Ominous, mysterious and mournful, or elegant, prestigious and slimming? Black can be perceived in many ways and differently across various cultures. What is typically perceived as mournful, gothic and at times emo is slowly but surely transforming into sleek, attractive and empowering.
When thinking of black in terms of color theory, various factors contribute to the psychological and emotional attributes associated with the color black. Kristie Lippire, professor of visual art, is knowledgeable about color theory and how it can be perceived.
“Color theory is the study of color arrangement, its psychology in terms of what it triggers in a person,” Lippire said.
Color theory’s psychological effects are determined in a more scientific way than many would expect. The way colors are perceived and evoke emotions is based on how the wavelengths of the color are received. Light is a key factor when it comes to the way colors are viewed. The way light reflects off color determines the wavelength that is being received. As light, which is a combination of all wavelengths, hits an object, the amount of light absorbed is what allows us to perceive colors, according to Hunter Lab.
Lippire discussed how different colors have been designated based on how the color is recognized, such as orange.
“We use (the color) orange for emergency or traffic cones because of the color theory of complementary pairs,” Lippire said. “The sky is blue and the asphalt can also be considered a type of blue. The orange cone is going to stand out more against it. It all makes sense we –just don’t think about it.”
Since black is the darkest possible color, it has a naturally ominous nature. The color black is the hardest color to produce when dyeing clothing. Due to that difficulty, it was an expensive color to own and rarely seen outside of mourning periods, Lippire said. Typically worn for funerals in Western culture, it is often viewed as a somber color because of its direct association with death. As time progressed, the color became more mainstream. In the 1800s, black was seen as a prestigious color that conveyed elegance, power and sophistication, according to the Harvard Crimson.
As we move into the 21st century, black has a new meaning. Grunge and alternative music were issued in a new wave of fashion that matched the emotions conveyed by the artists. As angst took over, so did dark clothing. The emo and goth communities were now being identified by their black uniforms.
“Now the youth has reclaimed black and it’s a way of not sharing anything about yourself,” Lippire said.
“It’s an anonymous color — you’re so emotionally sensitive you want to protect yourself.”
Along with the grunge and alternative scene that black caters to, the current generation treats it as one of the most flattering and confidence-boosting colors to wear. The “little black dress” is a staple in the wardrobe of many and the color is often considered the ultimate color for formal events, according to Elle Magazine.
However, due to the absorption properties of the color, it is often left behind during summer and branded as unsuitable for heat.
Victoria Coria, sophomore interior design major, is someone whose wardrobe scarcely features black.
“I rarely see anyone in all black, especially in the heat,” Coria said. “As someone who steers clear from black clothing, I think having some color on could help you beat the heat.”
Despite what a majority of the public deems appropriate, a niche group of black clothing enthusiasts see nothing wrong with wearing the color in any and all climates.
“I try to avoid wearing black in the summer because I don’t deal well with heat, but usually I fail. I find that it doesn’t make that big of difference as long as I am not outside all day. If I was hiking, I would avoid it, but to go to a BBQ it is fine.” said Taylor Wheatly, senior creative writing major.
With breathable materials and accommodating designs, I find no reason to avoid black during the summer. Many find it to boost their confidence and wardrobe adaptability.
“It is a fashion choice as it makes me feel powerful, allows for focus on accessories and has meaning behind the color,” Wheatley said.