In Praise of Wearing Black: An Essay

Style Features

Johnny Cash is the closest thing I have to a spirit animal. I too can describe my closet in four words. (“It’s dark in there.”) See, we’re practically twins. But seriously—what other color are you expected to wear other than black when shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die? A girl’s gotta keep her options open.

Admittedly, my move towards the dark side of the clothes spectrum was initially shame driven. Not being a perfect size two (or four, or six, or… um, never mind), the fashion industry mantra “black is sliming” felt like a personal call to action. Suddenly, I could drape my less than flat stomach in dark fabric and pretend it didn’t exist with the stealth and success rate of an amateur magician.

But a funny thing happened a few years ago when I discovered spin class. (And black yoga pants.) My confidence and leg size ballooned, and suddenly I gained a new appreciation for my body. Heck, after a particularly sweat-drenched workout, I even feel good about my heavily muscled thighs.

Generally, this is the part of the story where we cut to a shopping montage, where—set to a jaunty pop track and aided by her BFFs—the heroine sees the error of her ways and everyone high-fives over her new rainbow-colored wardrobe before collapsing giggling into a pile of shopping bags.

Yeah, not so much.

Even after embracing my athleticism and making peace with my curves, my wardrobe got progressively darker. This time for different reasons. It turns out reclaiming something you once did out of shame is pretty empowering. Who knew?

Never one for fashion as an institution, my monochrome palette allowed me to engage more with cut, fabric and style. Suddenly, I could actually figure out what looked best on me. And yes, there’s still certain illusion qualities to praise. No longer concerned with pretending I don’t have a butt (seriously, what would a human without a butt even look like?). I embrace appearing more polished and put together than I truly am. Pro-tip: If you’re wearing a black skirt and cardigan, no one will notice that you’ve paired them with Converse and a band t-shirt. (A Cure t-shirt, nach.)

I love the fact that black is associated with art, sophistication and deep thinking. Because goodness knows my grasp on witty banter in public situations isn’t conveying any of that. At a party, lit from below by my glowing iPhone as I rapidly refresh Facebook while hoping I look both important and busy, I’m often ignored. Probably because they think I’m a human shadow. Thanks LBD.

You’d think that people wouldn’t notice what doesn’t change, but my friends are more than aware of my wardrobe. To them I am the Woman in Black, or Morrissey Girl. They worry that I’m too hot during the summer, or that potential boyfriends will pass me over. (Unless the guys in my life have been hiding something from me, I’m pretty sure they can see women no matter what they’re wearing. Or not wearing.) I get that they’re worried about me—that they don’t want me to be seen as boring, or depressed, or introverted, or any of the other so-called negative associations wearing black carries with it.

Pals, to address your concerns: I don’t want to go cliché and evoke another famous wearer of black, Mr. Steve Jobs. But, I’m totally willing to let you believe I’m inventing the next iPod if means getting out of another awkward conversation about my shopping habits. It’s not like I haven’t tried, I swear! I own a cherry red rockabilly-style dress and it looks great.. lying on the floor next to my clothes hamper where it’s been for the last three years.

Who knows, maybe fashion will once again go Goth, and my look will be hailed as cutting edge. Or maybe aliens will finally make contact and force us all into silver matching jumpsuits and everyone will have to make peace with the dreaded idea of a uniform. Until then, you’ll have to pry my fashion choices out of my charcoal-colored gloved, dead hands. Cash may have once described wearing black in song as a move meant to represent “the poor and the beaten down.” But I’m not nearly so altruistic. This is just for me.

Laura Studarus is a Los Angeles-based writer with a taste for indie pop, tea and international travel. Follow her on Twitter.

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