In the modern world, where many customs and traditions have become a thing of the past, the colour of clothing has lost its original role. Yes, some traditions are still maintained, like wearing a white wedding dress or wearing a black suit to some official ceremony. However, even those traditions have fizzled out. But in the past, everything was different. The colour of clothing signified a person’s belonging to this or that social group or caste. For example, nobility wore red clothing, Roman emperors wore purple, merchants were supposed to wear green, whereas peasants wore gray and brown. Black was worn during the mourning period.
By the way, about the colour black….
People started wearing black clothing as soon as black dye for fabric was invented. This happened long after blue and scarlet/red dye were invented. Black clothing was worn by the nobility because the dye wasn’t cheap. Also, for a long time black was worn during the mourning period. This came from traditions followed by royal families and aristocracy. Then black colour was worn by people who were trying to emulate the nobility. Subsequently it was forgotten that black had been the symbol of mourning, and black clothing became more casual. Still, not everyone could afford it.
For example, in the 16th century, members of the Spanish aristocracy wore black velvet clothes decorated with precious stones and fur. Such clothes were very expensive, not only because of the precious stones and fur, but also because of the black dye used to make the clothing. Apart from royalty, black clothing was worn by merchants, doctors, clergy, and artists. Since then, black was no longer the symbol of mourning; it had become the symbol of power.
In the 17th century in Holland, because luxury was frowned upon, clothes were no longer decorated with gold and precious stones. But black colour didn’t go out of fashion. Ladies wore black dresses decorated with big lacy collars. The combination of black and white was considered very symbolic, and symbolized a change of priorities. People started to value labour rather than luxury.
One century later, because it had become accessible as a result of technical progress, black clothing lost its social status. Black as a colour of status was replaced by black as a colour of fashion. At the same time, the fashion of that era had lots of unusual black accessories: ribbons, tricorn hats, masks, and cloaks. At the end of that century, men switched to black clothing. Tailcoats, uniforms, and frock coats were customarily in worn in black at the time.
During the Victorian era, black was revived as a colour of mourning. Widows were meant to wear black clothing for 2 years. Following the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria wore black till the end of her life. The cult of mourning developed so strongly at the time that ladies’ magazines of that time offered etiquette consultations for various types of loss. Strangely, the duty to wear mourning even extended to the cousins of the deceased.
This mourning fashion came to an end just before the 1920s, and everyone got used to the colour by then. Coco Chanel made use of the lack of meaning attached to black, and used it to give her styles enigma and elegance. Her famous little black dress has become the key to redefining black colour in fashion.
In the 1930s, black became even more fashionable. Funnily, its rise in popularity was connected with cinematography. Movies at the time were black and white. Accordingly, the clothing in the movies also appeared either black or white. So if someone wanted to look like their favourite movie character, they had very little choice.
The emergence of colour cinematography slightly diminished the popularity of black in fashion, but with the emergence of rock and roll the colour regained its popularity. And it appeared that black established itself in two contrasting cadres. On the one hand, it was worn by representatives of subcultures. And on the other hand it still remained the colour of the classic man’s suit.
Today, not a single fashion show can do without a few black dresses, and even though the use of black dye during its existence has been multifarious, today it is still associated with the classiness of the old James Bond movies.
Author: Marina Sobe-Panek