Who would ever rely on that old standby, the little tangerine dress?


November 22, 1990|By Patricia McLaughlin | Patricia McLaughlin,Universal Press Syndicate

The fashion magazines have been full of praise for bright color this fall -- and full of snide remarks about black. They still love avocado green, burnt orange and harvest gold, the nauseating trio of 1960s earth tones that made a big comeback last year. And now they love hot colors like tangerine, shocking pink, chrome yellow and ultraviolet even more.

Meanwhile, black, so long fashion's darling, finds itself disparaged at every turn.

"God, I am so bored with black," Anne Klein's Louis Dell'Olio says.

At a fashion press confab last summer, rumors circulated that Vogue editor Anna Wintour had forbidden the magazine's whole staff to wear anything black to a party the magazine was #F hosting.

By October, it was official. Self trumpeted: "Black gets the sack." And Vogue intoned: "The color vs. black war is over and black has lost."

How can this be? How can black possibly be out? Isn't that like saying emeralds are out? Or cheekbones? And anyway, how can we do without it? And what's supposed to happen to all the black stuff we bought last year and the year before? Save it for funerals? And what'll the fashion police do to us if we go ahead and wear black anyway? Will we be pulled over and spray-painted pink?

It's not only that black makes you look 10 pounds thinner. Black is blessedly unmemorable. You can't wear tangerine trousers five days in a row and have nobody notice.

Black is undemanding. You put it on and forget it. (Wear red or yellow or tangerine and it's tugging at your consciousness all day, trying to cheer you up.)

Black is practical -- it's immune to city soot, and even wrinkles don't show as much because of the way black absorbs light instead of reflecting it.

It's true that fashion overdosed on black in the '80s. After all the things you went to where every single woman in the room was wearing black, black doesn't look new and exciting anymore. It certainly doesn't look daring. (Except maybe at the kind of suburban cocktail party where everybody else is wearing flowered silk.)

And the recycled beatnik black that arty types wore to gallery openings and punks wore everywhere -- black shoes, black stockings, black skirt, black sweater, black jacket, sometimes even black lipstick and black nail polish, unrelieved except maybe by blue or orange hair -- looks pretty tired.

What looks new now, undeniably, is a short fuchsia coat over a short mandarin-orange dress, or grass-green over robin's egg blue.

But basic black -- the good black wool skirt, the indispensable black turtleneck, the endlessly useful pair of black pants -- will continue to have its uses.

That anyone could think otherwise speaks, above all, for the fact that, as Holly Brubach figured in the New Yorker last summer, the average fashion editor is likely to see 28,000 different outfits parade down various runways in a single year and, in consequence, is likely to get bored a lot quicker than most of us, and to prize clothes that look new and exciting more highly.

Patricia McLaughlin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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