Michael R. Barrick

All Dressed in Black

I was all dressed in black,
She was all dressed up in black
- The Pixies
Wearing Black has been the hallmark of the coffee drinking intelligentsia for nearly 400 years. Back during the early Renaissance the rich (and therefore educated) were dressing in flamboyant clothes made with expensive coloured dyes and gold and silver decorations. In the early part of the 17th century as the Renaissance was spreading into Northern Europe the Dutch invented the first permanent black dyes. At the same time the Dutch were surpassing the Italians as Europe's premiere merchants and Amsterdam was becoming the centre of power and learning for Europe. Dutch merchants also introduced coffee and chocolate to Europe around this same time, ergo you suddenly had the wealthy and educated merchant crowd and the artists they supported sitting around in coffee-houses all dressed in black, drinking coffee and eating chocolate for a buzz. Bach (who used to spend a lot of time hanging out in cafés, jamming with his contemporaries) even wrote a "Coffee Cantata" about a woman who wanted to drink coffee despite her father's wishes and the mores of the time.
While styles changed amongst the rich and powerful the style and image of the black-clad artist and intellectual persisted. Coffee remained a choice drug and was augmented over the centuries by other new arrivals such as opium, absinthe, cocaine, LSD, MDMA and other drugs. Some of the finest thinking of the Age of Enlightenment was done by black-clad coffee-drinkers, Voltaire is rumoured to have had a 50 cup a day habit. The style persisted through the early 19th century Romantics on into the late 19th / early 20th century Avant Garde artists. At one point during the making of "Citizen Kane" Orson Wells had to be taken to the hospital due to excessive coffee consumption. The Weimar intellectuals such as the founders of the Bauhaus school also continued the tradition leading directly into the Beat Generation to which today's Gothics owe a great deal.
© Text copyright 1994 Michael René Barrick
Links last updated
March 8, 2006