I read an article about a woman who gave up wearing black for six months. “Pshaw,” I thought, “six months is nothing. Try giving it up for fifteen years.” That’s right. With the exception of leggings, workout clothes, and underwear, I have not purchased any black clothes for more than a decade, and I am a New Yorker (so much for that stereotype.) The last pair of pair leggings I bought was probably five years ago.
If you want to eliminate black from your wardrobe, or at least whittle it down so your closet doesn’t look like a black hole, I am the person to speak to.
Why I gave up black
You might be wondering why I gave up black in my wardrobe in the first place. There are several reasons, but the first big one was that it was never a color that looked good on me. Black didn’t enhance my coloring, it made me look ashen, invisible and sort of drowned out. Despite how easy black can be to wear, why would I choose a color that did nothing for me?
I made the decision that black would no longer be a color I would buy. As impossible as it seemed, honestly, it has never really been a big deal, not has it been difficult to eliminate black. I haven’t felt like I have missed out on anything not wearing it. I have also found that eliminating a very popular color from my wardrobe has made shopping easier, not harder. With stores so overstuffed with merchandise, I can breeze through the racks quite quickly. If a style only comes in black I just move on. You would be amazed by what you can find in the stores when you don’t have the safety net of black sitting there waiting to be picked. It’s not unlike being a vegetarian, which I was for several years. While some might find it limiting, I used to find ordering in restaurants much easier because I could make my selection from less options. I didn’t hem and haw over too many choices.
I also felt better not wearing black. It wasn’t for some psychological color reason either. Well, maybe it was that too, but when I think back to when I wore black I felt like I wasn’t even thinking about my clothes or my outfits, I just wore black. To me, wearing black felt uninspired, boring and a bit sad, like my clothing was chosen for me, like I was asleep at the wheel, just choosing black because it was there.
Now let me be clear because there are a lot of people who know that I don’t wear black who assume I don’t like black on anyone. They contact me like black clothing apologists thinking I will scold them for wearing it. This is not the case. I style clients in black all the time, I love it on some people and if you feel great in black, please, wear it. This was my experience with black and certainly not what I think of the color in general.
How to Eliminate Black From Your Wardrobe
If you are looking to eliminate black from your wardrobe or to stop wearing black as the knee-jerk fail-safe choice and to, instead, thoughtfully include it, here is how I did and you can to. As you will find, you can’t eliminate black from your closet overnight.
Stop buying black
Um, thanks, Captain Obvious. Seriously, let’s see if you can even make it this far. Just stop buying it. Chances are you already have enough of it in your closet. But, really, just go to a store with the challenge of not being able to buy black and see what opens up to you as a result of having to look to other colors. When I decided to eliminate black from my wardrobe, the first thing I had to do was to stop buying it.
Start with accessories
Next, I moved on to my accessories. It was going to take time to replace all the black I already owned. I couldn’t torch it and start over. I was not made of money (and I’m still not, unfortunately.) One thing I vividly remember doing was buying a cognac colored leather necklace on the street of NYC that I purchased and wore with a black shirtdress I owned. I don’t know why this particular purchase stands out in my mind so clearly, but I remember realizing that there were neutral shades out there that still worked with black but worked much better with my skin tone. This also began my longstanding love affair with cognac.
The next thing I recall is a bright green scarf I used to throw on with my black clothes to give the stark heaviness of black a boost. It was amazing the difference these colors made. As I added more of these colorful accessories that flattered my skin tone, the more my black clothing just became like background pieces that didn’t get noticed any longer. People actually started to notice me, compliment the colors I was wearing and acknowledged my outfits despite the fact that the only things that changed were my accessories. As I weeded out the black, the accessories stayed and I used them with the new clothing colors I added to my closet.
Find new neutrals
The next, and probably most important, thing I did was I found the neutrals that I would wear in place of black. Over the years these neutrals have varied based on trends and preference and have included shades like olive, brown, camel, grey and navy. Right now I have a lot of navy in my wardrobe but there was a time where brown and camel dominated. Whatever color you choose, it’s important to select at least one that will be your go-to neutral, and, like me, this shade may change over time. You need some alternative neutrals that will play the role that black once did.
Understand that any color you can wear with black you can wear with any other neutral shade
The most enlightening things I learned from giving up black was that black isn’t the only color that can work with accent shades. Whatever accent and pop colors you have in your closet, the base shade won’t matter. I wear navy like you wear black. I wear it with every color under the sun and it looks equally good. Instead of a little black dress, I have had a little brown dress, a little navy dress, and so on. In fact, what I also learned from giving up black is that, often, these shades look a lot better and less stark with neutral alternatives. Stop saying that you wear black because it goes with everything. This is the case with every other neutral shade out there.
I did a post on how a LBD shouldn’t stand for little black dress but little basic dress instead. You can read it here for more insight on the topic.
Ditch the black shoes
It is usually with no prodding from me that clients stop buying black shoes. When they start seeing how much more stylish and lively their outfits look with interesting shoe colors they never look back. While I don’t own any black shoes, I don’t believe in ditching black shoes completely. Many of my clients do keep one pair of black basic pumps or a basic pair of boots. Beyond that, however, they don’t have much of a use for black footwear.
