Due to its high chroma, it is perceived as clear, rather than muted.

  • Pitch black evokes mystery and depth: deep space; a coal mine; midnight; carbon; jet.

Long black dress and feather boa

  • Black also connotes strictness, sobriety and austerity and was worn by the Puritans and Calvinists, the first Pilgrim settlers in America. However, by the late 1600s, black came to be associated with witchcraft and the colour gained superstitious associations.

  • In some countries, black is the colour of mourning, worn to funerals and traditionally, for the formal period of grieving. Queen Victoria was known for wearing black, when she remained in life-long mourning for her husband, Albert. Victorian women were expected to remain in mourning (and mourning clothes) for 4 years after the death of their husband.

  • Jet, also known as lignite, is a kind of coal formed over Millenia from highly pressurised wood. It can be carved and polished to a glass-like sheen. Whitby jet, from the North-East coast of England, has been worn in jewellery from Roman times. The Crown jewellers produced commemorative black jewellery for Queen Victoria's mourning and as a result, Whitby's jet industry was in high demand by the 1870s.

  • In the early twentieth Century, Coco Chanel popularised the 'little black dress' in her designs, and made black clothing a symbol of modern French chic, rather than mourning.

  • The 1950s Beatniks were famous for their black turtlenecks and all black ensembles, representing a 'cool' intellectual and artistic subculture that was eventually incorporated into mainstream fashion.

  • Taking inspiration from the Romantics of the nineteenth Century, the Goth and New Romantic subcultures of the 1980s wore all-black to evoke melancholic romantic yearnings.

  • Japanese designers since the 1980s such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto have used black for their anti-fashion, avante-garde and minimalistic designs.


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