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The Colour Black: History, Symbolism and Its Use in Clothing

Black Is Mysterious

Black Is Mysterious

Is it possible that something can symbolize luxury and poverty, humility and power, as well as evil and penance? It shouldn't be, but it is! All that and more can be said about the colour black.

Black sends out very mixed messages. Even though the meaning of colours vary among cultures and people, black has a wider range of symbolism and meanings than any other colour. Black can send totally opposite messages depending on who you ask. For example, black is sometimes regarded as dark or even invisible, but it is also used as a sign of power, and while black can stand for minimalism or even poverty, it can also be a sign of luxury.

Common topics regarding history, symbolism and the use of the color black include:

  • Whether or not black is a colour.
  • Usage and meaning of black in Christianity.
  • Historical symbolism and usage of black.
  • How black became the colour of grief and mourning.
  • How black can be used to show power as well as invisibility.
  • Why black is considered by many to be a sexy colour.
  • What wearing black says about you.

Is Black a Colour?

This has been a subject of debate for many years, and there is more than one way to look at it. The answer depends on whether you define colour as something generated by light or if you simply look at it as a colour.

Black is a colour that absorbs light, meaning a black object absorbs all colours and no colours are reflected back to the eye. So with that reasoning, I guess one could argue that black isn’t a colour.

Some say that black is the absence of colour, but if you combine the three primary colours—red, yellow and blue—the result is very close to black. So one could argue that a mix of three colours should be regarded as a colour.

So I conclude the following about black: a black object absorbs all colours and none are reflected back to the eye. If colour is seen as something generated by light, black can be defined as the absence of light.

Black is the mix of several colours and can, therefore, be regarded as a colour.

How Black Is Used in Christianity

The colour black has been used symbolically in religion for centuries. Historically, religion has been the authority that created social rules, ethics, morals and guidelines. Because of that, religion continues to influence the way we regard black today. Here are some symbols that black has had through history.

In the Bible, the book of Genesis claims that darkness was present before light, and therefore believers sometimes say that black was the first of all colours. Black has been perceived to have a negative connotation since life as we know it can’t exist in darkness. Black has been regarded as evil and a symbol of darkness, whereas light represents life and something pleasant and good.

During the Middle Ages, priests wore black clothes as a sign of humility and penance. To be a priest meant to reject all worldly pleasures and live according to the laws of religion.

Black is also used in Christian churches today in many of the liturgical styles and ecclesiastical textiles. Black symbolizes sorrow or grief and is commonly used during Easter, as a reminder of Jesus on the cross.

Historical Usage and Meaning of Black

Animals

During the 1000s, the view that black was evil led to superstition about animals. Black animals like ravens and cats were regarded as evil and were thought to have supernatural powers.

Black in Storytelling

In old stories about knights, the colour black is used to symbolize something mysterious and secret. Take, for example, the character Black Knight in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe. The mysterious knight dresses in black to conceal his true identity as he helps the hero to victory. Stories like this helped create an association between people dressed in black and mystery and concealment.

Black as a Sign of Mourning

Today, black is acceptable attire for funerals and is a symbol of grief. This may be because death is often associated with eternal sleep or darkness.

For centuries, people saved their best and most valuable clothing for going to church and funerals. For those special occasions, the dresses they had were usually black, especially in the countryside and amongst common people. Because of this, prior to World War I, it was common for wedding dresses to be black. That could also be one explanation as to why black attire is an appropriate colour at parties and festivities.

But black hasn’t always been a colour for grief. The French kings once used red as a sign of mourning, and later that changed to purple. White was even used for mourning in the past. It was Anna of Bretagne, a French duchess, who introduced black as the colour of mourning in the late 1400s.

American Mourning Dress, 1850-55

American Mourning Dress, 1850-55

Does Black Symbolize Power or Invisibility?

Almost universally, blue symbolizes control and calm, red symbolizes passion and power, but black's meaning varies depending on the situation.

The colour black can speak volumes about a person and how they perceive themselves, and it can also say very little about a person. It is contradictory that being dressed in black is a symbol of power and being dressed in black is also a way to blend in.

Power

Men and women in positions of power often wear black. One reason is that it used to be difficult to dye silk and other fabrics black and have the colour be even. As the dying process became easier, black cloth was still expensive to make, so only people with power and money were able to afford black clothes. It was a long time before common people could afford black clothing.

During the 1700s, black became a fashionable colour and started to be worn for celebrations or festivals. Even today there aren’t many women who haven’t worn a 'little black dress' to a party or event. The same goes for men who wear a black suit or tuxedo on special occasions. King Edward VII of Great Britain started the tradition of wearing a white shirt with a black jacket and trousers to special events and celebrations.

