Wearing black could mean different things for different people. The color is often considered sophisticated and chic. After all, you can’t go wrong with the classic ‘little black dress’ or black suit. However, persistent all-black ensembles could also be perceived as depressing or negative. That is the debate in color psychology, the study of how emotions are evoked by each color.
Black is special because it technically not a color. Rather, it’s defined as “the absorption of all colors”. According to German scientist Hermann von Helmholz, “Black is real sensation, even if it is produced by the entire absence of light. The sensation of black is distinctly different from the lack of all sensation.”
Despite the various individual reactions to wearing black, psychologists have found certain common traits for those who prefer the all-black look. Some of these traits are positive reflections of the wearers, but there are also some negative implications.
What Wearing All Black Says About You
Black never goes out of style. It’s often the uniform is many professional settings, as well as the self-imposed uniform of creatives and intellectuals. Most stylists and personal shoppers would recommend every client to own a staple black skirt, pants, cardigan, sweater, etc. Black just goes with everything, and some people’s opinion, nothing goes better with black than black.
In 2014, designer Bella Freud and Alain de Botton, a philosopher and founder of The School of Life, created a plain black merino sweater with a unisex design. It was dubbed the “The Philosopher’s Jumper” and marketed as “the ideal suit of armor to contain you while allowing you to free your thoughts”. 
This slogan gave fashion psychologist Anabel Maldonado much thought. She theorizes that our choice of clothes is dictated by a certain psychological pay-off. In other words, we wear things based on how they make us feel and act. “…I thought there was much more to black’s fiercely enduring appeal beyond the function of easy matching,” she said in a post on T Magazine Singapore. “And in realizing what this ‘more’ was, I was led to one of my central theories around fashion psychology: the color black is, indeed, a form of armor.”
The Positive and Negative Association of the Color Black
People who love wearing black are often artistic, sensitive, and private.  The color gives an edge of elegance and sophistication to any outfit — which probably where the black clothes of “black-tie” events come from. Black is also associated with power, which is why it’s the color of outfits for judges, priests, and many CEOs (think Steve Jobs).
However, black also symbolizes many negative and depressing things, like death and bad omens. It could bring on emotions of fear, sadness, and anger. This is why the color has become short-hand for villains in films. (Take the costumes for Darth Vader, Dracula, and Voldemort.) It has the same effect in phrases like “blackmail,” “black mood,” and “black market”. Black is also a sign of mourning at western funerals. 
This strong negative association with the color often discourages people from painting their homes that color. However, it hasn’t stopped people from making black the core of their wardrobe.
Wearing Black and its Connection on Mental Health
Maldonado found similar character traits among her fashion industry friends who loved wearing black. They also showed signs of neuroticism.
“People who score high on neuroticism, although highly creative, often experience emotional instability, are prone to anger, melancholy, and negative emotions generally, such as anxiety, and find it difficult to stay in a good mood,” she explained. “They are self-conscious and often worry about what others think of them. Being fairly neurotic myself, with a penchant for dark shades and fierce boots, I increasingly recognized the correlation between wearing black and proneness to negative emotions.”
She theorizes that black symbolizes power and authority, positions that require barriers from the outside world to protect emotions and insecurities. This could be part of the reason some people are allured to the color.
“Should you dress how you feel, or dress how you want to feel?”
To test this, she created a study where she surveyed 300 women about their color preferences. Those who considered themselves “black wearers” were three times more likely to report frequent anxiety. Black wearers were also twice as likely to also identify as “melancholic” or as a “worrier”. Those who wore bright colors did not get high scores on the neurotic scale. They reported less proneness to anxiety and found it easier to stay in a good mood. Additionally, they didn’t view their clothes as armor; instead, they saw them as a way to express themselves. Some didn’t think of them as anything other than their functionality. 
“It does beg the question: is using black as armor the optimal way to dress for good mental health? Should you dress how you feel, or dress how you want to feel?”
Maldonado recommends everyone to consider their situation individually. “Wearing black might help one feel better, but so might music, a self-help book, a good bit of introspection, a talk with a therapist, or even anti-depressant medication. Relying too heavily on merely one thing won’t induce long-term improvements. One needs to work on both the internal and external worlds of oneself, as they symbiotically feed off each other.”
Improving one’s mental health by working through life problems can reduce the need for “black armor”. A better state of mind could result in a preference for brighter, happier colors. 
That’s not to say that people should never wear black. After all, it’s still suave, chic, and flattering. And everyone should keep the black staples in their closets. But evaluate whether an all-black wardrobe is an expression of yourself or a shield for your vulnerabilities.
- “Bella Freud Designs Jumper for The School of Life in London.” WWD. Nina Jones. October 29, 2014.
- “What Does The Color You Choose Say About You?” Psychology Today. Bernardo Tirado, PMP. June 6, 2011.
- “The Color Psychology of Black.” Very Well Mind. Kendra Cherry. October 13, 2020.
- The Psychology of Fashion. Anabel Maldonado. 2018.
- “Why Do We Wear Black So Much? A Fashion Psychologist Explains.” T Magazine Singapore. Anabel Maldonado. March 15, 2019