A few weeks back, I got this inquiry from lovely reader msmeta:
My question is about livening up a basic black wardrobe. I have a lot of really nice, classic pieces — sweaters, pants, jackets, leather and even a couple of dresses — that I enjoy wearing and that make me feel comfortable and even chic. But I know I’m playing it much too safe with accessories: basic silver or gold hoop earrings and necklaces, and some fairly conservative scarves. How can I get out of my rut without calling too much attention to my middle-aged self?
I, too, dig the monochrome look and wear loads of black, so this is a question that hits me right where I live! Here are some ideas for enlivening all-black or black-heavy outfits:
Add a black-and-white print
This is a great middle ground for someone who wants to add spice to black outfits, but isn’t quite ready to bring bold colors into the mix. Black-and-white prints can be bold or subdued, classic or trendy, and always look fabulous on a solid black background. Adding a scarf will give you a quick fix, but a printed jacket or cardigan will work, too. Regular geometrics like stripes or houndstooth will give a more conservative impression, while irregular organics like florals and watercolors will add movement and interest.
Necklace layering can mean artfully arranging three tiny pendants or it can mean piling chains on top of bibs. Either will work, but I’m in favor of the latter for black ensembles because a blank black palette is the perfect foundation for a bold jewelry look. If piling five heavy chains over your black tee and jeans feels too flashy, add a black blazer – it’ll subdue the look a bit, but allow the layered necklaces to peek out and add sass.
If you’re going to dress in black from top to toe, a splash of color in the ankle region adds interest and cheek. Red patent, purple suede, teal leather, yellow PVC … how fun to pair any of those options with a black boat neck and cigarette pants? If a single pop of color at your feet feels imbalanced, add another with earrings, necklace, or brooch in your top half. (As always, black looks best with strong, cool, bright colors like red, turquoise, and hot pink.)
Belts can be hard to master – but posts like this and this can help! And we’ve got more belt options than ever these days, which means that more body types can explore this accessory successfully. With black, a brightly colored belt adds an attention-getting but tasteful accent. Carefully done, a chain belt can be sleek and mod. Even black patent on black cloth can look polished. Belts are a great way to draw attention to your curves, and they give you a chance to break up the black a little.
Animal print accents
Not everyone wants to play bombshell and wear a leopard print sweater. But animal prints and black are a classic combo for a reason: They work together. Snakeskin shoes, a leopard print scarf, or a zebra pattern belt will make you look sassy but classy.
Obviously, not a suggestion for those blessed with 20/20 vision. But for those who don specs, what better place to express a penchant for creative accents than right there on your gorgeous face? Pick something architectural, with a hit of color, an interesting texture, and lots of personality.
In terms of guidelines for getting dressed – especially if, like msmeta, you want to be stylish but not spotlight-grabbing – you should chose a single bold accessory to break up the blackness. Don’t do a houndstooth scarf AND a red obi belt. Don’t do a stack of bangles AND a chunky silver necklace. Just one glam accessory at a time will keep you looking classy and modern, and prevent you from crossing the line into brash and brassy.
Finally, if chic-monochrome is likely to be your look for life, I hope you’ve got some white, gray, and brown in rotation, too. You can maintain that arty, slightly Parisian, übercool look with a couple more neutral shades thrown in.