Right after the new year began, I went to my local Goodwill store and picked up a pair of black men’s jeans. I tried them on and they didn’t fall down, so I bought them with a vague idea of scuffing them up a bit to give them some punk value.
A month later, I dug them out of my drawer, cut holes in the knees, rolled them up a bit, and slipped them on along with a pair of black boots that I’ve had since the 9th grade. The glossy finish and square toe of the boot provided a bit of maturity to complement the ripped black denim.
The turtleneck was a given for the season and to balance the loose, formless fit of the pants. My precious Balmain x H&M faux fur dark green coat topped it off because I liked the idea of a contrast between casual ripped denim and the extravagance of the coat. I wanted to be and feel luxurious yet competent. Dress for success, right?
When I looked back at the photos, I ended up thinking a lot about the classically chic color combination that black-on-black is. Or, more specifically, I thought about my relationship with it growing up, and how much it has accompanied me throughout many of the non-chic moments of my life thus far.
I remember my favorite outfit in high school: a black netted 3/4 sleeve sweater I’d gotten from a Calvin Klein outlet, always worn with a black cami underneath, and a pair of too-skinny black jeans I’d nicked from a common room after they’d sat unclaimed for too long. And, of course, a pair of worn out faux-leather combat boots with laces and buckles for show and a little plastic zipper running down the inside.
I used to wear all black after binge watching American Horror Story: Coven and quoting Madison Montgomery’s “Generation Y” speech in essays in English class. I wore all black because I wanted to carry shock value with me, because I wasn’t popular and I couldn’t really accept it. I wore all black because it “wasn’t normal,” and if I couldn’t fit in perfectly, I’d get my attention another way.
Wearing all black back in high school was, for me, the kind of thing that made me feel better about the fact that my mom wouldn’t let me get a lip piercing. I could still be badass, right?
Despite wincing at past photos in which I applied only bottom eyeliner and no other makeup, I’ve realized that the act of turning to darker colored clothing was the first image-conscious style choice I ever made. Was it a good choice? I won’t even comment on that. But now, looking back, what really matters is that I had begun to actively think about clothing as argument and expression.
In the years that followed, I grew. I met new people and joined new circles and discovered new dimensions of social existence, and more than anything I became more and more sure of myself and who I was.
All along, I paid attention to image, and I took note of my evolving persona as it went through various phases of imitation and experimentation. I learned that absence can be more powerful than presence, that subtlety can make all the difference, that personal style is a supple thing that moulds itself to passion and dreams, and that can fill the cracks in one’s relationship with oneself.
I learned that fashion is not a club of catty blondes; I learned that craftsmanship is the root of creation; I learned that fashion is the unity of fantasy and modernity and architecture and functional design and the ever changing state of the human condition.
It’s wonderful to come back to all-black after time spent in self reflection, time to wear lace-up sandals and flare sleeve dresses, lavender peplum tops and flower-shaped pendants. All-black feels familiar, and I know it always will, a bit like a childhood home or an old favorite song.
Now, though, it doesn’t feel rebellious or attention-seeking. It’s comforting, rather. I feel sleek and I feel confident; I feel sexy but under the radar. I feel like I can focus on what I love rather than what other people see, which, at the end of the day, is what we really want, isn’t it? Fall Out Boy did write the lyric: You are what you love, not who loves you.
I’m gonna slap myself later for this, but we gotta save rock and roll.
Top: Nasty Gal black ribbed turtleneck sweater (sold out, similar here)
Pants: Vintage (aka thrifted for $8, thanks Goodwill)
Shoes: Tommy Hilfiger (probably discontinued)
Coat: Balmain x H&M (sold out, available on eBay)