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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Are you a black-cident?

By Bridgette Raes

Bryian is one of my dearest friends, and what bonds us (aside from our quirky sense of humorj) is our shared fashion background that span more than a decade. Yes, we get excited about fashion talk like two moms get excited sharing the strides their toddlers are making. Recently my friend Bryian called me and said, “I have a new fashion term, it’s called a black-cident.” He went on to explain that a black-cident means the mistake of relying too heavily on black in one's wardrobe. “Oh my God, I love it!” I exclaimed. “A black-cident; this will make for a wonderful article.”

I know from first-hand experience that a reliance on black as the most versatile wardrobe shade is a common faux-pas that I find in most closets. I was recently in a client’s closet and as she pulled out seven pairs of black pants she said, “Here are all my black pants because you can never have enough, of course.” There was such assuredness in her comment as though she wxpected me to reply to her with a, “Duh, well of course.” Instead, my reaction was a very questioning upturn of my eyebrows, which she returned with a stunned look, as if it was 1492 and I was Christopher Columbus trying to convince her that the world wasn’t flat.

I don’t have a fixed agenda to get women off of their black addiction. It’s not as though I am the Betty Ford Clinic of color dependency. Giving up the color black as that one main staple color happens naturally, with little to no effort made by me. All a client needs to change their opinion is an opportunity to actually look at the color black differently, to try other neutral colors, and to see how limiting black can be. And as a client said to me after just one shopping trip:

“I'm so 'off' black slacks. I've bought nice tones of grays and browns because I feel I can wear more color with it.”

And as another client of mine simply said:

“Black sucks!”

Need I say more?

Contrary to popular belief, black is not the most versatile wardrobe color. Yes, it’s an obvious given for most women, but black also has the potential to create a wardrobe that is pedestrian looking, expected and difficult to work with.

If you want to embrace style learn to let go of the black, or at least learn how to bring other colors into your wardrobe to balance out the heaviness of black.

Here are some ways that you can neutralize your black-heavy wardrobe:


It’s very common for me to open up a closet, look at the floor of the closet space and see a pile of mismatched black shoes resembling a pile of used tires. The best way to spruce up your wardrobe is to abandon the black shoe for other colors.

There are many ways to do this. My first suggestion is a tan or natural colored shoe in a feminine style. This versatile shoe color should be a staple in the closet. Use of this shoe not only makes an outfit look more sophisticated, it makes the wearer look more sophisticated. If your wardrobe is more tailored, use this shoe color with any of your tailored pants in any color (including black,) and watch the level of sophistication in the outfit rise exponentially. When trading out a black shoe for a tan shoe, many clients have gone from looking like middle management to executive status with this one subtle shoe change.

In addition, tan shoes make a leg look longer because the shoe color is closer to the color of skin. Even if you are of African-American decent or have darker skin, this will still work. Tan shoes with any skirt color is a nice alternative to a clunky, stark black shoe.

The other shoe color substitution is brown. Brown, instead of black, looks great with brown, grey, navy and denim. In addition to being softer than black, brown adds a level of sophistication that black shoes can’t.

Lastly, use your shoes as the pop focus of your outfit. If you feel dull in black, try a colored shoe worn back with a black outfit. My favorite is red, or an ornate shoe style that can punch up an outfit.

Black Pants

Like the ubiquitous black shoes, women also seem to have a strong reliance on black pants. Black pants aren’t versatile, they are limiting. Unlike softer, neutral pant shades such as olive, brown, tan, grey and camel, you can’t be as versatile with black as you can be with these other shades. Why? Well, black doesn’t it lend itself as well to mixing and matching as other shades. Let’s say, for example, that you start with an olive shade of pants. You can bring in a soft pink top and a soft tan jacket and all three colors work together and harmonize well. Conversely, if you put on a black pair of pants with a pink top and light tan jacket, the look still works, but since the black pants are so much heavier and stark, they don't harmonize as nicely.

Secondly, you can’t create tones with black like you can with other colors. Let’s take brown, for example. There are so many shades of brown, from light tan to dark chocolate. And the nice thing about brown is that there is usually a shade of brown for every skin type. By having a spectrum of shades in one color, you can play with different tones in one outfit. Black, on the other hand doesn’t have the same versatility. Of course, grey is an option to creating shades of black, and if you do decide to stick with black then be sure to bring in some grey to balance it out.

Lastly, I have said it before (gazillions of times) but color works back to any neutral pants shade just as effectively as it does with black. Treat other colored bottoms like olive, camel, tan, brown, navy and grey as you would a black pant. In addition, pinstripes, checks and tweeds can be treated like a solid pant. If you have a grey pinstriped pair of pants, any colored top can be worn with this novelty item.

I also want to say that encouraging all of you to trade out your black pants for color does not mean that I want you to go out and buy brightly colored pants. What I am suggesting is that you explore other neutral bottoms like brown, camel, tan, olive, grey and navy. The most balanced wardrobe has at least one pair of pants in those shades (in addition to black) peppered with a few novelty bottoms like the tweed, pinstripe or checks that I mentioned. No, don’t get rid of black completely, simply incorporate other color choices to create balance.

If you are going to wear black you have to do something creative with it.

Do I wear black? Yes, of course. In fact, almost every one of my headshot photos is of me in a black top. I am not anti-black, nor do I think you should eradicate it from your wardrobe forever. Even though I do wear black I will tell you that I have one pair of black pants which I haven’t worn in at least six months. I have one pair of black boots which I wear very infrequently, I have three black turtlenecks (because a black turtleneck is a chosen staple for me) and one black skirt along with a few pop-novelty black pieces peppered throughout my wardrobe. That is the extent of my black clothing. I don’t feel the need for any more than that, and I have never felt limited.

When I do wear black I know I have to do something with it, and those times when I haven’t I have actually had people remark on my lack of creativity. If you start with black as your base, I urge you to get creative. Don’t stop with a black pair of pants and a colored top. How much more boring can you get? Bring in a pop shoe, some accessories, a fun jacket; something, anything to liven up the outfit.

Try it out for yourself

I am not the black police and as I mentioned, I never force a client out of black. This discovery is one that a client normally makes when she is exposed to other avenues than the black that she has clung to as the only way. Instead of thinking that you have to abandon black, test out other shades and see how you feel with them.

Black will look fresh again one day

Fashion is cyclical, and so I believe that one day black will look fresh again. There was a time, in the mid-to-late nineties, when sleek black was all the rage. There will again come a time when we all look to black as a much needed palette cleanser. But until that time comes, I encourage you all to step out of black a bit and start embracing the versatility of other colors.

(c) 2005 Bridgette Raes Style Group

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