Today would have been legendary musician Johnny Cash’s 80th birthday, and to celebrate, we’re paying tribute to one of our favorite Cash incarnations — the Man in Black. In the early ’70s, at a time when most country singers were dolled up in sequins and cowboy boots, Cash chose a somber, all-black ensemble, a symbol of respect for the suffering of others. The color also cemented his reputation as an enduring fashion icon — the US Navy’s all-black winter uniforms are still called “Johnny Cashes” — and inspired one of his most famous albums. Inspired, we decided to take a look at other artists who followed in Cash’s footsteps (or predated him) in wearing one color, whether as a form of protest, artistic statement, or just habit. Click through to see our list of artists of all stripes (musicians, comedians, writers, oh my) who made wearing either all black or all white their trademark, and let us know if we’ve missed your favorite monochromatic fashionista in the comments.
In the early 1970′s, Johnny Cash solidified his image as “The Man in Black” — he almost always performed in an all-black ensemble including a dramatic knee-length black coat and often a stylish black cowboy shirt. This was in stark contrast to the fashion for country singers at the time, who typically wore ostentatious, colorful outfits with sequins and flash, but it wasn’t a mere anti-status quo fashion statement — it was a form of quiet protest in and of itself. Cash wrote a song, “Man in Black,” about his dark garb, which he released on a 1971 album of the same name. In it, he sings: “I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/ Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town/ I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime/ But is there because he’s a victim of the times… We’re doing mighty fine I do suppose / In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes / But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back / Up front there ought to be a man in black.” If that man is Johnny Cash, we totally agree.