Colour stories: back to black

Versatile, timeless and oh-so-flattering, it’s no wonder we love to wear black. Not strictly a colour (scientists say black is simply the absence of light), wearing black didn’t come into fashion until the 20th Century. Our Colour Stories series continues…

Worn by government officials and other important bods from the 14th Century, it didn’t take long for the royal courts of Europe (previously known for their love of red, purple and other luxury colours) to get in on the act. Black also became the hue of choice for soberly dressed Protestants and Puritans.

Associated with death since Greek and Roman times – although the Ancient Egyptians saw it as the colour of fertility – black became further entwined in all things sinister and Halloweeny during the ferocious witch hunts of the 1600s, when so-called ‘occult’ gatherings were known as black Sabbaths.

Things took an even darker turn in the 19th Century, when Prince Albert died and his widow Queen Victoria famously went into mourning for the last 40 years of her life. It became de rigeur to follow her extreme example, with private grief carefully displayed in layers of black crepe and jet, relieved by a touch of purple and grey as time went on. It was a style enthusiastically reintepreted by goths a century later.

It took one woman – Coco Chanel – to change everything. In a sketch of her iconic Little Black Dress in the 1920s, she famously turned the obsidian shade into a fashion moment, calling it the “frock that all the world would wear”.

Black has been the chic choice ever since, from Audrey Hepburn’s LBD in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Posh Spice’s various noir ensembles. Part of its appeal is its undying association with rebellion – black has been loved by rockers and punks since Jimmy Dean first shrugged on a black leather jacket.

Sew the look:

  • We’ve heard monochrome and eye-boggling patterns are in for autumn, why not try this jersey.
  • Shirt dresses are still the smart choice – try making this one in black and white gingham.
  • You can’t go wrong with a classic LBD. Try By Hand London’s Georgia Dress.
  • Add some rock star sass to your accessories with this faux leather fringing.

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Katie Allen is a writer, content editor and crafter based in London. She is the author of craft book Just Sew Stories and also runs ethical clothing business Plum. She loves reading, writing and all things kitty. Follow her at @KatieFQ. Photo copyright Leonie Morse.

Main image: Adalee Jumpsuit from People Tree.