If you’re anything like me, a quick scan of your closet will show you one thing: you wear a lot of black. For me, it’s not because I’m satanic or allergic to the rest of the color palette. Rather, it has to do with the fact that black clothes are unquestionably slimming, especially for a guy of my size who needs all the help he can get. And for the rest of my black-wearing brethren, science backs up our undying loyalty to the slimming magic of black clothing.
The reason black clothes make us look sleek and slim is due to the way our visual system processes light. It all comes down to an irradiation illusion— a concept written about by 19th-century German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. Author of the foundational Handbook of Physiological Optics, Helmholtz discussed the interaction of physics, physiology and psychology in how we perceive certain colors and spaces.
Wearing a Christmas jumper:
• limited seasonal wear
Wearing a black turtleneck:
• makes you look like a spy
• feels a bit like being choked
— Paul (@schierneckeretc) December 18, 2019
But the obsession with illusions dates back even farther – to the 1500s, with Galileo Galilei’s curiosity about why some planets appeared closer to the naked eye than with a telescope. Turn the clock far ahead to 2014 and an answer finally appeared.
Researchers at the State University of New York College of Optometry studied the electric signals from neurons in the visual areas of human, cat and monkey brains. The test subjects looked at a mix of light shapes on dark backgrounds, dark shapes on light backgrounds, light shapes on gray backgrounds and dark shapes on gray backgrounds.
Pros to wearing all black: it’s slimming and looks professional.
Cons to wearing all black: everyone knows I had powdered donuts.
— Emily Rogers (@emilylouise22_) December 17, 2019
Based on their findings, the researchers discovered that the two sets of neurons respond differently to light and darkness. The dark (off) neurons responded more strongly to dark shapes on light backgrounds. On the other hand, the light (on) neurons, even with the same amount of contrast, had a significantly greater response.
Whether you believe in the science or you think your eyes are playing tricks on you, black is not only fashionable but makes you look more fit. A black blazer or pair of jeans will make you look slim and sleek the next time you’re out on the town.