ver the past few months, I’ve experienced an unprecedented urge to wear black. Not just slivers of it as I have in the past, but entire swaths, cloaking myself in an inky shield from head to toe. As a person who has always identified as a color-thirsty maximalist, this craving gave me a lot to unpack. At first I thought it was weather-related, but having chewed on it awhile longer, I now believe it stems from something deeper, something that has circled the drain in both fashion media and regular media for quite some time.
Scientifically speaking, black isn’t technically a color, but rather the absence of visible light, and stylistically speaking, the same caveat rings true. Wearing black isn’t a trend, but rather the absence of trendiness. Ever since Vogue called a little black Chanel dress “The Ford” of a woman’s wardrobe in 1926, black has been regaled as the definition of classic, the epitome of timeless and the rare aesthetic option immune to the voracious appetite of trend cycles, which have grown increasingly hungry in the digital age.
I wonder if that’s why the internet forgot about black altogether.
“Year of Colour” is a third-party web application that shows you the most popular colors on your Instagram feed. When I recently plugged in my handle as an experiment, I was mesmerized by the resulting visual: a gigantic blue dot surrounded by a veritable rainbow of medium-sized ones in yellow, green, brown, oxblood and rust, evidently among my most favored color varietals. I had to squint to see what I was really looking for, though — a tiny dark dot, no bigger than a pupil, representing the algorithmic popularity of the color black in my feed.
Black, once the pinnacle of cool (particularly in fashion circles), has been eclipsed by an endless stream of candied hues that clamored (successfully) for this seat of saturated acclaim. Millennial pink, Gen-Z yellow, melodramatic purple and Miranda Hobbes green made for great headlines and even greater Instagram fodder. There are Instagram accounts and hashtags specifically devoted to wearing lots of black, but their presence registers more fringe than mainstream, a pupil-sized cluster amidst a gigantic sea of blues, yellows, greens and oxbloods.
And yet, black was — and still is — the preferred uniform of the fashion industry’s old guard, including Grace Coddington, Rei Kawakubo, Karl Lagerfeld, Yohji Yamamoto, Vera Wang and Michael Kors. It also remains a core component of many people’s wardrobes, famous or not. But because the internet’s interests may favor a sea of color over the absence of it, and because there is nothing a viral-happy culture loves more than a Trend with a capital T, the historic association between wearing black (specifically head-to-toe black) and the zeitgeist has seemingly shifted, creating a disproportionate ratio between how often people are wearing lots of black and how much it is being acknowledged as an aesthetic statement of note.
Though in theory black can connote severity or standoffishness, in practice it is uniquely welcoming; it goes with everything and looks good on everyone, which is why few closets go without it. For brands, like the recently launched WARDROBE.NYC, black is the entire raison d’être: “There is a community who wants to dress in a refined, timeless, self-assured way, and all-black dressing is the best solution to achieve this state of mind and aesthetic sense,” co-founder Christine Centenera told me. (The entirety of WARDROBE.NYC’s debut 8-piece capsule collection is black, save for a single white button-down shirt).
“Wearing all black makes me feel…safe, strong,” Refinery29 Creative Director and all-black devotee Lydia Pang told me. “It cloaks me in a quiet confidence. It’s such a commanding color, and yet so modest. I love how easy it is to get dressed in the morning — everything goes with everything. ”
Stylist and creative consultant Lisa Nguyen cited the same universal practicality as the reason behind her obsession with wearing black: “I feel ready for any time of day, any type of place.”
As for the relationship between black and trend cycles, Pang remarked, “I think mediums for inspiration [like Instagram and street style] certainly shift and dictate the styles people try out, but I think those who wear black and have done so for years generally tend to ignore those trends and cherry pick the bits they like, so black is more of a palette to live your life in, it’s not something to throw on or off. At least not for me.”
She also emphasized why black has the rare capacity to transcend trends and cultural whims so handily: “Anyone can wear all black and look and feel good. Black wants to look good on you. It’s a safe pair of hands, it always has your back, it can be cheap and look expensive, it can be creased and look like some fabulous Japanese designer, it can go from day to night with the swipe of lipstick. Black announces you as you enter a room. I once wrote that the black lipstick I wear underlines every word I say, and that’s the best way I can describe it. Black holds an undeniable power.”
In a world where Instagram trend lifespans have never been shorter, headlines have never been more “clicky,” to-do lists have never been longer, and burnout has never loomed larger, the magic of wearing black, in its pure, chic and practical glory, has never felt so timely. The irony that the internet is potentially fueling the resurgence of black’s prominence as a direct result of ignoring it is amusing but not surprising. Black isn’t “back” — because it never went away. It simply slipped into the background as it is wont to do, content to observe the spectacle of trends living and dying while resting steadily in the assurance of its own power. Just like the people who choose to wear it.