HTML – How to make a placeholder for a ‘select’ box

Placeholder :

  • The placeholder attribute specifies a short hint that describes the expected value of an input field (e.g. a sample value or a short description of the expected format).
  • The short hint is displayed in the input field before the user enters a value.

Applies to :

Elements Attribute
<input> placeholder
<textarea> placeholder

Placeholder for HTML Select box

Select boxes don’t currently support the ‘placeholder’ attribute, so here’s a workaround that works just as well.

Html Code
    <option value="" disabled selected style="display: none;">Please Choose</option>
    <option value="0">Open when powered (most valves do this)</option>
    <option value="1">Closed when powered, auto-opens when power is cut</option>

The Disabled option stops the <option> being selected with both mouse and keyboard, whereas just using display: none allows the user to still select via the keyboard arrows. The display: none style just makes the list box look ‘nice’.


Using an empty value attribute on the “placeholder” option allows validation (required attribute) to work around having the “placeholder”, so if the option isn’t changed but is required; the browser should prompt the user to choose an option from the list.

This method is working in the following browsers:

Google Chrome – v.43.0.2357.132
Mozilla Firefox – v.39.0
Safari – v.8.0.7 (Placeholder is visible in dropdown but is not selectable)
Microsoft Internet Explorer – v.11 (Placeholder is visible in dropdown but is not selectable)
Project Spartan – v.15.10130 (Placeholder is visible in dropdown but is not selectable)

Strategies for Select Dropdown Lists Placeholder

The select dropdown a class called say not_chosen and style it in whatever way we want, to make the default option look like a placeholder, in this case just a different text color.

Html Code
form select.not_chosen {
  color: #808080;

Next we use JS to traverse through all the dropdowns on the page and give them this not_chosen class if it has the default value chosen or if the user chooses the default value manually. We’re assuming the default value to be an empty string ‘ ‘

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Example Program:

Html Code
// Select dropdowns
if ($('select').length) {
    // Traverse through all dropdowns
    $.each($('select'), function (i, val) {
        var $el = $(val);         
        // If there's any dropdown with default option selected
        // give them `not_chosen` class to style appropriately
        // We assume default option to have a value of '' (empty string)
        if (!$el.val()) {
        // Add change event handler to do the same thing,
        // i.e., adding/removing classes for proper
        // styling. Basically we are emulating placeholder
        // behaviour on select dropdowns.
        $el.on("change", function () {            if (!$el.val())
                $el.removeClass("not_chosen");        });         
        // end of each callback  });}

Explanation :

The dropdown will have the not_chosen class as long as the default value is chosen which means it’ll have gray color for text but as soon as it’s changed to some other option the class get’s removed and the text color fallbacks to whatever is defined in CSS for the select element (black in our case as nothing is specified).

when you try to select an option when the default option is chosen, all of them are gray because that’s what we specified for our not_chosen class.

On the other hand when an option with proper value is selected then all options are presented black.

Maybe we want to show the first option as gray and all other as black regardless of the current choice.

This piece of CSS does the trick

Html Code
form select option {
    color: #080808;
form select option:first-child {
    color: #808080;

Although on Mac all the options in the active dropdown are always black, nothing can force them to change their colors apparently.

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Implementation :

There are three different implementations:

About the author


Wikitechy Founder, Author, International Speaker, and Job Consultant. My role as the CEO of Wikitechy, I help businesses build their next generation digital platforms and help with their product innovation and growth strategy. I'm a frequent speaker at tech conferences and events.

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