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Photograph: Toa Heftiba/ Unsplash/ Creative Commons/

Do Melburnians really wear a lot of black? We asked an expert

How true is the stereotype that Melbourne abhors colour?

Nicola Dowse
Written by
Nicola Dowse

Melburnians wear an awful lot of black – or at least that’s the stereotype. No matter the weather, residents of our fine city are known for looking as if we’re constantly in mourning or trying to make our high school goth phase last into adulthood. But do Melburnians actually wear more black than people in other Australian cities?

According to fashion commentator and editor at Voxfrock Janice Breen Burns, Melbourne really does have an ongoing love affair with the dark hue. Our love for all things 50 shades of black, she says, comes down to three things: our climate, our city and the early 1990s recession. "After the bling decade of the '80s – the big shoulder pads, lots of jewellery, big heels, big hair decade – the world was plunged into a deep recession," says Breen Burns.

"Fashion around the world responded with this very sombre, draped, layered look, which favoured a lot of black, very little adornments – it was almost monkish."

Working as a fashion reporter during the '90s, Breen Burns saw first-hand how enthusiastically women in Melbourne took to the dark trend. "They just adored it. It’s slimming, it’s flattering, it can be non-conformist, it can be conformist, it can be anything you want it to be."

But unlike cities with comparable fashion scenes (such as London and Paris), Melbourne never lost its love for black. Black fit our own perceptions of who we were, and who we are as Melburnians.

"We saw ourselves as the city of gardens and galleries where Sydney was more about boobs and beaches."

The city’s love for the arts and culture fit perfectly with the 'arty' stereotype associated with black clothing (which itself could be attributed partly to the Beat Generation movement in the 1950s). Even Melbourne’s notoriously 'blah' weather had a part to play in influencing the city’s inky wardrobe, with our lack of sunny days making black a popular choice. "Black doesn’t look great in bright sunlight, there’s a wrongness about it," says Breen Burns.

"The cities that understand style... I think we’re more aligned with them than the hot weather cities where they threw off their blacks and picked up their stringy bikinis and were very glad to be rid of the black. Whereas we embraced it."

"It’s true that Melburnians have become stereotypically associated with black but I think that that’s changed a lot in the last decade."

Our city of corporate goths and 1990s Winona Ryder look-alikes might be under threat, however, with a new generation of style icons less influenced by local trends. "It’s true that Melburnians have become stereotypically associated with black, but I think that that’s changed a lot in the last decade," says Breen Burns. "We’ve got younger generations coming through who are more slavish about global trends."

Melbourne's days of all-black attire aren't over just yet though – stroll through the CBD at peak hour and you'll agree, black is still the new black. 

Looking to stay on trend? We chatted with a stylist about what she thinks will be fashionable this year.

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