Fashion in Colors: Black

Black, which absorbs all colors, has always bewitched us.

Men's Three-piece Ensemble (1830s)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Black—the extreme color

Black is closely associated with negative images—darkness, death, mourning, and evil. Black, which absorbs all colors, has always filled people with fear and fascination.

Riding Suit (Amazone) (c. 1810)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Influences from menswear

The dark suit was first created between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, and it later came to define the mainstream of menswear.At the same time women began taking up horseback riding, one of the only sports allowed of them. The clothes they wore for this noble pastime were strongly influenced by menswear. It was the first time menswear had directly affected womenswear.

Jacket, Skirt (c. 1865)The Kyoto Costume Institute

An outfit comprising a tailored jacket and a crinoline skirt in which the skirt billows widely at the back, a look that was in vogue during the 1860s. The influence of men’s clothing in the mannish style of the jacket and the choice of black was initially seen in women’s riding wear, but this influence extended to daywear in the latter half of the 19th Century, and went on to develop into the tailored suit.

The jacket is decorated with the precious stone jet. Jet, a variant of zinc or coal, had been used for centuries in the West as decoration in a wide range of art and craft products. In the second half of the 19th Century, jet became most notable as a form of personal adornment in conjunction with the trend of wearing black, influenced in part by Queen Victoria's choice to continue wearing black long after the death of her husband, Prince Albert.

Men's Three-piece Ensemble (1830s)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Men in Black

The gloss of high quality fabric without decoration accentuates the elaborative tailoring of these tight-fitting clothes. Plain but elaborately tailored in details, simple and functional men's clothes were made on the basis of the esthetic values of the "dandies," who emerged at the beginning of the 19th century. As a result, men's clothes became simpler and more stylized, and their designs established a standard that is still relevant today.

Riding Habit (c.1900) by Henry CreedThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Tailored suit

Riding habit by Creed, which had been famous for the quality of its tailored suits. This habit which mixes the tailored jacket and jodhpurs that provided functional riding wear for men with feminine elements such as the long skirt, was the formal standard for women riders until the 1930s.

Day Dress (c. 1905)The Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of seduction

The silhouette of this dress makes an S-curve like those found in Art Nouveau designs: it is typical of the belle époque. Although decorated with machine-knit lace and other details, the dynamic S-curve stands out as a result of the black color.

Evening Dress (Summer 1928) by Jeanne LanvinThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of "japan"

A large bow at the back of the belt produces an effect similar to that of a Japanese kimono belt, and red, black, and gold coloring is reminiscent of Japanese lacquerware. In the 1920s, European interest in exotic countries extended to include Russia, Egypt, South America, China, and Japan, and the couturière Lanvin embraced Japanese coloring and motifs in its creations.

Dress (c. 1927) by Gabrielle ChanelThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Little black dress

After World War I (1914-1918), women's social independence progressed remarkably. Women in the new age led new fashions, requiring functional dresses that matched their active life styles. The pursuit of functionality had begun. Black was highlighted as a modern color, although it had formerly been used for modest uniforms and mourning dress.

Dress (c. 1926) by Gabrielle ChanelThe Kyoto Costume Institute

American Vogue (November 1926) featured a simple, knee-length black dress by Chanel, which was a kind of homage to the new Ford motorcar, made at the same time in black only – the car that ushered in the age of mass production. Chanel's simple knee-length "little black dress" was to become the uniform for women of the new era.

Day Ensemble (c. 1928) by Gabrielle ChanelThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of modernism

This 1920s ensemble with a cardigan and a knee-length skirt is one of Chanel's best-known works. Its simple forms and monochrome color are the result of the puritanical elimination of decorations. Jersey, elastic easy-to-wear material that does not hinder body movements, short skirts, and simplified beautility gained favor with women active in society. Today, in the 21st century, these innovations are still basic to women's clothing.

Beachwear (c. 1929) by Jean PatouThe Kyoto Costume Institute

The material of this outfit is a man-made fiber, rayon, which was given much attention at the time. This is a piece of Jean Patou's, who worked with sportswear from his early period.
The garçonne, a new style for women popular after World War I, aimed to eliminate the gender bias in clothing. Women started wearing pants, which had formerly been a symbol of men's attire, although they were only worn inside the house or at resorts.

Evening Dress (1932) by Madeleine VionnetThe Kyoto Costume Institute

This seeming simple, black evening gown was constructed on the bias using Madeleine Vionnet's minute calculations. Her bias cut technique allowed the dress to flow smoothly along the lines of the body. The use of black highlights those lines most effectively and dramatically.

Suit (1940-44) by Jacques FathThe Kyoto Costume Institute

During the regulated period of the World War II, when uniform-like tailored suits were widely worn, women tried to be fashionable by wearing large and decorative hats or turbans to spice up such sober clothing.

Evening Dress (Autumn/Winter 1961) by Cristobal BalenciagaThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of exoticism

The black Chantilly lace flows down dynamically and rhythmically over the dress. Cristobal Balenciaga, the Master of Haute Couture, pursued new designs with his superb cutting techniques. In addition to modern forms, elements of his homeland's traditional clothing are seen often in his works.

Smoking Jacket (Autumn/Winter 1986) by Yves Saint LaurentThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of unisex

A smoking jacket (tuxedo) for women. Yves Saint Laurent's smoking jackets were particularly appreciated because they brought an androgynous element into the category of female evening dress. He created many smoking jackets, continuing until his last years, and they became an iconic part of his oeuvre.

Dress (1987) by Azzedine AlaïaThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of minilamism

Azzedine Alaïa, who was from Tunisia, frequently used stretch materials, taking advantage of the rapid advance of stretch material technology, and led the body-conscious fashion with dresses that looked like a second skin, created utilizing his original cutting methods, and eliminating excessive colors and decorations. His dresses are still highly appreciated today because they emphasize the beauty of the body but do not encumber body movements.

Sweater, Skirt (Autumn/Winter 1983) by Rei KawakuboThe Kyoto Costume Institute

Color of aesthetics

At the beginning of the 1980s, when colors were used abundantly in fashion, Kawakubo's shows in Paris introduced achromatic, unstructured dresses, mainly in black. There was a contrast between light and shade within the black of her works. Because the black color incorporated a new aspect that extended far beyond the framework of Western color expression, it drew people's attention, and became the color of the age during the 1980s.

Dress (Autunm/Winter 1990) by Yohji YamamotoThe Kyoto Costume Institute

At the beginning of the 1980s, Yohji Yamamoto, together with Kawakubo, received a mixed response in Paris to designs that challenged existing aesthetic values in the Western countries due to their achromaticity, loose fit, asymmetry and deliberately-created holes and tears. Yamamoto's unique approach, creating clothing based on modern daily life, has still not changed today. He hates the stagnation of beauty and objects to the neglectfulness of those who are not aware of this stagnation.

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