July 26, 2021
Dark Neutral - Fashion's love affair with black clothing and why it isn’t for everyone

As a designer who has been involved in making clothes for so many different people, why doesn’t the idea that ‘black works for everyone’, always ring true?

Dark Neutral - Fashion's love affair with black clothing and why it isn’t for everyone

All the while I have been involved in the fashion world, more decades than I ever imagined possible, black clothing has figured strongly, prolifically, upfront and with style and pizzazz. It has attitude, it is a fantastic foil for jewellery, it has authority and strength and is just plain stylish. We all need a dark neutral in our wardrobes and black has historically been, and still is in many respects, the primary destination.

So let’s do a little exploration of some of the reasons why I think that black has featured for so long, and heavily weighted, in our shops and on the fashion pages, how to start thinking slightly differently about whether one should think of alternatives for the dark neutral needs in our wardrobes and how to start transforming this essential base and bring in other dark neutrals shades.

To begin, three things spring immediately to mind when I think about black clothing in the fashion world. First is Coco Chanel, second is colour overload and third is manufacturing ease.

For many, Chanel stands as one of the iconic fashion figures and those photographs of her in her black outfits, strings of pearls and white collars are so chic and timeless. The little black dress was her invention and we are encouraged to have one. Her ways have oozed themselves into the fashion psyche and her legacy lives on. This is not a negative criticism at all because I love what she has left us, but I wonder if it has skewed our relationship to black clothing?

It’s fashionable to wear black, isn’t it? It’s a ‘no fail’ colour, isn’t it? So many in the industry wear it and it fills our shops. When one works in the fashion industry one of the side effects can be ‘colour overload’. What do I mean by that? I think that when working in an industry that has changing colours as a constant feature, having a home base of black seems like a firm foundation from which to work. Black provides a clear baseline when there is an ever changing colour palette for the seasons and collections. Not only is it difficult and costly to keep up with wearing the latest colours (let alone the fact that you are constantly working a season ahead) but one gets a little ‘colour blind’ and as time has gone on it has become a ‘uniform’ and a fashion statement in it’s own right, fashion black. This translates into the general arena, black is fashionable. The colour overload is also pertinent for the buying public so black is the safe bet when investing in clothes, enabling us to wear it over more seasons and it easily fits into one's existing wardrobe.

Manufacturing clothes in the latest fashion colours is a gamble. Who knows what is going to be purchased and what will be left unsold, costing money and wastage. At the end of the season it often leads to those sale rails with the unusual colours unsold, so a safer bet is to make in black. This is a simplistic summary of the idea but one that does have legitimacy. Here there is a little of the ‘chicken and egg’ syndrome going on too. We buy it because they make it, and they make it because we buy it. Black seems always popular and easy.

Black is rather an unnatural colour. Have a good look around at Nature. If we look with concentration at what we perceive as black in the darkness of shadows, or the depth of a flower petal, there is a hint of colour behind the tone. There isn’t any plant that has a true black flower, they are always the darkest shades of a colour, dark purple, dark burgundy and the like. Even black leaved plants are a dark tone of a colour and we can perceive this if we observe carefully.

Artist’s rarely use black paint because once it is on the painting it turns into rather a ‘dead’ colour, instead most defer to the very darkest tones of blue, purple, brown, red and so on. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but most artists will play with shades of dark colour. As someone who paints I have experienced this too and I mix up the darkest of shades to use to denote those dark places and shadows. The ‘darkest of darks’ is the phrase ringing in my head when I want the darkest of colour.

So if black is so prolific in the clothing world and seems to be a universal colour choice why do I suggest that black is not a colour for everyone? As a designer who has been involved in making clothes for so many different people, why doesn’t the idea that ‘black works for everyone’, always ring true? Simply the answer is, because of skin tone.

We, as people, have different and various skin tones and skin tone is even more directive than our eye and hair colour when it comes to wearing colours that best enhance our natural features and make us glow and look our best. Skin tones can be qualified as warm (yellow based) and cool (blue based), and these can be broken down further into clear/bright warm, soft/blended warm, clear/bright cool and soft/blended cool. For those with warm skin tones, the clear golden shine or the soft sunlight glow to their colouring, black is a drainer. Those who have a cool bias to their skin tone are better suited to it but even then, for those in the soft cool spectrum, black is really too heavy and dominant. Those who have a strong clear bright coolness to their skin tone can wear it successfully.

I understand the need for many to have a dark neutral to use as a backbone to their wardrobe but think of exchanging black for a dark tone: of a warm colour for those with warm skin tones and a cool colour for the cool skin toned. Hunt down dark navy or midnight blue the colour of the deepest night’s sky, dark plum the colour of a vintage port, dark pine green like the forests on a distant hillside, dark chocolate brown like a rich christmas pudding, dark mustard brown like a well worn leather suitcase, dark purple like a well ripened plum or blackberry, dark charcoal grey like the brooding skies of an oncoming storm, and benefit from the life left in these colours. Even within these shades there are warm versions and cool versions but just exchanging any of them for black is a step in the right direction.

However if you can wear black or want to stick to black anyway (especially as it is often hard to find dark tones of colour in the shops) then go for fabrics where the light can bounce off it and create those interesting shades, textures of light and dark, giving the fabric life and interest - satin, velvet, leather, patent leather, knitted fabrics, silky jersey, brocade, devore, lace and sheeny silks. Maybe even push in a little colour by choosing a black based print.

So what can you do to help yourself start the journey of moving away from black and finding the dark shades that really compliment your skin tone and allow you to have a successful dark neutral in your wardrobe? Firstly you need to ascertain whether you have a warm or cool skin tone. Sometimes this is hard to do for yourself so I would highly recommend having a consultation with a well trained colour consultant. This may seem like an unnecessary expense but it is so beneficial and you will reap the rewards of knowing what your complexion needs to shine. The investment is soon recouped when you stop buying the wrong coloured clothes that end up unworn, or barely worn, and can confidently invest in superb staples that bring true enjoyment and become the ‘go to’ pieces in your wardrobe.

When you confidently know your skin tone and what colours really suit you, not being able to find it in the shops can be frustrating, but instead of having to buy more of the ‘wrong’ colours consider having something made in that perfect dark neutral that will last a lifetime, be style directed by you and your chosen designer for your personality and body shape, and will always make you shine. You get to positively decide the colour palette rather than have to choose from the selection made by someone else and this is gratifying and empowering and can often lead to a renewed love of your wardrobe and style statement. We have all experienced the benefit of ‘look good, feel good’ that what we put on our body can achieve, and I want to encourage everyone to have the knowledge and tools to have that ability and not regard it as a luxury.

So please do contact me and let’s start the conversation, without any commitment assumed, about what your clothing needs are and how I can work with you to fulfil them. Let the synergy begin.

Andrea M Franklin

Andrea Franklin

Clothing Designer
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