It's Fall 1990. You now own five black skirts: shortfor day, short and velvet, traffic-stopping short,calf-length, and long with pleats. And there's theblack blazer, the black bolero, the two black sweatersand the three black dresses. Not to mention the brand new,all-black, cat suit you bought hoping it would have a slimming effect.
At last, you think, "I'm prepared for everything."
Well, black's out. Color's in.
After years of clothing that was oh-so-elegant, if a trifle somber, shocking dabs and --es of color began appearing in stores last winter. This fall, vivid hues from rich clarets and forest greens to screaming yellows and wild pinks are everywhere: Designer Carolyn Roehm banished black entirely from her fall line and says she plans to keep it that way through spring.
Bill Blass created a line of suits in bright yellow with red and black plaids -- his models wear them with high-heeled, banana-yellow pumps. And Oscar de la Renta presented bright red swing coats coupled with fuschia gloves.
But even if your closet is filled with clothes that last year seemed so elegant and this year seem, well, so black, don't despair:
Black is an "investment color," say the experts. "Black or black and white is such a classic color statement that you never have to throw it out," says Nancy Chistolini of Hecht's. The trick, then, is to work color -- lots of color -- into your wardrobe without having to throw out the old, elegant blacks and whites that were last year's mainstays.
"You can add color with a bright jacket or a royal fushcia blouse teamed with skirts or pants," says Ms. Chistolini. "You don't have to throw out all the black -- just build on it."
Fortunately, some designers followed that train of thought in creating their 1990 lines. "We always try to do a whole line with what we call base colors," says designer Dana Buchman, who admits her wardrobe is 95 percent black. "We think of certain colors -- those investment colors you're going to have for a long time -- and build around them."
Her line is built around charcoal, olive and (yes!) black. The charcoals are paired with clarets and champagnes; the olives with cinnabar (a rich, winter red) and parchment; the blacks with white and super bright red. But throughout the line, "we included little bits of black so that people would see them and take the hint: You can use black with this," says Ms. Buchman.
For those who want to make a strong statement, high voltage brights, reminiscent of the '60s, shown on Paris runways last spring in flaming reds, bright yellows, pinks and oranges, are in vogue.
The newest way to wear these colors is to mix the most unlikely (as does Christian Lacroix with suits that combine fuschia with dabs of yellow and bits of purple). The most practical way to wear them is to weave them into outfits using last year's blacks or whites, says Ruth Shaw of Ruth Shaw's of Baltimore.
"You can take this year's new black suit or a black suit of five years ago, throw an Ungaro scarf on -- they're all shot with black worked with bright greens and orangy colors -- and you have a new look."
Indeed, the black elements already in your wardrobe can be used to accent the brights of this year, says Ms. Chistolini. "All of us have so many pieces in black or white: tops and bottoms. The best way to update is bring in a bright jacket in red or royal fuschia blouse teamed with your black skirt or trousers."
But, oddly enough, brown is this year's ultra-sophisticated color, she says. "Black and brown or black, brown and white are very elegant."
With skirt lengths still short, legs -- formerly clad in circumspect black -- are now studies in color as designers play up already bright outfits with thick, patterned hosiery or tights in rainbow hues.
Adding patterned or textured colored hosiery is one way to brighten an outfit at relatively little cost. "Wear opaques, wear colored tights, wear tights in gold metallics. For $11 you can make last year's black outfit look new," says Linda Scherr,
co-owner of Rococo.
If you are limiting yourself to one colorful purchase this season, make it a wonderful, colorful jacket, suggests Ms. Buchman. She has been wearing what she calls her "statement jacket."
"It's a new, cream, wool-sateen jacket with gold braid touches. . . . It's the key thing that will make me smile all season. I can wear it with my black pencil skirt or navy trousers or the gold, leather mini-skirt I just got."
Although the bright, jewel tones of fall will certainly be around for winter, the freshest winter palette includes hues with whimsical names like champagne or iced cherry and sea foam.
The softer, pastel hues were pioneered by 28-year-old designer Isaac Mizrahi, who traded black for pale blues, pinks and whites. Other designers, such as Ms. Buchman, have introduced equally feminine colors. Ms. Buchman calls her winter group the "palladian pales." "The key print is paisley but there are neutrals and creams, peach, sea foam and terra cotta," she says.