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How to replace black in your wardrobe

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I used to joke that my closet looked like a cat burglar’s lair, 🦹‍♀️ there was so much black in there. Over the last three years, I’ve managed to replace the black with colors that are more flattering to my complexion. If you’re looking to replace or reduce the amount of black in your wardrobe, here are some tips…

How to replace black in your wardrobe.

This article was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Look, I get it. Black is easy, black is sophisticated. Black is chic. I’m never going to be the person who tells you not to wear black. If you love it and love how you look in it, wear it and enjoy!

BUT, for some of us black is a habit we just can’t seem to kick. Perhaps we know it’s not our best color and periodically take steps to replace the black in our wardrobes, but it just keeps creeping back in. If that’s your dilemma, here are some tips to help break a sartorial stalemate with black.

How did black get to be our default setting?

When I was growing up, I don’t remember anyone wearing black except for clergy, police, Wednesday Addams, or Beatniks in TV sitcoms. 😆 Black was reserved for funerals, and sometimes for evening wear. (I’m sure this was different from region to region…New Yorkers please chime in.)

I never wore much black until the late-1990’s, but after that it took over my wardrobe pretty rapidly. There was the ease of it, and also the fact that so many basics I needed for the office were mostly offered in black. It traveled well. And I’ll admit, it felt a little edgy and cool.

It’s hard to pinpoint one single reason that brands began producing so much basic black clothing. I suspect it was an easier sell; and perhaps cheaper to produce. There was also the allure of the iconic Little Black Dress, and the interest in French women’s style that seemed to favor so much black.

Moving toward more color

By the time I left my corporate job in 2016, I knew I wanted to introduce more color and fun into my wardrobe. But I struggled to find colors and styles that didn’t wear me, instead of the other way around. It wasn’t until I had a color and style analysis with Red Leopard in 2019 that it felt like I finally “clicked” with color. (And I could definitely see how black was not my best choice.)

I was determined to put what I’d learned into practice right away, but I knew the process of replacing the black in my wardrobe would take some time. It’s now been a little over 3 years since I began the “turnover,” and I rarely miss or want to wear black.

How to replace black in your wardrobe

Very few of us have an unlimited budget, or would be able to replace an entire wardrobe in one fell swoop. (Even if we wanted to, what’s available in any given season isn’t always what we need.) Here are the steps I’d suggest to help break dependence on black.

Start where you are…

Get a sense of your best colors. If you are able to have an expert color analysis (either in person or online), you’ll probably be provided with a “palette” or chart of your best colors. If that’s not possible for you now, here’s a downloadable color guide from Red Leopard with tips to help you get started.

Go through your wardrobe. What items do you wear the most or least? If you have black pieces that you rarely wear, clear those out first. How much you clear out at the start will depend on your needs and comfort level.

And while you’re at it, bid farewell to any other pieces that you know are the wrong color for you. 😉

Rebuild your foundation first…

Neutral wardrobe basics in grey, brown, navy.

I still believe that the key to cohesive wardrobe is a core of neutral basics. These are the clothes you reach for most often, and that can mix easily with other pieces in your wardrobe. You’ll find that other neutrals pair just as well with colors as black (if not better!).

Aside from black, neutrals can be various shades of navy*, grey, charcoal, tan, brown, taupe, ivory, white, or olive. Every seasonal color palette also includes neutrals. If you don’t know your best neutrals, try different shades and see what works best.

Many people ask, “can’t I just keep my black pants/skirts and wear my colors above the waist?” You can, but you may find over time that black looks harsh or incongruous with the other colors in your palette. (The exception of course would be those with a Winter palette, which includes black.)

replace black trousers in wardrobe with other neutrals.

Above: black pants
warm neutrals: tan | olive | brown
cool neutrals: grey | charcoal | navy

*Navy is one of the more universal neutrals, and there’s a version of navy for every season. (Mine’s a brighter, clear navy.) Navy can be a more gentle stepping-off point for many of us. And yes, navy can be just as “slimming” as black.

And in my book, denim is always a neutral. 😉

Don’t forget accessories…

handbags in black and other neutral colors.

If all of your bags and shoes are black, you’ll probably want to replace them over time too. I find a tan or cognac bag is the most versatile in my wardrobe. If your palette is cool think grey, burgundy, or even various shades of blue. And metallic can be a great goes-with-everything option.

Above: black bag
Warm bags: tan | ivory | cognac
Cool bags: similar blue | burgundy | similar gray

Gone are the days when you HAD to match your shoes and bag, or shoes and pants (though if you prefer to do so, that’s fine). Shoes are such a huge topic that I think they deserve a follow-up post, so look for that in the near future.

Instant gratification…

Wear your best colors near your face! You don’t have to wait until the rest of your wardrobe is sorted, just add a scarf. (Or a sweater, top, or tee in your best colors.)

Above: wearing one of the gorgeous Odyssey scarves from Red Leopard x Emma J. Shipley. They’re offered in 4 seasonal palettes. Use code SUSAN10 for 10% off Odyssey scarves!

Here’s a quick video to show how it can be worn with your favorite hat…

Be patient…and selective

It may take several seasons to rebuild your wardrobe, especially if there’s a lot of black you’re trying to replace. Hold out for fits, colors, and styles that work for you. You may find fewer choices in one season, and more in another. Take advantage when your preferred colors and styles are available!

And especially with your core basics, buy the best quality you can afford. Think fewer, but better pieces. (The bonus of sticking to colors within your palette is that the pieces work together; you’ll find you need fewer pieces to create different looks.)

This is just a personal opinion, but one of the reasons manufacturers have leaned into so much black is because it can hide cheaper fabrics and construction. The lighter you go with your neutrals, the more you’ll want to pay attention to quality and fit.

Give yourself time to adjust to a wardrobe without (or with less) black. Your eye may need time to adjust, and if you’ve been wearing a lot of black for a long time, other colors will feel unfamiliar at first. Stick with it, though, and you will adjust.

Starting points…

J.Crew Cecile sweater blazer navy.

This J.Crew sweater blazer is a perfect transitional season piece, and easy to throw on over anything. It’s available in several cool and warm neutral shades, and marked down for a limited time. If you prefer an open front style, this one is also good. Both are available in sizes XX-Small to 3X.

J.Crew twill cargo pants olive.

These twill cargo pants are a relaxed-but-polished jeans alternative. Available in four colors, in Misses, Petite and Tall sizes. (Also included in the promotion.)

Everlane day ballet flats in burgundy.

Ballet flats are a classic style that’s also currently on trend now, so selections are good. Instead of black, why not opt for this “Andorra” (which looks burgundy on my monitor)? I’ve always found Everlane shoes to be good quality at a reasonable price, and this style is offered in several colors, sizes 5-11.

Come visit my SHOP page for more options

Have you shifted your wardrobe away from black (or made other substantial changes)?

Stay in touch.

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