If you just buy black shoes because that’s what you have always done and now your shoe collection just looks like a pile of old tires, I really encourage you to step out a bit. It’s a little harder to do it in the winter, but spring and summer is the perfect time to experiment. Try a pair of cognac boots or booties this season and notice how absolutely gorgeous your black clothing will look with it.
Also consider shoe colors like tan, beige, burgundy and grey as possible shoe color alternatives that will give you the same versatility as black but with a lot more style. This is how I was introduced to nude shoes when I gave up black. I bought these kitten heel mules (this is how long ago it was) to go with this outfit I bought and then wound up wearing them with everything including all the black clothes I was in the process of cycling out.
Try softening the starkness of black. Often, this is all you need to do to start feeling like you have clothing exclusively for a funeral. I mentioned the nude or tan shoes, but you can look beyond this and consider other leathergoods, like your handbags and and try paring black with softer neutrals like camel, taupe and soft grey. These quieter neutrals add a subtle and soft sophistication to the heavy crispness of black.
Know that black isn’t the only slimming color
Black is slimming, we get it. While it is slimming it’s not the only slimming color that exists. Any dark color is more slimming than a lighter one. And it’s not just the darkness of black that slims, it’s the placement of it. If you pair black (or any dark neutral) next to a lighter color, the darker area is going to look slimmer. If your excuse for wearing black has to do with its slimming properties, the jig is up, my friend, any dark shade will do the same thing.
The thing I often wonder is if my life was different would I buckle and start wearing black. I have wondered if I went back to a 9-5 job, back to being a fashion designer, had some super corporate job or couldn’t keep such a small wardrobe if not wearing black would be as easy as it has been. I guess never will know for sure, however, one thing is certain, I don’t miss not wearing it.
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Black is one of my neutrals BUT it is a nice idea to step out of it sometimes. My 2nd fave is charcoal. An excellent alternative I think! I avoided navy for a long time. Navy skirts, dress or slacks automatically said ‘flight attendant’. I got over it and now I like navy a lot more, especially when paired with brights (coral, orange, etc). Even though navy isn’t technically a neutral.
You’re right! Navy isn’t technically a neutral but it definitely acts like one. Navy can look flight attendant if styled that way. Glad to hear you are giving it a try. Personally, I love navy.
I used to be anti-navy too. It says “school uniform” to me, but I’m coming around. I also love charcoal. If more things came I it I would never consider black again. Black is too stark for me.
I have very little black in my wardrobe aside from one dress for funerals… the white cat and white dog have seen to THAT for the past 12 years! I could give up black or I could give up lint rollers… so I gave up lint rollers! Haha!
But I also have very light coloring and get lost in black, so it was nothing but a plus for me!
I love that! Gave up lint rollers. So funny!!
I enjoyed reading the steps you took to eliminate black and will use your tips as my wardrobe is once again evolving (I’m 57). I’m starting to feel like overly-saturated colors are “too much” for me anymore. I don’t care to look at them on my body as they seem to grab the attention away from me and they look less sophisticated IMO (I realize this is personal, as others definitely look fabulous in them!). I guess an honest assessment might be I’m also more comfortable with the attention on me vs. a fab outfit… Thanks, Bridgette!
It’s great that you could glean so much insight from this. As a very wise client said to me once, “There is a big difference between getting the compliment ‘that’s a nice skirt’ and ‘you look great!'” People forget that clothing is about you shining, not the clothes. Not that a stunning pair of shoes is necessarily a bad thing, of course.
I’ve been reading your blogs for years and not wearing black was a life saver for me. I a pair of black pants and a black skirt, but hardly wear them. I actually thought I needed to have black in my wardrobe since my mama owned ALOT of black pants. I never felt good in black. My main neutral is navy which I feel better in..Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
That’s great, Stacie! Black is just a knee-jerk reaction for many. And it’s not bad to wear black and if someone feels as good in black as I do in other colors then I whole heartedly support them wearing it. Too many women miss my point about letting go of so much black. I don’t think it is bad or wrong, I just think there are plenty of other shades out there that can be just as versatile.
I am wearing my one pair of black pants today, but I also currently own navy and grey and a pair of brown. This is progress for me as I too always thought black was the way to go, and as it often seems it is the only thing for sale in so many stores. I used to have 4-5 pairs of black pants and I’m down to one…
I also used to own only black shoes, but I now have only one pair that doesn’t get worn that often as I now favour a taupe/nude pair of pointy-toe heels, and a tan pair of booties.
I like the idea that not buying black simplifies shopping and I can certainly see how it does since SO MUCH BLACK is being sold in stores! Not buying it definitely narrows down your choices, and that is not necessarily a bad thing!
HI Alicen! Exactly! The limitation is often seen as a bad thing but time and time again it has been proven that too many choices can cause decision fatigue and paralysis. One of the reasons why I think many women favor black over other colors is because they don’t know what to do otherwise. At least they know black will work. It surprises my clients constantly when they realize how chic other colors can look. I never actively try to diminish black from a client’s wardrobe, but once they learn how to use other colors they no longer feel as hung up on black.