“…I’d love to wear a rainbow
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black”
– Johnny Cash
Our society fetishizes the color black, whether it is painting those with black skin as dangerous and brutal, or discussing the glamour of “witchy” black clothing and goth fashion. But for many, there is more to wearing black than looking badass or teenage rebellion. We met up with a couple of Denver’s boldest wearers of the absence of color to discuss why they choose to dress in darkness.
Ru Johnson of Roux Black Consulting is no stranger to embracing the darker side of life. She wears dark colors as a way to embrace her own blackness and confront stereotypes about it head-on, and also as a way to use her own witchy womanliness to her advantage.
“Black clothing has this connotation of power around it,” she explained “It allows you to exist in spaces where you can use black as a power color, but for me it’s almost like a blank canvas. It allows me to exist in whatever ways I am feeling at the time. I wear a lot of black clothing; most of my clothing is black, and that’s because I can turn on my black style and base it on how I feel. It’s kind of like the idea of a witch’s glamour; I can blend in or be the most noticeable person in the room. I can exist in multiple spaces in my clothing.”
Johnson also believes that black is a color that should be used to highlight curves, rather than hide them.
“As a voluptuous black woman, a woman of size, a big black woman, there is always this idea that people think a woman of my size would wear black clothing to hide, not to extenuate my size, and that’s not the case with me,” she said. “It accentuates my curves, my size. On a fashion level people have said a lot of things, like ‘women of size wear black because they are trying to hide or because it slims you,’ but I wear it to accentuate the idea of taking up space. When you see me it is almost an emphasis on what my body does and the length and width I have, how I am able to embrace my space wherever I am. I’m not just wearing black sweatpants.”
“Jay-Z talks about ‘I might wear black for a year straight—the beginning but also the end—he also said that black is no longer the reverse of something but it’s also the thing itself, so when I say ‘all black everything forever’, it’s about the clothing but also about the state of mind,” she added. “You’re going to take me seriously, or you might get my playfulness, but that goes into my style. I don’t claim to be a fashionista, but it’s the energy you put into it, and I love being able to shake that energy.”
Sur Ellz AKA Khalil Arcady
Local, queer R&B singer Sur Ellz is also known for wearing dark colors, and they make him feel strong and untouchable, hidden and safe.
“When I think about wearing black as a young black man, I think about the Black Panther movement, and I think about ‘black is beautiful,’” he said. “There are so many different types of black when it comes to people, but no matter what I might be mixed with, the president still sees me as a black man; Sharon down the street still sees me as a black man. From a political standpoint, when you think about the Black Panther movement, there were some negative connotations associated with it; they were all in black; they all have this ominous association, when in reality they were the kindest people, the sweetest people, trying to show that they aren’t afraid to fight for what is right, to fight for equality, and their uniforms were all black. In that same regard, I like to fight my fight wearing all black.”
He also recognizes the modern cultural associations that the color black has, and embraces them, as well as the hidden, subtle power that the color has.
“I started dressing in black periodically in middle school,” he explained. “In the beginning, it was a way for me to express my depression, because I had a lot of stuff going on, a rough family life, and I was always the new kid. It was easier for me to hide in black because, as weird as it sounds, it makes me feel safe. It makes me feel untouchable; it makes me feel mysterious and a bit ominous.”
Emma Windsor grew up in the South, surrounded by preppiness and pastels. As someone who has always been drawn to deep, dark colors and sounds, Windsor embraces black as a part of her aesthetic and wardrobe every day.
“Since I grew up in the South, everyone wears pink or blue,” she said. “It was kind of a way to distinguish myself; I went through a period where I did wear a lot of colors, but then I went back to black. I wear what I want, and I’m not afraid to wear colors, but I’m automatically drawn to darker, more edgy stuff, anything that has studs, almost renaissance fashion mixed with goth.”
Windsor also wears black to express her identity as a feminist and to support the underground music and art that she loves.
“Culturally, I want people to know that I am equal to them because I’m such a feminist,” she explained. “I think it expresses how my personality is. Historically, people have looked at women who wear black as more hard or people you don’t want to f*** with. When it comes to culture, I don’t think fashion defines you, but I think people have made it that way.”
“Support your friends’ businesses, because a major thing about what I choose fashion-wise is to go with things that are home grown, more local people, instead of people buying from giant chains,” she added. “I really love that a lot of the stuff I do wear and support is really local or on a smaller level and they are actually passionate about what they do. It shows in their work and I’m like ‘f*** yeah, I wanna wear that.’”