Powerful Judges Wear Black

Powerful Judges Wear Black

Invisibility

While black can be a symbol of power, it can also be worn to blend in with others and avoid standing out in a crowd. If you look at a group of men in black suits, each individual becomes more or less invisible. The next time you visit a domestic airport early in the morning, look around and you will see most businesspeople are dressed in black. They are everywhere, and they all look the same. The people who stand out from the crowd are those dressed in either bright colours, or who have a brightly coloured accessory. Those individuals will catch your attention, but the rest will blend in with each other and become invisible.

If you want to reduce the impact of wearing black, you can add a contrasting colour to your outfit. Black compliments and emphasizes all other colours in a fantastic way. Depending on the situation, using colourful accessories can either reduce or reinforce the message you are sending. For example, if you want to look powerful and in control, use traditional black and white. But if you want to be noticed in a crowd you should use bright contrasting colours. Red and black, or yellow and black, generally give a warmer feeling than black on its own.

There's something about black. You feel hidden away in it.

— Georgia O'Keeffe

Black Is Sexy

Black seems to evoke strong emotions in all humans, regardless of culture. In many cultures, black is associated with sex and the forbidden, making it one of the most common colours of sexy lingerie.

This association may come from sex being regarded as a sin in some religions, and even though religious regalia tends to be black, it can sometimes be seen as a symbol for the devil or darkness. Yet another contradiction in the way we regard black.

How Do You Like to Wear Black?

For each question, choose the best answer for you.

  1. How often do you were black clothes?
    • I wear black every day
    • I wear black when it is suited in everyday life and on special occasions
    • I never wear black
    • I wear black about 3 days a week
    • I wear black on special occasions and festivities
  2. How do you wear black clothes?
    • I only use black clothes
    • I never use black clothes
    • I use black clothes mixed with other dark colors
    • I use black clothes mixed with bright colour
    • I use black with red color
  3. What do you think about the color black, what does it mean for you?
    • It doesn't tell me anything!
    • It looks gloomy to me, it is a depressing color
    • It stands for power and control
    • It is a bit scary and mysterious
    • It is a wonderful and exiting color and can be used in many different ways! I love it!
    • It stand for luxury and sex

Scoring

Use the scoring guide below to add up your total points based on your answers.

  1. How often do you were black clothes?
    • I wear black every day: +3 points
    • I wear black when it is suited in everyday life and on special occasions: +5 points
    • I never wear black: +2 points
    • I wear black about 3 days a week: +4 points
    • I wear black on special occasions and festivities: +3 points
  2. How do you wear black clothes?
    • I only use black clothes: +1 point
    • I never use black clothes: +0 points
    • I use black clothes mixed with other dark colors: +2 points
    • I use black clothes mixed with bright colour: +5 points
    • I use black with red color: +4 points
  3. What do you think about the color black, what does it mean for you?
    • It doesn't tell me anything!: +0 points
    • It looks gloomy to me, it is a depressing color: +1 point
    • It stands for power and control: +2 points
    • It is a bit scary and mysterious: +1 point
    • It is a wonderful and exiting color and can be used in many different ways! I love it!: +5 points
    • It stand for luxury and sex: +4 points

Interpreting Your Score

A score between 2 and 5 means: Either you don't have a single black item in your wardrobe or your wardrobe is totally filled with only black clothes! You haven't got the slightest idea on how to use black in order to get your message out there! Head on to the shop now!

A score between 6 and 9 means: You are to careful and you don't want to stand out from the crowd! And you don't, in fact you run the risk of being invisible!

A score between 10 and 12 means: You have a little knowledge about how to use black when you dress in the morning. But you probably use black on routine more than with clear intentions. There are fare more ways to use the color black and you will benefit if you start to mix black with more colors! You have a great palette to use, try and notice the difference!

A score of 13 means: You are definitely on the right way and sends out the intended message most of the times. But it is still a bit weak. Think about how you use the black color and dare to wear bright accent colors!

A score between 14 and 15 means: You certainly know how to use the color black for your benefit! You get noticed in a crowd and you send out the message you intended.

What Wearing Black Says About You

Since the colour black is a contradiction and sends out very different messages, how do we know if the colour is right for us, or what message we're sending out when we wear it?

The only way to know is to consider the history of and the current stigma associated with the colour black. After all, we are the ones that create all those mixed messages. Remember that black is associated with the absence of light. One of our greatest fears as humans is darkness, which may be why black has such a significant amount of symbolic value.

It's good to consider where and when to use black. Both the environment and the room where we use the colour matter. So when we use black we need to think about both the message we want to send, and who is going to be receiving that message. You must also consider that it has different meanings in other countries and cultures.

