Today’s post gives me the opportunity, yet again, to clarify where I stand on wearing black. I don’t dislike black, period. I know there is confusion over this fact because so often a client or reader will tell me they bought or wore something in black and seem to feel sheepish about it when they tell me. To be clear, I put clients in black all the time and I love the color on the right people. I just don’t choose to wear it, and that’s a personal choice because I don’t like the color worn against my skin. I can still be objective about the color despite my feelings.
My issue with black is that it’s a gateway color. There are plenty of beautifully inspired looks using black but, let’s get honest, few outfits built around black usually are. And that’s what I mean about black being a gateway shade. It’s a slippery slope, like if you’re watching what you eat and start nibbling on snacks that seem like innocuous non-diet busters. Those little nibbles become full-blown snacks and before you know it, you’re ordering the extra cheese sauce on your fettucini alfredo. You buy a pair of black pants, another pair, another of black shoes, that black top, another black dress and before you know it, you have a sea of black hanging there. It’s just way too easy to default to black over and over again unless you develop some restraint.
And it’s not necessarily always about restraint, it’s about opening your mind and stopping yourself when your brain goes on autopilot. It’s the knee-jerk reaction most women have about black when they go shopping. When they need a new pair of boots, of course, they are going to be black. A new coat? Black. Workhorse dress? Black. Handbag? Black. Good pumps? Black. It’s like the brain doesn’t even consider something else because women have been conditioned to believe that versatility equals black. I was in a shoe store once and watched a woman try on piles and piles of black shoes. Talk about needing restraint. I wanted to walk up to her and tell her that there was a whole world of shoes she could consider that would probably round out her wardrobe much more effectively.
All that said, I’m still not against any woman owning black pants, even several pairs. What I am against is how lazy women get about wearing them. They create these choppy, ill-conceived, tops with black pants looks that appear flat, uninspired, rushed, and generic. It’s how I conceived of my term an Acceptably Dressed Nobody to describe these looks because you can basically pop the head off one person and put someone else’s head on the outfit. There is no personality.
This is what makes black, particularly black pants, like a gateway drug, because despite how boring these outfits are, they are easy. Sure, you may not be scoring any style points, but you are out the door neat, acceptable, and fine-looking. You’re fine, which is so meh.
BLACK PANTS REWORK: HOW TO REIGNITE YOUR EXCITEMENT OF BLACK PANTS
So I’m not asking you to say goodbye to your black pants, not even if black isn’t your best color because the beauty of pants is that the color is nowhere near your face. What I am asking you to consider is to take those black pants and style them in a way that reignites your excitement in them. You will never do this if you wear your umpteenth outfit consisting of a pair of black pants, some generic nobody top, a pair of black boots or shoes and that’s it. You’ll be fine, but bored as heck and you’ll look boring. I have put together some tips and outfits to rework your black pants using this pair from J.Crew. At the end of the post, I have included some more black pants from some of my favorite brands.
I’m not asking you to spend extra time primping to make your black pants look exciting. It’s not necessarily about adding more than it is about swapping out. If you take an outfit like the one above and strip away the coat, handbag, and gloves, all things you wouldn’t wear all day, it’s simply a novelty turtleneck sweater from Banana Republic and the J.Crew black pants. The key difference is the shoes, which are a cognac pair from J. Crew. If the shoes feel too dainty, dressy, or uncomfortable, they could easily be swapped out for a comfortable pair of cognac boots. The cognac adds some warmth, dimension, and something a little unexpected. Anyone could do this. To finish the outfit, I added this coat from Harris Wharf London, cognac driving gloves, a teal bag from Brahmin, and wire drop earrings.
Think about when you wear makeup. You don’t put on your foundation or base layer and walk out the door. Foundation flattens the face and removes color so you probably add a little blush, maybe some bronzer or contour, maybe you darken your brows, concealer, add some mascara, put a little shadow over your lids, or add some gloss or lipstick. Whatever you do, my point is, for most women, wearing black pants outfits is the equivalent of putting your foundation on and leaving the house. It’s one layer and perfectly acceptable but hardly finished. In the coming weeks, I am going to dig a bit deeper into the concept of building a look but to touch on it lightly, a good outfit is a finished outfit and, again, this does not mean layers and layers of pieces. Just like a swipe of blush and a little mascara can be effective, so can some subtle touches that finish your black pants outfits.
In the look above, I could have stopped with the black pants from J.Crew, the grey short sleeve sweater from Theory, and grey boots from Aquatalia. It would be fine, flat and a shoulder-shrugging, “eh.” It’s the layers that get added that take that base that peppers in the personality. I added the tweed blazer, also from J.Crew for a pop and further finished the look with a novelty grey stone necklace, a burgundy Dagne Dover tote, a grey metallic belt from Rebecca Minkoff, and a large cashmere travel wrap from Eileen Fisher. The outfit harmonizes and is still understated but has a lot more interest and personality.
Another tip is to stop making your black pants such foreground players. Black pants play excellent foundational roles for other pieces to shine. You want them to be a part of the ensemble, you don’t want the outfit to be about the pants unless the pants have some sort of identifiable novelty you want to display. Let your black pants be the workhorses they were designed to be.
In the look above, the black pants play a supporting and grounding role in this look where I styled the J.Crew black pants with a white slim elbow-length t-shirt from M.M. Lafleur over a boiled wool duster vest from Eileen Fisher. I finished the look sharply with a pair of cognac booties from Vince Camuto, a chunky layered necklace from ALLSAINTS, and a black bag from Marc Jacobs.
In this look, the J.Crew black pants take more of a starring role but the outfit is still built in a comprehensive way. Without the coat and bag, the outfit is a stark black and ivory look using this ivory sculpted merino top from The Fold, a black knotted necklace, and python flats. To finish the outfit, in lieu of yet another black coat, I added this burgundy style from Nordstrom Signature and a black and white bag from Ted Baker that comprehensively finishes the outfit.
In this last look, the black pants from J.Crew get pushed so far in the back from the other wonderful things they just get forgotten about. Everything else is much more dynamic that the pants become an afterthought. I styled them with a layered cardigan from Brochu Walker, a deep rose wool-cashmere coat from Theory, a pair of burgundy loafers from AGL, a heather scarf from Rebecca Minkoff, taupe leather gloves from The North Face, a handbag from Thacker, and an Ettika layered necklace.
Shop for Black Pants
If you have found yourself bored with your black pants, consider that your pants may not be the problem as much as how you have been styling them. It could also be that it’s time to broaden your horizons with some new colors, or you just need to shop for some better fitting styles. If this is the case, shop for the styles below with which clients have been successful.