August 12, 2009

Why Metalheads Wear Black

Kvlt Fashion, Tr00 Metal Life

“Why can’t you wear any colours?” my mother admonished me repeatedly during my youth. I don’t really blame her – I used to be a colourful kid. Too colourful, many would say. My mustard velour pants live on in imfamy, as does my pink and purple hawaiian shirt (I kid you not). But my love of brightness came to an abrupt half when I hit 14, started listening to Metallica and BAM. Black City, population me.

For those of you who haven’t read the ‘About Steff’ page, it may interest you to know that I’m completely colour-blind, thus making discussions of colour choices completly in the realm of speculation to me. Hence my black clothing.

Metalheads and black go together like … things that go together. It’s an association stretching right back to the early days of metal and living on well into the future. We share the colour (or non-colour) with goths, punks and *shudder* emos, but our metal shirts, black jeans, steel-capped boots and Gorgoroth arm gauntlets make it our own.

In an interesting mini-article Fashion Taste Amongst Satanists, Vexen Crabtree (probably not his real name) points to Thomas Gilovich’s studies of “color-bias” and how people judge behaviours in association with certian colours.

A particularly interesting example of how our expectations can influence what we see involves people’s negative associations to the color black and how they can influence the perceived aggressiveness of someone wearing black clothing. The “bad guys” have worn black hats since the invention of motion pictures, and psychological research has shown that film directors who employ this tactic are capitalizing on a very basic psychological phenomenon: Surveys conducted in a wide range of cultures reveal that black is seen as the colour of evil and death in virtually all corners of the world.”

Gilovich studied this principle by asking respondants to rate the appearance of various professional football uniforms. They observed that people found those uniforms employing black as a main colour to be more ‘bad’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘mean’ looking.

In turn, they showed professional referees two videos of the same agressive football play – one with the agressor wearing white, the other wearing black. The referrees all declared the black-clad individual was “more” agressive and deserving of a penalty. The researchers found that teams sporting mostly black uniforms recieve more penalties on average than non-black uniformed teams.

So it’s a bit of a self-fullfilling prophecy, but it certianly suggest what we all suspected – that the colour black looks agressive, menacing, bad-ass – all traits associated with metal music. Black also invokes somber thoughts, mourning, introspection, and simplicity. Vexen calls it the ‘philosophical colour’ which certianly fits in with it’s longtime adoption by thoughtful goths.

I generally follow the principle of Deena Weinstien, who splits all metal music into two common themes – “revelry” and “chaos”. I define the categories like this:

  • Revelry: drinking, sexing, drugging, partying and hunting on the landscape (includes indulging in celebrations of war and pillage found in bands like Turisas and Alestorm and the dragon-slaying nature of power metal)
  • Chaos: war, death, pain, evil, power, anger, aggression – all the darker aspects of life.

“Chaos” seems pretty self-explanatory. For people like me who’s staple wardrobe items consist of metal shirts and steel-capped boots, our clothing encapsulates the feelings we associate with metal. Many of those feelings stem from a desire to own our anger, agression or power. I am the most wimpy, unagressive, happy person I know (modest too), and this is why metal appeals to me. It gives me a feeling of power and control. This feeling extends to my clothing – wearing black makes me feel confident.

At first glance, fitting the “Revelry” theme around our clothing choices presents problems. However, I think I’ve cracked it. You see, all the songs that could concievably fit into the ‘revelry’ category of metal share one trait in common: they express feelings of community. While “Chaos” is individualistic and insular, “Revelry” is about partying with friends, fighting alongside your warrior kin, and joining in the spirit of metal and all that cheesy stuff.

And all metalheads wear black. So wearing black, metal shirts and spikes and boots and Thor’s Hammers identifies you as part of our group. It’s community-building. How many times have you walked down the street and a fellow metalhead throws you the goat and says “Nice shirt, dude!”

So for a metalhead, wearing black serves two purposes: It seperates us from the parts of society of which we want no part, by making us look unapproachable and “agressive”, and it fosters a community spirit.

Our subculture fosters our own stereotype, because clothing companies say “Metalheads like black” so they only make black clothing, which is all we have to buy, so we buy it. I’m not complaining, just making the point.

Also, black is easy. It looks good on anyone (often not as good as colours, but still passable) and you can always find something to match it (good for us color-blind folk).

I’d love to hear your thoughts on why you chose to wear (or not wear) black. How important do you think our clothing choices are to our happiness and confidence? I’d love to know!

Super Snuggles and Shoggoth Kisses

8 Comments on “Why Metalheads Wear Black

February 1, 2013 at 9:38 pm

I wear black mostly as an accident. I try to just buy clothing, and I end up with mostly black stuff. Which actually fits me, I guess. I don’t know, I’ve just always seen black as a soft, friendly, accepting color, and white as hard, controlling, and slimy – the color of evil and guilt. I mostly wear pretty dresses, with some jeans and band shirts in my wardrobe. I usually wear my combat boots, unless I’m really dressing up. I’ve been told I have “class,” I guess because of my fashion choices and my manners.

Aggressive God
September 14, 2012 at 5:00 am

Aggressive God surgiu em meados de 2007 em Manaus Am Brasil,começando suas atividades em 2010 em apresentações locais,praticando um black metal old school nitidamente influênciados por bandas veteranas e caractéristico com o estilo tais como:Venom,Bathory e Sarcófago no intuito de tocar um true metal infernal com muita fúria e ódio eterno mundo afora.

Be yourself
October 23, 2010 at 3:26 am

I don’t get why many metalheads think they should wear black because they’re metalheads etc.. Im a metalhead and have only one black t-shirt, the rest are different colors, seriously wear what you find suitable for you and not force yourself to be a poser like many others, please help end this phenomenon/joke.
True metalheads are a minority compared to the rest.

October 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm

You are 100% right – you should ALWAYS wear / do / say / be the person YOU are, and never follow the crowd, even the metalhead crowd. I think metalheads in general gravitate towards a certain style of music which is in most instances quite dark and strong and powerful, tend also to be drawn to aesthetics that are also dark and strong and powerful – hence the heavy use of black in apparel, and artwork.

Anna Hell
January 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Hi Steff and hails!

I arrived at your website from the guest post you did on No Clean Singing regarding the Black Metal Symposium. I like your site! It’s nice to read about metal from another woman who’s a fan.

I’m a little older and have been working as an engineer professionally for about five years, so there isn’t much chance for me to wear band t-shirts or much black while at work. I tend to darker colors and nail polish, but it’s not enough that another metal fan would be able to spot me.

As I get older, the idea of wearing a “uniform” has less and less appeal, but it can be nice to have that easy connection with other members of the community.

I totally agree with your statement about the power of black clothes. I wear black pieces because they look good, but also becuase they’re a link to my past and a statement about the person I still am and how I choose to present myself to the world.

August 18, 2009 at 9:25 am

Ah, yes! I know all about wench-dressing. I can’t believe how often my “Jacqueline Sparrow” outfit comes in handy!

I’m loving your story, by the way!

Louise Curtis
August 13, 2009 at 2:56 pm

GREAT article, Steph. Plenty I’d never thought of, but “realised” as I read.

I only ever wear all black for irony – perhaps going to a party where all my friends can laugh at me imitating a subgroup I’m clearly not part of.

Generally I wear ankle-length skirts, because
a) my weight fluctuates and only my skirts consistently fit me.
b) they suit me
c) I don’t mind looking like a writer/artist/airy-fairy type. At least it’s a stereotype I can live up to.

Also handy for dresssing as a wench, which comes up more often than you’d think.

Two-month pirate twitter tale:

Comments are closed.