After considering all of the meanings of wearing black, my conclusion is that this colour is associated with many of our basic raw emotions: excitement, sex, power, luxury, fear and mystery. This clearly shows that we really do like the colour black!

There is one thing you can be sure of when you wear or use black. No matter the situation, you will be sending a message!

Comments

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on March 03, 2013:

Hi SealBeach and thank you for the fantastic comment! I am so glad you liked this article. Colors can be so powerful and we can all feel like a King any day we like! I appreciate the comment,

Tina

SealBeach on February 22, 2013:

How aptly named are you-- "thoughtforce." Who else besides you could

present such an insightful article? Now--I feel like a King....And the black

suits; no other color of suits, express dominance than black. Awesome!

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on January 26, 2013:

Madhukar, I think you can read about the benefits and advantages of black color in the text above, but maybe it is a bit hidden. Black is a very powerful color with many different symbols attached to it but it all varies depending on where and how you wear black color. If you are among many people all dressed in black you will not be sending out any significant message, instead you will be lost in all the black. On another occasion black color can be the color that give you advantages over others or makes you more visible. It also depends on the culture where you are. Thanks for the comment!

Tina

madhukar on January 18, 2013:

Tell me some benifites and advantage

of black color

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on March 17, 2012:

Vinaya, Yes it is strange and it seems like it is the same in many places around the world. Maybe it is because we connect light with warmth from the sun and also with fire that gave us heat, food and a feeling of security and has done so from the beginning. Black is one of my favorite color and there are so many ways to use it!

I appreciate your visit and the comment

Best wishes

Tina

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on March 17, 2012:

I sometimes wonder why our our languages and cultures associated black color with evil. Black is wonderful color in a sense that it can absorb anything.

Your analysis is very interesting.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on October 17, 2011:

Hi Koffee Klatch, yes it really is one of the most elegant color and almost everyone looks great wearing it. Thanks for reading, I appreciate your visits!

Tina

Susan Hazelton from Sunny Florida on October 16, 2011:

I love to wear the color black. I was always taught that black was the combination of all colors. All I know is it can be the most elegant color around when used right.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on August 21, 2011:

Prasetio, There is absolutely no need to feel sorry, you are always welcome and published hubs remains:)) It is interesting with history and trends because we are influenced by both even if we don’t know or think about where the influence come from. And black is fascinating because of its mixed and powerful messages. Thanks for giving your vote to this hub, I so value your opinion!

See you soon!

Tina

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on August 20, 2011:

Hi, Tina. Sorry I am late to know this hub. But better late than never, right. Wow... you had done a great job. What a beautiful information about "black" color. I had never knew the history of this color. But trend is always up to date and black is part of the trend. Well done, Tina. You got my vote again. I'll press all buttons here, except funny. Cheers....

Prasetio

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on August 08, 2011:

Hi Acaetnna, your avatar always makes me happy:) You are not alone in thinking that black is a neutral color, many people look at black in that way. But black is a great color with endless ways to use it. And luckily, most people like the color black in some way! Good to know that you are one of them.

Thanks for visiting and for pressing those buttons:) I so appreciate your encouraging words!

Tina

acaetnna from Guildford on August 07, 2011:

I always thought that black was one of the neutral colours together with white and grey. I think that the correct use of black when it comes to furnishing or dressing creates a stunning effect. I adore black and use it in my home and for my own dress. This is a great hub Tina and I so enjoyed reading it. Voting up and pressing those buttons too.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on August 06, 2011:

Well done Martie, I am sure you wear black exactly as you should! 84 %

isn´t bad at all but if you are unsatisfied you can blame it on the knowledge test! I must admit that the tests are a bit tricky to get together so there is definitely room for failure:)) Now I know why it is so hard to get top results on tests in magazines; it is because of the tests and the ones who makes them! So, I am sure you can feel satisfied with your knowledge about how to get dressed in black.

With age I have also learned that some days it really doesn't matter if I dress wrong as long as I like it myself! But I do think many people could do more with this great color.

Black is an interesting color and I think most people like to wear black. During winter season In Sweden it can be a little too much since everyone is wearing black or gray clothes so here we really need the bright colors!

Thanks Martie for your visit, it is always a pleasure to see you:)

Tina

Martie Coetser from South Africa on August 03, 2011:

Hi Tina! I scored 84% on the knowledge test. Remark: “I am definitely on the right way and send out the intended message most of the times. But it is still a bit weak. So I must think about how I use the black color and I must dare to wear bright accent colors.

