The Meanings Behind Fashion’s Most Dramatic Color

Black is also a practical color. Many Islamic countries make expert use of black, using its heat absorption to raise hot air. Clothing draped in dark colors, such as thaw and the abayacreate a convection

Black is also a practical color. Many Islamic countries make expert use of black, using its heat absorption to raise hot air. Clothing draped in dark colors, such as thaw and the abayacreate a convection current of cool air through the overlapping folds of the garment.

Black, it seems, has fascinated us since the dawn of time. “There have always been black luxuries: ebony, black marble and, in ancient Rome, fine black wool,” continues Harvey. But black also signified virtue and duty, and from the 11th century it was widely worn by the clergy. Later, members of the royal family, such as Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), adopted it, aligning itself with the respect and authority of the Church. “Black had become a color that said you were serious; it said you were serious; it said you were strong, maybe formidable,” Harvey says.

There is this duality in the dark for a long time, he explains. “On the one hand, black is class, wealth and distinction; and on the other hand, black is humility, service and devotion.” The distinction between the two had a lot to do with the materials. Rich black dyes were expensive to create. Commoners had to make do with black fustian, of course, a thick, tough twill fabric. Only the nobles had velvets and satins.

Over time, black spread among middle-class merchants and business people, but it was rather dull and harsh. Leading dandy Beau Brummell, the 19th century equivalent of a social influencer, saw how industrialization transferred power to the rising middle classes. His reinterpretation of color in his sharp, tailored suits was not only a nod to this group’s growing impact, but made black fun again. And although the more austere reigns of William IV, and then Queen Victoria, put an end to frivolity, black is reinventing itself and remains in fashion, seeming perfectly suited to the morality and modesty of the new era.