You know how people have stupid pet peeves? Pet peeves in general are pretty dumb, but some are ridiculous. A pet peeve of mine, that is pretty ridiculous, is when a woman who looks horrible in black and white wears it. It’s just so loud and jarring, not to mention unflattering. I just want to walk up to them and tell them how much better they would look if they abandoned this color combination. I can’t blame women for embracing black and white, it’s everywhere. No to mention there is a saying, “black and white it always right.” No, it’s not. NO, IT’S NOT!!!! See, I told you it was a pet peeve.
I won’t get into all the details about why black and white doesn’t work on everyone because I have deeply covered it already. If you haven’t seen the post, read it first and then come back to this one.
So, now that you know why black and white works on a small percent of the population because of contrast level, it’s time to talk about what to do if you say, “screw the rules. I like black and white and will wear it with reckless abandon.” If this is you, go for it. No, really. This is not about putting restrictions on you as much as it is about making informed choices. However, if you want to wear this bold combination and flatter your personal coloring at the same time, here are tips on how to wear black and white when black and white isn’t flattering.
Tip #1- Try a more flattering color with white
If you like the clean, sharpness that is created when color is paired with white, think beyond pairing white with black. This combination is the ultimate of high contrast and, as has already been well established, doesn’t work for everyone. The goal here would be to define your own level of contrast and then pair white with a shade that creates the same contrast level in your clothing. For example, if you have medium contrast, navy and white would be more suitable. If you have really low contrast, a softer color, like grey and white would be better.
In the dress above, I am giving you an example of this. The printed dress from Reiss is white paired with shades of grey, which is much softer and more suitable for someone whose personal contrast level would be drowned out with the bolder contrast of black and white. I finished the look with strappy pumps from Sam Edelman, a silver necklace from David Yurman and circle clutch from Phillip Lim.
Tip #2- Wear bolder makeup
If you are intent on wearing black and white despite it not being the best color combination for you to wear, be sure to amp up your makeup to create stronger facial features. Try a darker lip shade, deeper eye makeup, make sure your brows are more defined or that you are wearing enough blush. The will help minimize how strongly black and white can drown you out.
Alternatively, if you color your hair a dark shade, you can also be mindful of where you are in the color cycle. Your fresh color might help create more contrast versus when you are near the end and your hair isn’t as vibrant.
Tip #3- Wear black and white away from the face
When I talk about black and white being flattering, I’m specifically speaking to it when it is worn near the face. If you love this combination, but know it doesn’t love you back, try moving it away from the face and wearing it on the bottom so you don’t need to compete with it so strongly. Also avoid scarves in strong black and white contrast prints if your coloring can’t stand up to it.
In the outfit above, I styled this bold black and white skirt from BOSS Hugo Boss to give you an example. With the skirt, I added what would be a more flattering face color with this top in coral. Note, however, the color you pair with the black and white doesn’t matter as long as it flatters you. Over the top, I added this black blazer from Banana Republic. By pairing the coral top with the black blazer in lieu of a white top, less contrast is created between the jacket and top. Contrast isn’t only created with prints, it can be created with the shades in the pieces you pair together. I finished this look with a pair of blush pumps from MICHAEL Michael Kors, a gold and black necklace from Gorjana and black tote from Madewell.
Tip #4- Throw on a more flattering accessory or topper
piece near the face
The next tip is to break up the black and white when it is near the face. By doing this, you can cut through the optic contrast that drowns you out with a color that allow you to shine, instead of what you are wearing. You can do this with a scarf, a statement piece of jewelry or a topper piece over a top or dress that is more flattering for your coloring.
In the outfit above, I styled this soft pink and white scarf from Nordstrom over a bold striped top from Boden. The soft pink colors tone down the high contrast of the top and creates a generally softer look. I created the whole outfit using these wide leg cropped denim jeans from Madewell, pink slip on sneakers from Steve Madden, grey tote from Botkier and grey drop earrings from Kendra Scott.
Tip #5- Wear black and white when it doesn’t matter
Clients don’t always follow my advice 100%. Some will push back, and that’s okay. As I said earlier, it’s not about restrictions as much as it is about being able to make informed choices. There are times when following style advice it more important than others. When a client tells me they like the way black and white looks when it is paired, I usually suggest they wear it when it doesn’t matter, like when they aren’t trying to make an impression, aren’t speaking to groups of people, aren’t interviewing or any other times where the focus on them isn’t important. If they are spending time with friends, running errands, hanging out, etc. they can wear it all they want. Of course, it is still up to the client if they will listen to me.
When it comes to style, you never have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. However, I will tell you, restrictions can often be liberating. By pairing down what you will and won’t consider buying at the store it can also help you edit down your selections and make shopping quicker. However, if you are someone who likes to wear black and white, despite it not being your best color combination, I hope these alternatives on how to wear it helps.
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Thank you Bridgette for this post as it clarifies the contrast issue for me -I have recently removed (and donated) a black and cream blouse from my closet that just never felt right when I wore it. I think I could see the problem but you really helped me to define it. You also reminded me that what works well on others may not work for me and that’s a reminder I need regularly. Julie in Arizona-we chatted a while back and I am still following your blog and your sound advice-thanks again!
Thank you for this blog., I wondered why my black and white dress seemed to look better on me right after I darkened my gray roots than when it was time for color…I appreciate all the advice you give so freely to us, your loyal readers!