Tuesday, April 8, 2014

High / Low: Black Clothing

Tabatha Coffey graciously posing with me
at the GLAAD Amplifier Awards.
Go high end.

If someone were to draw a caricature of the classic New Yorker, it would probably be a woman in head to toe black clothing. While this may not actually be the way most women dress here, it certainly is easy to spot someone sporting the look in nearly any crowd.

But being a fashionable city, usually head to toe black is done with very interesting textures piled on top of one another, or architectural cuts of clothing that result in eye-catching silhouettes. When head to toe black ensembles work well, they are anything but boring. Each piece has something interesting going on, and keeping each item interesting is what makes a head to toe black outfit work well.

When I think of someone who does full black extremely well, the first person who comes to mind is Tabatha Coffeywho is known for her tough business personality as much as she is known for her signature black ensembles. She may only wear black, but each piece she wears is incredible, and its beauty is all the more noticeable because she wears so much black, and she lets the details of each piece shine. She often wears items with eye-catching details, such as sheer fabric, great necklines (scroll down), piles of ruffles, or sequins and feathers. She uses outfits to create interesting silhouettes like high necklines balancing fuller skirtscapes, and a whittled waist. Seeing her style makes it obvious that black clothing looks so much better when it's high end fashion.

As Tabatha makes clear, in order to create a great head to toe black outfit, one of three things must be the case for each piece worn: It must have an interesting shape, an interesting texture, or details that catch the eye. In addition, all the blacks must be shades that work together -- either undertones of blue, or undertones of brown, but all the same.

In order to find interesting shapes, one nearly always must go high end. Inexpensive stores tend to stock the things that will sell in large quantities, so basic cuts are plentiful while more fashionable cuts are reserved for the few trendy styles that have proven to be popular. These trendy cuts are watered down versions of the artistic swoops and wraps of high end fashion. One may find a great cut here and there, but they tend to be rare at low end stores. Something else to consider is the difference between an artistic or architectural cut and a trendy cut. While the trendy cut will go out of fashion, the artistic cut was never really in fashion, and therefore does not go out of fashion.

Unusual textures have the same fate as interesting silhouettes. A chunky knit may be found at a low end store, but pleather is as interesting as other textures get.

Most importantly, with cheap clothing black dyes fade more quickly than with expensive clothing, making it difficult to match the shades of black well. They may look great right out of the store, but after just a couple washings, they stop looking nice. It's worth the extra cost to invest in great fabrics and cuts when it comes to black clothes -- especially if black is a favorite color to wear.


"There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- God damn it, you've got to be kind."
-Kurt Vonnegut