Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wardrobe Musings: Black as an Accent Color.

Nicolas de Staël, Le Piano, 1955

Black is a color.

Some people think of black as shadow, and therefore not a color : there is no black in a rainbow.
However, black can be found in nature. It is rare, but beautiful. An animal with black hair or feathers really stands out in a natural environment of greens, browns and blue.
In the de Staël painting above, black is not used to depict shadow. The piano is black and its color is, to me, as rich and vibrant as the red cello case, the yellow background or the blue stripes on the chair.
Several years ago, I saw a young red-headed woman dressed beautifully in rose and caramel tones with caramel shoes, and to top it all off, a black coat, which looked incredibly striking against her hair color and the other colors in her outfit. The coat was clearly very high end, impeccably made of high quality deep black wool, but I probably wouldn't have noticed how beautiful it was if she were dressed all in black. Black probably wasn't "her color". It's generally not recommended for people with her complexion to wear black near their face, yet, worn that way, as a single and very unique piece, it made a gorgeous outfit. The young woman looked pretty and stylish. She looked happy too, which didn't hurt.

Boring black.

Black is considered elegant and cerebral. In couture, a black gown is form reduced to its essence and can make a bold statement. However, in the streets, it doesn't usually play out that way. It might have been chic in the 20s with Coco Chanel, and subversive in the 70s with Punk, but I'm afraid today it makes no statement at all, other than maybe a willingness to blend in with the crowd.
There is a lot of black in a city environment. And the way most people dress in wintertime forms a sea of black.
It is also, unfortunately, overrepresented in my closet. I wear a lot of black in winter because it is practical and flattering to the silhouette. A black turtleneck, black pants and shoes is a uniform that will take you pretty much anywhere, and the little black dress really is perfect, isn't it? If brown suits you better than black, do you think a little brown dress would be just as chic? Very unlikely. Black has become a no brainer for daily dressing, but as we see it everywhere, it no longer seems so elegant. In fact, it has become boring and conventional.
I'm so sick of it actually, I really want to try to avoid wearing (and sewing) black all Spring and Summer long.
But my hope is that after a black fast, I will be able to approach it in a new way.

There are two kinds of black.

I read that the romans had two different words for black. One was for beautiful, lustrous black, and the other was for dull shadowy black. I think it would be a good idea to reconsider black.  Since it is generally viewed as a neutral, it tends to becomes a backdrop for other, more interesting items in our outfits, and as the vague and nondescript sea of black expands, it doesn't seem to matter much anymore if black clothes are low quality and badly made.
I very rarely see black worn in the way the red-headed young woman did, singled out as a beautiful color. When I come back to black, that is how I hope to use it, and make it special again.
How do you feel about black in your wardrobe?


  1. Black is sophisticated and I love it, however, it is NOT the right color for everyone. I have cool undertone and high contrast in my complexion so black looks really good on this combination (Winters). Others who have warm undertones or cool undertone with low contrast should stay away from black, there are other beautiful alternatives. I know women who insist on wearing black and don't realize that it is harsh for their combination and emphasizes the fine lines on the face.

  2. I think the problem is that many women, such as myself, who cannot wear black wear too much of it. But I think if you love a color that doesn't suit you, it's ok to wear it in small doses, balanced out by "your" colors. That's what I'm hoping anyway, because I don't want to give up on black entirely!