I'm so over black. This is a great shame because I have a wardrobe full of it, and little else.
I stand by the magical, transformative powers of the Little Black Dress, but have become stultified by the overwhelmingly neutralizing effect of wearing black in an industry—and age bracket—that is chock-full of other women, and quite a few men, all doing the same.
Before I go on, I should note that black (for which read quasi-Goth) is very "in" this season. But then, black is very "in" every season. No matter how many rainbow-hued confections trip down the runway, there are some, nay, many designers who routinely trot out the B-word, which always sells. This week, one of my favorite designers, Alexander Wang, was announced as the new man at Balenciaga, a house that has come to personify fashion's chicer, more alternative, rock 'n' roll side. Wang works with a color palate that is principally—you've guessed it—gray, cream and black.
As far as I can tell (and remember), "fashion black" came into its own in the 1980s, thanks in part to punk. Designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons, Miuccia Prada and the Antwerp Six (including arch-deconstructionists Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, and Dries Van Noten) were all likely influenced to some extent by punk's all-black, safety-pinned and slashed antifashion approach. Up to that point, black had flirted with fashion in the form of Dior's New Look, Chanel's Little Black Dress and the Beatnik style of the 1950s and '60s (Marks & Spencer probably still has Andy Warhol to thank for ongoing sales of their black polo necks). In the brassy, color-popping, power-suited '80s, black was the last word in antifashion, which inevitably meant that it very quickly became fashion. Designers like Helmut Lang, Azzedine Alaïa and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel began to spin out sexy black confections, and even Gianni Versace, the master of vibrant color, began to send black dresses down the runway on the backs of Linda, Christy et al.
But black's appeal runs deeper than just being fashionable. Unlike so many other colors, black has a great many things going for it, including the fact that it's easy to build a wardrobe from, so long as you stick to the aforementioned Wang color palate. An even bigger plus is the undeniable truth that wearing black has a fundamentally flattering effect on the body. I'm never sure if this is due to the clean lines it produces or the fact that in a sea of black clothing, one won't stand out. I suspect it's a little of both. Black is the panacea for lazy dressers (and I'm raising my hand here). When you aren't sure what to wear, it is inevitably the answer; not only that, but how bad could it be if it's in black?
Black is like a great lover whose attraction palls over time but for some reason one cannot quite shake. It is the sugar of the clothing world, sneaking into almost everything before you've even noticed it's in your shopping basket or around your waist. This is a shame because, frankly, there are so many other great colors out there. If you are an inveterate black-wearer, you will no doubt be familiar with the reaction from friends, colleagues or even, in my case, the woman in the paper shop, should you branch out into something a bit more outré, like a petrol-blue sweater or a sage-green coat. "Oooh," they will say, "that's very bright for you." At which point you immediately know that what you are wearing is wrong, and you will beetle home to change into your inky security blanket.
There's no going cold turkey with black either, unless you want to give away your entire wardrobe. While fashion commentators are always banging on about black's versatility, the truth is that not a whole lot goes with black—other than navy, gray, khaki and other neutrals. My approach has been to buy more of the colors that go with black and no more black. This has had the not-entirely-successful result of simply upping the navy quotient in my wardrobe, which in certain lights is mistaken for black in any case.
“The approaching holiday season is exactly the right time for the wearing of black in every derivation.”
There is good news, though, because the approaching holiday season is exactly the right time for the wearing of black in every derivation. I know that Christmas is traditionally associated with red and green but, really, who wants to wander about looking like an ornament? No, black will work at Christmas, for all my laments. At parties you will never look out of place or under- or overdressed—unless, of course, it's strapless.
On Christmas Day, you will be able to down as much pudding as you like, safe in the knowledge that you are wearing fashion's equivalent of an airbrush. And should you wish to up the ante at any point, you could add a pair of sparkly earrings and some heels, or conversely throw a cozy black cashmere sweater over the top for a dog walk or a TV-watching marathon.
There is another reason to wear black over the holidays: for those of us who look upon the approach of the festive season with the same level of doom-laden reserve that we would normally muster for a root canal, black seems entirely appropriate.—Email Tina Gaudoin at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @tinagaudoin.