The colour black is often referred to the colour of the unknown. So therefore it is difficult to define the simple significance of the colour black. Starting with how black makes us feel physically and emotionally, it can be said that mostly, we connote the colour black with either a depressive state of mind, or death. Although these connotations would certainly be apparent, in our general thoughts, we may sometimes forget the other connotations that the colour black derives. As well as the implications of sadness, blackalso exudes a mysterious and secretive quality that cannot be defined in the same way by any other colour. This links to the theme of seduction, which I will later explore. The colour black also gives a rebellious quality, often in the hands of teenagers, on the cusp of adulthood. In contrast to this, black is also a colour of tradition, linking to religious symbolism and specific mourning traditions. Again in contrast, black can also be seen as a particularly glamorous colour, as a classic complement to the idea of money, elegance and power.
BLACK AS SEDUCTION
Black often has the connotation of being mysterious and perhaps sexual. The classic black Christian Louboutin shoe represents this. With his trademark red sole, Louboutin provides an intriguing basis for which the consumer will be captivated. The contrast of the red–on-black production is that the red acts as an instant dominant power in the sea of black. This is a physical metaphor for the heightened sense in a sado-masochistic sexual act. Added to this sense of intrigue is the ideal heal height for the shoe in black as seduction. The idea of
“pain as pleasure” denotes from the suggestion on dominance in a sexual relationship. Taking authority is also something that the colour black represents, particularly to suggest power. There are many links to the idea of “pain as pleasure” within the fashion industry. Often, trends which could be linked to a more sexual-side of fashion such as corsetry, killer heels, PVC and leather are all featured on the main catwalk shows, therefore bringing the idea of sexual clothing to the high streets.
BLACK AS GLAMOUR
Coco Chanel famously created the first stylish “LBD” or Little Black Dress in the 1920’s which, at the time, was her most notable contribution to the fashion world. The colour black depicts the height of elegance and sophistication, with the links to black-tie events, which is typically a power and money-based event in which the men will wear a black tuxedo with bow-tie and women will adorn themselves in their finery, including diamonds and ball gowns. Black worn in this way suggests that the wearer is of a high status and therefore has the sufficient power and wealth to warrant the ability to wear the colour black. Hollywood icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn help make the LBD famous during their time in the ever-evolving spotlight. Hepburn’s infamous Givenchy LBD has become perhaps more iconic and recognisable than her film-work. The phrase “… is the new black” is a commonly used phrase to show the popularity of something, this proves how the colour black will never fade out of style and will always be used in one way or another, in the fashion industry to provide a basis for new and evolving designs. Black can be used as a method of providing a slim line effect to one’s body shape, adding to the sophistication that wearing the colour allows. It could be psychologically seen that someone that wears the colour black gives off a sense of success and confidence within their demeanour. This is something that provides those in authority with their authoritive power in the way they dress.
BLACK AS HISTORY
Historically, culturally and socially, it has been of an age-old tradition that close family members of the deceased would only wear the colour black during the period of mourning. In some areas of South America and Africa, widows would wear black for the rest of their lives as a self-sacrifice in a submission to their late husband and God. In these areas of the world, it would be a form of self-inflicted pain, an almost self-harm as these are the hottest parts of the world, the women feel they have to suffer for their loss, it is a submission until the end. Close family members to those deceased will wear black for a prolonged period of time (1 year) out of respect for the widow or widower, however women in the Victorian era would be in mourning dress for 2 and a half years, (In contrast to this, men in the Victorian era that had lost their wives only wore mourning dress for a period of 3 months after.) Traditionally, especially in the Victorian era, Mourning dress would consist of extremely conservative, plain clothes that covered up almost every part of the body, except the face and hands (However, a widow would use a veil to cover her face when leaving the house). The colour black represents a feeling of darkness, both physical and mental, a sense of doubt and uncertainty, it can be used as a cover of fear, loneliness and insecurities to the outside world. Women’s mourning dress were often corseted to allow for an even harsher shape to the body, and to add to an even more “torturous” time for their period in mourning.
However, although in history, the colour black may be seen as a link to death, there are also other connotations with the colour black that are perhaps not so negative. In those times, it was usually only the very wealthy and aristocracy that wore black during mourning. However, many other people started to wear black so as to imitate those that were wealthy. Because mourning dress was expensive to produce and own, it therefore became a fashion statement, and more of a tool for presenting your inevitable high social status. In Elizabethan times, people who could wear black was dictated by English law called Sumptuary Laws. This was because good black fabric that didn’t have the tendency to fade was extremely expensive to produce. Because of this, one that wore the colour black usually was of a high class, which reflected where they were in the social hierarchy. King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) is often shown in paintings wearing expensive black clothing.
In another way however, black used to represent plainness and humility when used in con junction with cheaply made fabrics that were uncomfortable to wear such as coarse, rough, undyed dark wool that would be used for those in monasteries, this again links in with the theme of black in religion symbolising submission to God.
The colour black in fashion and tradition can take on many symbolic meanings. Tradition says that black is the colour of mourning and death. However today, black has a much broader and less meaningful purpose. Nowadays, it is more common for people to wear black as more of a fashion statement than as a means to symbolise something. However, there are a few exceptions such as for religious purpose that still carry the traditions such as priests wearing black in submission to God. However, in contrast, black in fashion can mean taking authority rather than as an act of submission. Stemming from the old tradition of black meaning power and authority, it has filtered its way down into today’s society with the common thought that one is taken more seriously, perhaps in a job, when wearing black. With its sense of mystery, black can be used, in conjunction with fabrics such as lace and satin, as a toll for seduction in the way in which a perhaps different persona could be created when wearing black. This may also be linked to why black is also seen as a glamorous colour also. As traditions are broken, the idea of a more provocative look is one that has become more and more popular. Perhaps Old Hollywood actresses making the trend of wearing black on the red carpet helped them to create a persona, which then filtered into the mainstream of wearing black. With the many varied ways in which black can be used and worn, it is no wonder why the colour possesses such intrigue. Many personal messages can be sent and statements can be made from wearing the colour black and it seems as if the colour is timeless, no matter what the current symbolism is. It is down to personal decision and preference what the colour black symbolises as it can represent different things to different people at different times of the day, year of in their lives. It is true to say that black is the colour of the unknown, it is open to personal representation in terms of the significance.