Reader Jen e-mailed me this request:
I write to you because the dress code at my [beauty] school is all black. I like black but don’t wear it very often because color makes me happier. I would love if you could do a reader request post about a few basic, reasonably priced black items that can be used to comprise a couple of different outfits. School only goes through February so cool weather clothing is ideal. Leggings are not permitted, except under dresses, and neither is denim. If you had some recommendations for a couple of outfits I would be very grateful.
As you can imagine, Jen is trapped in my nightmare. OK, I love black for fall and winter, but all black all the time? Including shoes? And most accessories are gonna get in the way? BLEARGH! Exquisite torture! But exquisite torture that is inflicted upon many restaurant servers, beauty school students, theater techs, and countless other workers and learners. So well worth examining.
I already sent Jen a few suggestions for actual items, so we’ll focus on techniques today. Let’s dig in.
Since jewelry and accessories will just be cumbersome, try for tops, bottoms, and dresses with some built-in flash. My guess is that most dress codes will give you a pass on studs and grommets so long as they aren’t super shiny, and sequins, embroidery, and draping will usually slide by, too. Mixed media garments are great bets, too!
Choose interesting shapes
A black crew neck sweater with black trousers and black flats will look pretty staid. Try for asymmetric hemlines, moto detailing, eye-catching neckline shapes, and fun skirts. Any fun shapes that catch your eye can help spice up all-black outfits.
In my humble opinion, the best way to do all black is to mix textures: If you’re wearing woven black pants, pick a nubby black sweater or embellished tee – something with depth so you don’t look flat all over. If you’re wearing a fuzzy black tunic, opt for leather-look leggings to create contrast. Black patent shoes are a great way to add shine to an all-black mix, as are onyx and jet earrings and jewelry. Three or more textures may work, since you’ll be head-to-toe in a single color.
Avoid complete coverage
When you layer an all black outfit, show little bits of skin. If you do a black blazer, pick a tank or tee with a low neckline and add a necklace. If you’re wearing long pants and a long-sleeved top, consider scrunching your sleeves to show your wrists. When it’s warm out, cuff your black skinnies to show some ankle.
In terms of a shopping list, here’s what I’d seek if I were in Jen’s position:
- Amazing black flats
- Flat black boots
- Black leggings, ideally both matte and shiny versions
- A couple of eye-catching black tunics
- Embellished and/or draped black tops and sweaters
- Moto style jackets in tweed, leather, ponte … anything I can find
- A black jersey dress that looks and feels great
- Black patterned tights
- Several pairs of interesting black earrings
I told Jen to thrift. School isn’t forever for her so spending big on this wardrobe isn’t necessary, and thrift stores are absolutely BURSTING with black. Of course much of the thriftables will be classic and basic, so adding a few fun, arty items from somewhere like ASOS will keep the mix from getting too blah.
So! How many of you are confined to all black for part of your lives? How do you keep your outfits interesting? Other suggestions for Jen?
**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.