Shaking Off the Chains of Black: What is YOUR True Neutral?

  1. Basic Black. Every book, every fashion expert, every wise friend and relative begins every unit of wardrobe advice with it. Theses and treatises, monographs and tomes have been written on the complexities and minutiae of LittleBlackDressology.

    "Even if you're on a budget and can only buy one item a year, every woman's closet should contain a good black whatever" is a mantra whose well-known-ness is rivalled only by "Crest has been shown to be an effective decay-preventive dentifrice.."

    It's a given, a credo, a canonical Article of Faith, a Fashion Absolute.

    Now sit down before you read the next sentence.

    What if, at least for you, it's WRONG?

    The real truth, the non-faith-based fact is, not everybody looks good in black. At least not every day, and not all your life.

    Some reasons you might not look good in black

    You have black hair If its length is anywhere from just above to anywhere below your shoulders, depending on the length and proportions of your neck, black clothing, especially a top or dress, may result in the visual unification of your head and the rest of you, a "too much black" effect. If you are short, this can pull you down, as the eye searches for some demarcation or contrast.

    Your skin tone is not black-friendly This can be a tricky and subtle concept, as skin tones, including those all-important undertones can require a scientist to really explain them, yet the fact that they are a factor is immediately discernible by anybody. So unless we are colorologists, we may not be able to explain why our best friend looks fabulous in apricot and terrible in mint green, especially when her sister, who appears to have identical coloring, looks great in either, but we can SEE when a color, including black, looks good or not so good on somebody.

    Unfortunately, due to having been indoctrinated from birth with all that canonical absolute Basic Black business, we can fail to consider, to SEE, when black does not look so good on US.

    Time has passed As the years go by, our skin produces less melanin. This is true regardless of skin tone or ethnicity. The reduction is not the same, nor does it happen at the same rate for everybody, but it happens, and this means that our skin tone, both winter and summer, will change over time.

    The changes may be subtle, and they are so gradual that they may escape our notice, but the fact is that as you exult over being able to still fit into that timeless, classic and Perfect Little Black Dress you scored at a sample sale twenty years ago, while your body may obligingly slip into the garment without a protest, the color may not zip up over your complexion anymore.

    Black is Not Your Neutral You may look OK in black, but that's just it. You just look OK. For whatever ephemeral and can't put your finger on it reason of tones and undertones, while black doesn't make you look manifestly too yellow, or washed out, neither does it do anything for you. It does not make anything pop. It is simply Not Your Neutral.

    This brings us to the good news. If black is Not Your Neutral, that means that something else is. And your mission, should you decide to accept it, and you really should, is to find out what.

    My Personal Epiphany - Better Late Than Never

    For the past couple of years, there has been a growing brown movement, a trend which caught me a bit by surprise.

    I had essentially ignored brown all my life, partly due to having picked up a notion from somewhere that people with black hair, and especially people with black hair and beige or brown skin, should avoid brown. In addition to that, I just never paid much attention to brown. It was just not on my radar.

    As the Brown trend swelled to tidal wave proportions, rolling over even trend-resistant me, I was surprised to learn that the nearly subconcious Avoid Brown doctrine that had been embedded in my mind all my life was ********.

    I discovered that not only could I wear brown just fine, but some shades of brown actually did wonders for me, turning the dirty mustard sallowness of my winter skin into such a golden glow that years fell away, my eyes looked bigger, even my bone structure sat up on its hind legs and pranced like a circus dog. I popped.

    Nothing like that had ever happened with black.

    Empowered by this epiphany, I began to experiment, and discovered not only that brown was My Neutral, but so were some shades of navy, eggplant, burgundy, and from the foam of that sea rose a most shocking Aphrodite:

    It's a neutral if my complexion says it is The idea that the neutral crown may grace only the heads of black, brown, navy and shades of gray is as wrong as your complexion decrees it to be. YOUR neutral may be smoky blue, or plum, even red.

    Crushing the Yes-But Insurgency Due to the previously mentioned lifelong indoctrination, not only of ourselves as individuals, but of society itself, when the idea of NotBlack is introduced, the instinctive reaction is an immediate chorus of Pavlovian Yes-Buts. Yes, but in my job. Yes, but in my industry, my office, Yes, but some of the events I have to attend, Yes, but in the stratospheric and ultra-sophisticated milieu in which I circulate, Yes, but of course when we move in the world of haute couture, and back again to my office.

    Deconstruct that Yes-But insurgency, and what is it saying? Do we mean that in our office, industry, or milieu, it is obligatory and de rigeur that we deliberately and with conscious intent fail to look our best?

    That moist splat-whoosh you hear is the crushing of the Yes-But insurgency.

    So How Do I Find My Neutral? I found mine by accident, and I waited until I was 53 to do it. You can do better than that. And the way to find your neutral is the same way you find your jeans. Try stuff on.

    Whether you are shopping at Target or Saks, pick up that Perfect Black Dress, the Perfect Black suit. Now pick it up in brown, in taupe, plum, chocolate.

    Try on the black. Strip your brain and your heart of all that lifelong teaching and really look at yourself. What does that black do for your skin? Which of your best features pop?

    Now try on the plum, the taupe, the charcoal, and each time, take the same look. Forget about what color the garment is and just look at YOU. The mirror will do the rest, just as it did with your perfect jeans, just as your heart did with your perfect man.

    Whoomp! There it is!

    Maybe you've already been there and done this. I hope you have, and I hope you will share the story of your journey.

    What is Your Neutral?

    And how did you find it?
  2. I believe my neutral is chocolate brown. Love how the color is so rich and it contrasts nicely with my hair.
  3. I like white allot better then black, suits my skintone more
  4. It seems that here in Denmark, brown is the neutral to blond hair or greyish hair, fair complexion.
    Mine is black. My skin is olive, my hair black. I like colors, bright and pastel but I can't seem to manage to find any interest in the earth tones brown/beige/kaki.
  5. I fit white and black well...but I love black more... and like the whole mod look
  6. Great post Mrs Puff

    I wear Black and White very well. Blue is my neutral. cant remember how I discovered it though. :s
  7. Great read, Shimma. My neutral is light to medium blue. It is strange, but my skin tone and eyes do pop when I wear it.
  8. Ooh, good post! My neutral is definitely brown, I go for a lot of chocolate browns. My skin is way too pale for black all of the time, I look like a ghost in black. I have one black blazer that I wear occasionally, but I try to buy most of my other basics in a softer color. Olive green is great too. I can't pull off white well either, I need something warmer like a khaki or cream.
  9. Mine is black. I love black clothing, shoes, bags. I have to make myself try not to buy black and then I'll still end up usually buying more black. I've always loved black.
  10. for clothing, mine is shades of grey and camel brown.
  11. My neutral is grey
  12. If I'm using black next to my face I always have to put on a shade of darker foundation. My neutral would be something off white or brown.
  13. A rich chocolate brown...
  14. What a great post,Shimma.
    I have lots of black. By default, I think.
    I have red hair (not natural), fair skin and light eyes. My perfect neutral would be midnight blue ( INK?), but there is not enough of it out there.
    I have also been working with grey and dark burgundy (plum?).
  15. I really feel my neutral is red ... but I wear black pretty well.... Gem tones work great for me too....