Set of black shirts hanging on a rack

Do Black Clothes Make You Hotter?

Wearing Black in the Summer

Nobody is their best self when they’re hot. But sometimes, you can’t avoid brutal conditions, especially if you work outdoors. So it becomes a question of strategy: staying hydrated, choosing the right gear, etc. You’ve probably been taught that wearing black clothes in hot weather makes you miserable—but is that true? What if it’s just your favorite color? Should you have to avoid wearing black in summer?

According to our research, it’s a myth that black clothes make you hotter. In fact, in some cases, black clothing might keep you cooler. Whether you should wear black or white in the sun has intrigued scientists enough that they’ve done studies with infrared cameras, bird plumage, and Arab desert clothing. Yet, after all that experimentation, the answer is pretty straightforward: wear whatever colors you like. 

Researchers did discover a few interesting tidbits, though, so in this post, we’ll discuss:

  • Factors that make clothing cooler
  • What color reflects the most heat
  • The benefits of sun-protective clothing

Do Black Clothes Make You Hotter?

The debate about light clothes vs. dark clothes in hot weather is a little misleading. While it is true that black absorbs sunlight and white reflects it, there’s more to the story than that. 

Variables such as fabric thickness, moisture, wind, and how tight or loosely a garment fits are even more important than color in keeping you safe and comfortable. UPF clothing of any color outperforms fabrics that aren’t explicitly designed to be sun protective. 

Does Black Clothing Absorb Heat?

When it’s forecasted to be a scorcher, and you’ve got to head out into the elements, the last thing you want is to make it worse for yourself by grabbing the wrong shirt. So does black attract heat? No doubt you’ve noticed that a dark object sitting in the sun will quickly become hot—much more so than a light object. First, it’s necessary to consider the principles of light to understand how black absorbs more heat than white. 

Light contains all visible wavelengths, but some are absorbed while others are deflected when it strikes an object. This selective reflection is how the color of an object is determined. For example, a blue shirt absorbs all visible wavelengths except blue ones, which travel back to your eyes. Therefore, a white shirt reflects all the sunlight (remember from science class that white is all colors combined). 

In contrast, a black shirt absorbs it without sending any back to your eyes (black is the absence of color.) This absorbed light converts to heat, so we can conclude that black clothes are hotter, while white clothes reflect heat the best. But hold on, didn’t we decide it wasn’t that simple?

Truly, black fabric feels hotter because it absorbs heat from both the sun and your skin. White fabric, on the other hand, could reflect that heat back to you. The best path to staying cool in the sun is to choose loose-fitting UPF clothing that wicks the heat away. 

Why Do People Wear Black in the Desert?

The Arabian desert is hot—like boil the blood in your brain hot. Venturing out into it unprepared can be fatal. So it would stand to reason that those ancient tribes who have adapted to survive these harsh conditions must know the best color to wear in the desert. Yet, curious observers have long marveled at Arab desert clothing, which at first glance seems to be about the hottest garb you could possibly don. 

Why on earth are nomadic tribes people covering themselves head-to-toe in long, thick, black robes as they wander over vast expanses of burning sands? Well, the answer is because it actually helps them stay cool.   

The Bedouin Tribe and Black Desert Robes

The Bedouin people have inhabited the deserts of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula for centuries, chanting their traditional poetry and herding their camels and milk goats. In fact, their name means “desert dwellers.” 

Modern Bedouins wear long tunics, cloaks, and undergarments with a head cloth called a keffiyeh. This ensemble gives them complete protection from the harsh sun and wind-driven sand. Often, their distinctive robes are black, a problem that has puzzled outside observers for a long time.

If black absorbs sunlight and heat, why are Bedouins wearing it?

A 1980 study published in the journal Nature examined this question and found that the color of the robes wasn’t nearly as important as people thought. Researchers recruited a volunteer to stand in the desert facing the midday sun in temperatures up to 115℉. (Why this poor person didn’t demand a paycheck could be the subject of a whole different study.) 

During separate 30-minute sessions, the volunteer wore a black Bedouin robe, a white Bedouin robe, a khaki Army uniform, and nothing but a pair of shorts. 

Ultimately, the scientists concluded that whether the Bedouin robes were white or black did not impact the man’s body temperature. This was because the thickness of the fabric prevented additional heat absorbed by the black robe from being reflected back to his body. In addition, the looseness of the fabric allowed for cooling. The wind ruffled the robes, and internal convection currents caused hot air to escape by rising between the material and his skin.

What is the Best Color to Wear in the Sun?

So you want to wear a black T-shirt in summer because that’s just your style, but your mom told you black attracts heat. Maybe you should have referred her to a 1983 study published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences that examined the colors of animal fur and bird plumage. It found no direct relation between solar heat load and coat coloration. 

In other words, whether birds and animals are black or white does not automatically determine how hot they get. Instead, factors like wind speed, hair structure, and fluffed or flattened feathers play a much more significant role. So basically, tell your mom that whether you wear a white or black shirt in the sun is a matter of your fashion autonomy!

With that said, she was right about protecting yourself. Especially if your job involves working in the sun, you need clothing to block harmful UV rays. As long as that box is checked, your shirt can be white, black, orange, blue, camo, hot pink leopard print… whatever makes you feel fabulous. 

What Color Reflects Heat? 

Earlier, we established that white reflects sunlight, while black absorbs it. But does white reflect heat as well? Yes—and that could mean reflecting it back onto your body, making you even hotter. 

In experiments using infrared cameras to measure the amount of heat given off by black and white shirts in the sun, the difference was minimal. The Bedouin robe experiment determined that extra heat quickly dissipates by air currents in loose, flowing fabrics. 

Not all fabrics are created equally, though. In the case of white cotton vs. black cotton, white allows a broader spectrum of the sun’s rays to penetrate through to your skin, making black a better choice for blocking UV. But the caveat is, if you’re wearing tight black clothing in the sun, all the heat it absorbs will be trapped right next to your skin. So you might want to skip the black pleather pants and go with the flowing Bedouin tunic. 

Stay Cool Working in the Heat with Sun Protective Clothing

Black indeed absorbs more heat than white, and specific colors reflect sunlight better than others. But that doesn’t mean you have to be locked into a wardrobe you hate all summer long. On the contrary, UPF clothing specially designed to protect against damaging UV radiation can help you stay safe and comfortable in the sun.

So whether you think orange is the new black or black is the new white, be sure and outfit your crew in gear that’s as hard-working as they are. A cool crew is a happy crew!   

Learn about sun protection and how UPF clothing works to keep you safe on the job:

  • What is UPF Clothing, and How Does it Work?
  • Ultimate Guide to Working In the Sun
  • Outfitting Your Team with Suntect UPF Shirts

 

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