We’re heading in to fall and winter, the time when clothing choices often shift toward richer, deeper colors and you start to see a LOT of black. Basic black’s the quintessential neutral that’s sleek, sophisticated and dramatic, sexy and professional by turns. It’s notoriously slimming. Black is one of the most popular colors to wear. It’s the favorite color for investment buys such as a suit, coat or the cocktail dress. That last one is so popular, it’s earned its own nickname: the little black dress or LBD. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, it’s not the most flattering color on everybody and not everyone can wear black as a solid color or near the face.
On this site, I’ve shared how to find your colors. The original Color Me Beautiful system from the ’80s only allowed black to be worn by Winters, leaving the other three seasons out in the cold, so to speak. The good news is the refined and updated system includes black in more of its palettes. If you’re a Deep Cool, Deep Warm, Cool Clear, Clear Cool or Clear Warm, you can wear black with no caveats, like Katy Perry above. Deep Cools look especially fabulous in black. I’m a Deep Cool and I’ve had total strangers compliment me when I wear black. The not-so-good news is if you’re a Light Cool, Light Warm, Warm Clear, Warm Soft, Cool Soft, Soft Cool or Soft Warm, black is not in your palette.
What to do? If you’re determined to wear black, even though it’s not in your palette, there are two approaches. First, you can choose to ignore the color system and do your thing. Nothing wrong with that; I get it. The system will provide you with the most flattering color choices, but sometimes the temptation to ignore it is just too great. I love fluffy, angora sweaters and, to me, they look best in soft, pastel colors. I fell in love with an angora sweater in a muted, dusty rose. Loved it. Knew dusty rose was absolutely wrong for a Deep Cool, but I bought it anyway. I wore it several times before I finally had to admit I looked like death warmed over in it and gave it away. Sometimes we just have to learn things the hard way. The second approach is to figure out how you can wear black and make it work for your coloring, which, of course, is the route I’d suggest. Find your color palette and check out the tips below.
Light Cool and Light Warm
Many people are under the impression that black is a great color for blondes to wear. This is due to the striking contrast between black and blond hair. The secret for Lights is to keep black away from your face by choosing open necklines and wearing one of your palette’s colors near your face (photo right). Softer fabrics like knits, jerseys, tweeds, corduroys and silks will absorb the light and soften the effect of the black. Your little black dress should be strappy or have a plunging neckline. Wear it with a colored necklace or drape a scarf in one of your colors across your shoulders. Don’t overpower your look by wearing a strong lipstick and heavy eye make up unless you’re going to a glamorous event.
Warm Clear and Warm Soft
True black, considered cool color, is not in the Warm Clear or Warm Soft color palettes. For best results, combine black with one of the warm colors from your palette and wear black away from your face. If you wear black on its own, choose a low neckline (photo right), or wear a colored scarf or necklace to help lift the black. Also note that softer or textured black fabrics like Scarlett’s black lace will be more flattering, as this type of material absorbs light, making the black appear softer. Avoid the temptation to team it up with white. As an alternative to black, consider a deep, dark chocolate brown which can be considered a “warm black.”
So, if true black is a cool color, why isn’t it included in the Cool Soft color palette? It’s that Soft secondary characteristic that makes the difference. Whether Soft is your primary or secondary characteristic, your coloring is subtle and muted. On this type of coloring, black tends to look stark. As with the Lights and Warms above, you can always wear black with a low neckline or with scarf or necklace in your palette close to your face. As an alternative to black, consider a gunmetal grey (photo right), which is basically a lighter, softer version of true black.
Soft Cool and Soft Warm
If Soft is your primary characteristic, your coloring is subtle and muted. On this type of coloring, black tends to look stark and should always be worn away from your face. You can soften the effect of black by pairing it with a more muted color from your palette (photo right). Choose fabrics that are textured or soft, so the black is less harsh. Your little black dress needs to be soft and draping, with a low or plunging neckline to which you can add jewellery or a scarf, to distract from the black near your face. A dress that’s low cut, off the shoulder or sleeveless will be a better choice than anything with a high neckline because it puts enough space between your face and the dress.