do you feel fancy or frumpy when you're dressed in all black?
how it started: wearing all black
Thanks to Coco Chanel, wearing all black is supposed to be the epitome of chic, elegance, class, and fashion. She iconized the Little Black Dress (though I don’t agree it has to be little. Or black. Love you, Coco), and took all black outfits for women from funeral-wear, ala Queen Victoria’s years of mourning, to the red carpet.
I very clearly remember my first all black outfit. I was in high school, and I saw it in The Ladies Home Journal Magazine my mom received. I loved it immediately, and when I realized I had all the pieces, I wore it to school the very next day. It is the first time in my life I felt 100% content in an outfit. It was a black, fitted turtleneck (from my mom’s closet), an ankle length straight skirt with a slit in the front, black tights, black slides, and a silver necklace (that I permanently borrowed from my mom).
Sometimes I wore it with a black baseball cap. Sometimes I wore a silver belt. In college I bought a pair of black wide-leg trousers and wore that instead of the skirt sometimes. In later years I wore black jeans and a black pencil skirt. I wore that outfit over and over and over for years. I wore it last week. It was so me. It still is. And honestly, I look great in blue, but I absolutely glow in black. I look ethereal. It’s my best color. And it’s my favorite thing to wear when I’m stressed, tired, overwhelmed, sick, or need soothing in any way. The trouble with being dressed in all black is it can be drab, unimaginative, and boring, especially if you tend to wear it on repeat like I do. I have 8 tips to help you put together the perfect all black outfit and be the chic, elegant version Coco intended us to be.
wear a variety of textures
There are so many options. Velvet, corduroy, destroyed jeans, leather, suede, smooth, shiny, cable knit, cashmere, silk, sheer, ribbing (which is like stripes in my book), nubby, linen, appliques, moto detailing, foil (metallic), sequins, and more. You can also wear a black on black pattern like snake skin (my favorite), polka dots, stripes, or anything else you find. A textured pair of tights is another great option.
Choose a few textures to add contrast and break up the outfit visually. When I wear black pants with no sheen, like jeans, I prefer a shinier black leather bootie to a suede bootie because the suede is too similar to the jeans, and I feel like I’m wearing footie pajamas. If I wear leather pants, I like the suede bootie for the same reason.
choose an item with a high sheen
Along the lines of the texture component, 1 high sheen item really adds contrast, elegance or edginess, and luxe to the outfit. That could be a leather jacket or boots, a silk blouse, patent flats or a shiny black bag. You don’t have to limit it to one. I often wear a leather jacket, leather boots and leather bag together.
In picture 1 the faux leather mixed with the matte knit adds interest to an otherwise simple black top. In picture 2 there is the high sheen of the leather jacket, the boots and the bag, the ribbed texture of the sweater and the smooth, matte finish of the jeans. Picture 3 has the matte knit skirt, textured patterned tights and high sheen of the shoes. Picture 4 has the corduroy pants, and either the woven texture of the one boot or the smooth sheen of the second boot (I was out shopping and trying on the first boot).
choose items with special details
I have a black sweater with buttons on the shoulders, one with v-shaped notches on the sleeves and hem, one with ribbing, one with buttons on the sleeves. Those special details make the sweaters special instead of plain. Other special details I love are zippers, leather trim, and the black on black patterns I mentioned above. You may love jewel details, ruffles, peplum, bell sleeves, ties, v-neck, asymmetrical hem, etc.
There are those fortunate women who can wear no makeup and look amazing. I’m not one of them. If you’re dressed in all black it can be even more important to have some color on your face. At a bare minimum, eyebrows and red lips are the French standard. They bookend and frame your face, and you won’t be washed out.
add variety to your silhouettes
If I’m wearing something looser on top, then I need something very tailored on bottom, and vice versa. Of course a head to toe tailored silhouette can be very chic, but mixing it up is a way to make the outfit more interesting. Some examples would be a peplum top and skinny jeans, an A-line skirt and a tailored top, a tunic and leggings, wide-leg trousers and a tailored top. Here I’m wearing a tunic and destroyed skinny jeans, snake skin sneakers, and layered with a shinier black jacket with shiny silver hardware.
Accessorize: Choose a statement piece
A high shine accessory or 2 will do wonders for your all black outfit, and make it look intentional instead of unimaginative. I personally prefer silver. You could choose anything, earrings, a necklace, a brooch, or a bracelet. With black as the backdrop and the high shine of the piece, it doesn’t need to be large to make an impact. A small pendant, huggie hoops or shiny studs will show up beautifully against black. Of course you can also go for a statement necklace, a large shiny cuff, or some chandelier earrings, whatever you prefer. I love my black bag that is both shiny and has large silver studs on it. I have some jackets with high shine silver hardware, and I consider those to be accessories. If you go big, stick with one statement piece and allow it to be the focal point of the outfit. When it’s cold, a scarf is another great statement.
Yes I know outfit #1 is all navy, but it shows the monochromatic, added texture with the ribbed sweater and the destroyed jeans, and accessorizing with a scarf. Pretend it’s black. The other 3 outfits show the impact of a simple statement necklace with an all black outfit, and pictures 2 and 4 show the silver shoes. In the last 3 pictures, I’m wearing the same black shirt dress 3 ways. Picture one with some patent sandals that have interesting lines and a bold colored necklace. In picture 2 I’m layered with boots and a denim jacket (my whisper of color), and a high shine collar necklace and statement earrings. Picture 3 is the same outfit without the jacket.
Layering adds interest to any outfit, and it can be an especially easy way to make an all black outfit interesting. Layer on top with cardigans, jackets, scarves, coats, tights, and boots (on top of pants, tights, with skirts and dresses). To layer underneath choose tees, camis, button up shirts, turtlenecks or anything peek-a-boo.
Add a punch of color
For those times when dressing in all black isn’t quite right for the occasion or your mood, one punch of color is the perfect way to add a bold statement to your outfit. Red is always a popular choice, but your favorite color is always the right choice. I do this often, and it really tricks the eye into thinking you are not wearing so much black. Some of my favorite options to bring in color are shoes, accessories like a necklace or scarf, and outerwear. I went to my doctor every 3 weeks one winter when the nurse commented, “I love how colorfully you always dress.” I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. I was wearing all black, and had been for a few months because it was winter, I had been constantly sick, and I was really stressed. I had on a black tunic, black leggings, black boots…and a purple coat. The previous visit I had worn all black and red flats with a red purse. Boom. I was so colorful. A little color can go a long way.
I combined these two categories. In each of these photos I’ve added at least one layer, and a punch of color. You can also see a mix of sheen, textures, lengths and silhouettes, as well as accessories.
What are your favorite ways to make an all black outfit interesting?
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