This Is Why Black Clothes Are Slimming

Yes, it's based in actual science.

Audrey Hepburn

Everyone knows that black clothes make you look thinner. It's why Michael Kors has never worn a non-black suit in his life. It's why Justin Theroux never steps out of the house without a black leather jacket, a black t-shirt, and a pair of black denim (usually tastefully distressed). It's why every character in John Wick and The Matrix, two of the most stylish films ever, dresses in head-to-toe black. In an industry full of rules that don't always make sense—and fashion is nothing if not that—this one has held fast forever.

Why? Probably because it's based in actual science.

Back in 1867, German scientist Hermann von Helmholtz discovered that a white square set against a black background looks larger than a black square in a white background, despite the fact that the shapes, on both sides of the image, are identical in size. The "irradiation illusion," as it became known, proved that our visual systems are imperfect, and that our perception is skewed by whether a shape is light or dark. See for yourself:

irradiation illusion
Wikipedia Commons

This wasn't the first time someone recognized this bias in human sight, given that Galileo noticed that some planets—like the radiant Venus—look larger than darker ones when viewed with the naked eye versus a telescope. Still, he couldn't figure out why that was the case. He mused that it must have been because "their light is refracted in the moisture that covers the pupil, or because it is reflected from the edges of the eyelids and these reflected rays are diffused over the pupil, or for some other reason."

Fast forward to 2014, when researchers at the State University of New York College of Optometry provided a "neurophysiological explanation for an almost four-century-old puzzle dating back to Galileo." Using electrodes to record brain signals, they found that our neurons tend to exaggerate the size of light stimuli, while seeing dark stimuli for what they are.

In a poetic way, the human brain is hardwired to seek out light over dark, and that determines day-to-day perception. Even the article you're reading now is an example of this effect; think about how much more difficult it would be if this was written with a white font on a black screen inside of black font on a white screen. The same trick goes for your silhouette. Small wonder all of Hollywood uses it. And for more timeless wardrobe advice, learn all about the 30 Fashion Trends That Will Never Go Out of Style.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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