Black was my go-to clothing colour for as long as I can remember.
To the point that, when required to wear bright colours for a friend’s funeral a few years ago, I had to go clothes shopping. The honourable exception in my wardrobe was my pair of flowery DMs…which look particularly fab with black…
It’s just so easy, isn’t it? Easy to pair with other clothes; easy to accessorise; easy to find in the shops. When the contents of your wardrobe are predominantly black or denim, you never have to worry about whether colours go together, right?! Grab and go. Easy peasy and a quick win for those of us with no sense of style!
It's also good camouflage: black doesn’t stand out (well, unless you’re going for a full on goth/emo/bondage sort of look, I guess, but let’s not go there now!!). Wearing head to toe black when you walk into a room doesn’t tend to attract attention in the same way that, for example, wearing electric blue would (and if you’re wondering who the hell would consider doing that, then please refer to the 1980s, Young Person).
Black is supposed to be slimming and elegant (although I fear poor Black threw its hands up in despair when it got to me), and I suspect most women have longed for The Perfect LBD at some point in their lives (guilty as charged).
Wearing predominantly black doesn’t even have to mean no colour: if you’re a “colour pop” sort of person, black is a great backdrop for those colourful scarves and statement jewellery pieces (a look I went for during occasional and mercifully brief bouts of attempting to look Proper Corporate). A black outfit with a vibrant red lipstick screams sexy sophistication…at least according to my husband when reminiscing fondly about the video for Robert Plant’s Addicted to Love.
At some point I crossed the line from “I like wearing black” to “I don’t know what else to wear.”
Even as I cringed at pictures, memories and family stories of my 1980s self wearing ill-advised colour combinations, I kind of envied her too – not, I hasten to add, for the actual clothes/colour combos (do I want a red-sweater-emerald-green-cord-skirt-red-sheer-tights combo in my life again? I think the fuck not!), but for the freedom of spirit.
So what stopped me simply buying and wearing more colourful clothes? In short, a whole load of insecurity, which boiled down to a fear of being judged.
I worried that wearing colour would draw attention to me and that people would be judging my look-at-me choices in a way that they wouldn’t with beneath-the-radar, hiding-in-the-corner, covers-a-multitude-of-sins black. I worried about what people would be thinking and saying about me. I worried that I would be ridiculed or rejected.
Then, during one of the 2020 lockdowns here in the UK, I came across a small business offering an online colour service and style tips for real, midlife women – women who had normal body shapes and normal budgets. Women like me. A little to my surprise but with great excitement, I signed up to have my colours “done” by the lovely and inspiring Sarah Heron of True Colours (https://www.truecolourswithsarahheron.com).
I absolutely bloody loved finding myself with a palette of colours (summer, if you’re interested) that worked for me! What was rather less welcome, however, was the news that black next to the face does very few people any favours…and that I wasn’t one of them. Still, great excuse to go shopping, right? Armed with my new colour palette, that’s exactly what I did.
And it was bloody fabulous! I loved feeling more confident about choosing colours for myself and enjoyed wearing them. Sarah’s service even included recommendations on colours and styles for glasses frames, and that had me shifting away from the dark-framed glasses I had grown used to hiding behind.
After a while I noticed a dark side to my newfound enjoyment of colour.
There was the frequent frustration of not being able to find the right item of clothing in the right colour. Again and again I didn’t buy the thing I wanted because it wasn’t available in a suitable colour, and, as a not-very-adventurous and easily disheartened shopper, I started to feel increasingly restricted.
And I realised I was missing the easiness, flexibility and comforting familiarity of wearing black.
There is something deliciously cosy and inexplicably reassuring about pulling on an oversized, snuggly black sweater, don’t you think? An easy sense of having made an effort when wearing a more fitted black top. And no worries about what colour to wear with it. [Insert wistful sigh here.]
But black didn’t suit me, so I couldn’t wear it, right? I had these lovely colours to focus on now, colours that I’d clearly been told did suit me, made me look better. It’s not like I’d been born with the advantage of natural good looks to offset unwise clothing choices, so I should take all the help I could get, shouldn’t I?
What would people think if I went back to wearing unflattering black?
And there it was. I’d come full circle, back to my old friend, fear of judgement.
I had broken free of my fear of being judged for wearing colour, only to slide into a fear of being judged for not wearing colour.
That little realisation merited a pretty hefty FFS, I think you’ll agree. And it most certainly got it. Several of them, in fact. One thing I never stint on is swearing.
There are times when I want to look my best, to wear clothes that flatter me – when what other people see matters to me. And I bloody love that now I have so much more confidence and enjoyment in choosing colours to help with that.
But I’m pleased to report that, increasingly, I simply want to feel comfortably me. I want to wear clothes because I FEEL good in them, not because I hope other people will think I LOOK good in them. And that opens up a freedom of choice and self-expression that my self-imposed, fear-based rules were denying me. Perhaps there’s something here too about being a middle-aged woman in a culture that seems to do its best to airbrush us out: it’s frustrating and wrong, but that cloak of invisibility can have a silver lining…
In an ideal world, of course, I’d want to both look AND feel good. Who can honestly say they wouldn’t want that? But it’s not an ideal world. I have the beauty, grace and elegance of a drunk walrus. This is not fair for me or the walrus, who probably wants it all back. But it is what it is. I am never going to look the way I want to in clothes, because, frankly, that’s asking the impossible of the clothes.
And people will always judge how I look. Because humans do that to each other all the time. I know that I’ve judged thousands of people’s outfits over the years, but here’s the thing: I don’t remember a single one of them. Each judgement is fleeting, ephemeral, more a reflection of the fears, insecurities and prejudices of the judger than of the appearance of the judged. Why the fuck do we allow the idea of them so much power over us? Why not just trust our own judgement about what feels good to wear?
And that, my friend, is why I’m back in black – when I want to be.