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

Updated on July 3, 2018
Black Is Mysterious
Black Is Mysterious | Source

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 | Source

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 | Source

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.

Little Black Dress
Little Black Dress | Source

How Do You Like to Wear Black?

view quiz statistics

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!

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        5 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        SealBeach 

        5 years ago

        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!

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        5 years ago from Sweden

        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

      • profile image

        madhukar 

        5 years ago

        Tell me some benifites and advantage

        of black color

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        Vinaya Ghimire 

        6 years ago from Nepal

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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

      • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

        Susan Hazelton 

        6 years ago from Sunny Florida

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        prasetio30 

        6 years ago from malang-indonesia

        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

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        acaetnna 

        6 years ago from Guildford

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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

      • MartieCoetser profile image

        Martie Coetser 

        6 years ago from South Africa

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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

      • profile image

        Binaya.Ghimire 

        6 years ago

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        Tuesdays child 

        6 years ago from In the garden

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

      • BkCreative profile image

        BkCreative 

        6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        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!

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        6 years ago from Sweden

        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

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        7 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        7 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        Movie Master 

        7 years ago from United Kingdom

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        7 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        Alastar Packer 

        7 years ago from North Carolina

        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.

      • thougtforce profile imageAUTHOR

        Christina Lornemark 

        7 years ago from Sweden

        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 profile image

        Lauryallan 

        7 years ago

        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.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)