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Ever since I wrote my original Wardrobe Staples for Women post in 2005, I get at least one comment or email a week asking, “Why black?” Why do I suggest black suiting, a black dress, and black shoes as the best choice for all women? Black is harsh, black is somber, black washes some people out.
Yes, black can bring to mind funerals and goth kids loitering in shopping malls. Black washes some people out, and is not the best color choice as you age. But black has so many perks and there’s not really any other color that accomplishes all that black can do:
Black is Stylish Every Month of the Year.
Some browns only seem appropriate in fall, others only appropriate in summer. The same holds true with grays, navys, and greens.
Black isn’t Trendy.
Maybe this year it’s a dark chocolate brown that’s hot, next year it may have more of a camel tint to it. Three years from now, both shades of brown can be seen as passé for it’s a gray-brown that’s the hot hue. This never happens with black – black is always chic. Black also hides trends better – a black blazer looks more on trend in five years than one in a color.
Black Matches Black.
Have you ever tried finding a pair of shoes to match a navy suit? What do you do if you damage your gray blazer for the suit you purchased three years ago? What do you do when you have a new position that requires pantsuits (construction, science, etc.) and your expensive perfectly-fitting brown suit only has a skirt? Point is, it’s easier to match black to black. It’s simple to buy shoes, bags, and accessories. It’s easier to match separates to build your suiting wardrobe, and you’re more likely to be able to replace a pair of pants that stretch out or a skirt that is no longer a current silhouette.
Black Hides Stains.
Not only does it hide stains, but it hides your attempt to get rid of the stain with Tide-to-Go, hides sweat, and even hides many creases and wrinkles. Black is a frequent-flier’s friend, and a good buddy of us working women with toddler grubby hands giving us a hug goodbye.
Black isn’t Memorable.
At my last job, I traveled a lot for business. I actually started blogging my outfits to prevent wearing the same thing twice to see a client. I started this… because I went to visit a client in another state and she said, “Oh you wore that cream suit again, it’s so nice on you.” I had only met her three times over six months, and twice I wore the same suit. While I wore different blouses and shoes, the suit was so memorable that I became The Woman in the Cream Suit. That wouldn’t have happened with black. When you have black in your wardrobe, you don’t need to purchase as much to look as though you have variety.
Black is Versatile.
A black gabardine pantsuit can be worn with a crisp button-front shirt and loafers to a client meeting, with a silk blouse and pearls to a business lunch, with a beaded camisole and silk heels to a cocktail party or wedding, with a bustier and red lips for a hot night on the town. You can’t do that with gray, navy, or brown.
Black Looks More Expensive.
Put a $200 black suit next to an $800 black suit, and you will see the difference, but those differences won’t be as visible from a distance. Put a $200 navy suit next to an $800 navy suit and you can tell the difference a mile away. Colors better show the quality of the fabric, the stitching, the choice in buttons and details. Black not only hides figure flaws, but also many manufacturing flaws.
Black Goes on Sale.
My Ann Taylor Triacetate suiting collection was all bought on clearance. A blazer this year, a skirt another year, a sheath on eBay, a pair of pants during a promotion. It’s far easier to buy suiting piecemeal from a retailer if it’s a color they offer season after season. Not only do colors change from season to season, but they sell out faster because they are a change from basic black. If you’re looking to start a suiting collection on a budget, you’ll have more luck with black than any other color.
Black is a Neutral.
I surely hope you’re not heading to a client meeting or a holiday party in a black suit with black blouse, black hose, and black shoes. If you do that, you will give off the funeral/death/goth/sadness/anger vibe, and yes, it may wash you out. However, if you pair a black pantsuit with a shell pink silk blouse, or a cobalt button-front shirt, or a peacock-blue print shell it will highlight your face and take center stage. With a flattering color, black becomes a frame and a platform for your ensemble. My mother regularly tells me that black washes her out, yet she wears it. She wears it with a colorful scarf at her throat, with a cheery shade near her face, with bold jewelry to distract.
Black is Budget-Friendly.
You can spot clean it, you can wear it year from year and season to season. You can dress it up and down. You don’t need a closet full of shoes and bags to accessorize properly for each occasion. Black doesn’t show wear as quickly as a color. With black you can have just one suit, one pair of pumps, one dress, one bag. You can truly buy quality instead of quantity.
So what do you do if you absolutely cannot and will not wear black? I recommend gray. Navy is the hardest color on the planet to match, brown can look dated and dumpy if not done correctly, and any other color is too memorable. If you buy gray in a classic menswear-inspired gray fabric, you will get a classic look that will complement pastels, neutrals, and jewel tones. It’s a fabric that will stay en vogue for a considerable amount of time, and you can find at all sorts of price points. However, it won’t be as versatile (can’t wear to a cocktail party, evening wedding, etc.) and may be hard to match later on down the line. But gray is chic, traditional, and classic.
And as with all my posts, these are suggestions, not gospel. I am not expecting all the world to agree with me. I just have learned from many years as a personal shopper, visual merchandiser, and employee in Corporate America that black is a great choice when trying to purchase versatile wardrobe staples.
Now I ask you wise readers, what do you choose if you do not choose black? How do you make it versatile, and where do you find quality wardrobe staples in classic but non-black colors?