Mmm, I think I must do the quiz again, because black is out and out my favorite color, with or without other bright colors or not so bright colors. I should have scored at least 95% :)))

This is an interesting and informative hub about the color black, Tina. I've voted it up in all ways.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on August 03, 2011:

Hi Binaya.Ghimire, it is nice to meet you! Black is a special color and normally we do not think about the many different thoughts and signals that a color send out. Besides the color it self, it also depends on the receiver and how they interpret a color. Interesting topic! Thanks for your visit and comment and I look forward to read your hubs about color soon!

Tina

Binaya.Ghimire on August 03, 2011:

I have done a hub on color red and couple of hubs on psychology of colors. Though I have some fascination on black, I never attempted to write. Thanks for this nice perspective.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on July 30, 2011:

Thuesdays child, I appreciate your visit here and the rating very much! Black can´t be everyones favorite and that is good or the world would be a dull place:)

Tina

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on July 30, 2011:

Hi BkCreative, Yes, isn’t it marvellous, with a few accessories and black colour we are set for almost everything. I don’t know of any other colour that is so easy to wear right!

Thanks for adding valuable information to this hub, I didn’t know that black was used in economics also. But why not, money is very important for us and should therefore be associated with black. Million thanks for the rating and for the visit.

Tina

Tuesdays child from In the garden on July 28, 2011:

Neat hub idea! I very rarely wear black, but when I do, I feel cocooned. I voted this up!! Lori

BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on July 28, 2011:

My favorite dress/clothes color and I wear it everyday. Put on a few accessories and I am sophisticated as well.

Black is also used to denote monetary success here in the US. If you are 'in the black' - it means your financial records have no negative red ink - red ink on your balance sheets means you are losing money. We also have Black Friday - right before Christmas. This is when merchants hope to have the most profitable day of the whole year.

What a great idea for a hub. Rated way up! Yay!

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on July 20, 2011:

Vocalcoach, A black Mercedes, that is luxury! But I know what you men about a black car since I have one myself, a Peugeot. Before when we lived in the countryside was that poor car always grey, it only took one trip on the gravel road to accomplish that! But a washed black car is always a winner so I think it is worth it anyway:)

Thanks for this awesome comment!

Tina

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on July 18, 2011:

Black is beautiful. A black accessori adds a touch of elegance to a plain jacket, dress, blouse or even a handbag. Women are always safe with a long black skirt, paired with any color blouse and a black accessorie.

I prefer to look at black as a color of luxury. Having said that - I have a black mercedes that I kick myself for. It always looks dirty :) But no other color is as striking right after it is washed and polished. Too bad it is so short-lived.

Love this hub tina. Voted Up, useful, awesome and interesting. Thanks.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on July 18, 2011:

Hi movie master, I found myself using black more and more and I constantly find new ways to use this wonderful color! Thanks for coming by and I am glad you liked it!

Tina

Movie Master from United Kingdom on July 18, 2011:

Hi Tina, black makes such a statement, it can be so bold and dramatic yet elegant and sombre. Thanks for a great hub and sharing.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on July 03, 2011:

I also see black as a color, Alastar and a very good color too! I can´t think of any other color with so mixed signals and so much messages attached to the color itself. I use black in many different ways and it is a color that is very useful. Black lingerie for instance, is very beautiful, and thanks for the compliment:) I thought it went well with the red wall paper also! Sex and black is a great team:)

There is far too many business men dressed in black that becomes almost invisible in a group, and I bet they don't even think about it. I once had a lecturer in physics at the university who was entirely dressed in black during the lectures, but he had bright red shoes! Now afterwards I cant remember how his face looked, but I will forever remember him because of his red shoes! I wonder if he knew then what an impact his red shoes did:)

Great to see you Alastar, and thanks for your comment!

Tina

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on July 01, 2011:

I vote as a color. If 3 colors combined are near, then yes. That is very interesting about the symbolism of black through history. Saw where red makes women go for the men but dern, it sure puts a bulls-eye on you ..lol. That's interesting too, about a group of folk in black and it's effects. Hmmm, sex and black...yes! Good breakdown in the conclusion Tina. Informed and enjoyed, thanks thoughtforce.

Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on July 01, 2011:

Hi Lauryallan! I do agree of course:) Black is so easy to wear in different situations and yet you will be dressed just right. It really is very easy to look good in just black and as you say that isn't possible to do with other colors!

But sometimes I feel that it is too much black around me and too many people just dressed in black. I try to use other colors as accent color to all the black. Just a little of the other color will make such a difference and will also intensify the black color. But black is fashion and I am sure it will remain so! Thanks for your visit and comment!

Tina

Lauryallan on July 01, 2011:

I love black. I find it so easy to get dressed and I think people look good when they wear all black, especially if the clothes are fitted properly. When you compare that to someone wearing a bright pink pair of trousers with the same color sweater it doesn't work, but with black it's so simple and can look elegant with minimal hassle.