09 February 2010

I hate black trousers

I really do. I loathe them with every fiber of my being.


The reasons are manifold and complex. For one thing, I resent anything so widely toted as a "fashion basic." I haven't owned a pair of black trousers in ages, but my wardrobe has taken me confidently from corporate boardrooms to dinners out to fancy events to dive bars just fine, thank you very much. I also, unsurprisingly, lack a plain white buttondown shirt, a white tee (although those might be more properly attributed to my tendency, when confronted with a white top, to immediately spill something vividly-colored and staining on it. A model of grace and decorum I am... sporadically), and a pair of black ballet flats (or any flats, really. I find them less comfortable than heels. Honestly!). Many popular "fashion basics" are good building blocks, but I've got enough of an anti-authoritarian streak to look for other alternatives when somebody tells me my life - or my wardrobe - won't be complete without something.

Second is that trousers, in general, are unflattering to the female form. Most women I know have problems finding a pair of trousers that fits them well: if they're not gaping at the back waist, they're whiskering at the crotch, or, worse yet, inflicting a case of the dread polterwang, pulling across the thighs, or hitting at just the wrong spot on the ankle. Or dragging on the ground because they're hemmed for heels and you decided you'd give those insidious, comfort-promising (but actually denying) ballet flats a go. I understand that bifurcated nether garments have a place in a woman's wardrobe. My few pair usually come out in the depth of  winter, when my usual tricks of wool tights, silk longhandles, and leggings under my skirts fail to combat freezing temperatures and invasive winds (eek!). I also, oddly, have made peace with a few pair of jeans, crops (especially ones that hit at just the right point on the calf to show off badass boots), and pantalettes/bloomers (although those get layered under skirts so kind of don't count). However, in general, the complex curves of a woman's lower half are ill-served by mass-produced garments, especially such fit-critical ones with so little to distract the eye from imperfections (in the trousers, silly, not you!). Heck, I'm even fond of trouser alternatives for guys (my husband lives in a kilt all summer and he - and I - could not be happier).

My real beef with black trousers, though, is their blandness. They offend me for the same reasons and in the same way that beige walls and unseasoned farina do: they're dead boring. A really fabulous top, pair of shoes, or accessories can salvage a back-trousers-based outfit, but they're working uphill all the way. Nothing says "I just couldn't be bothered" quite like the stereotypical office-drone uniform of black trousers and a solid-colored blouse or knit top. Actually, most uniforms I've seen have more visual interest.

We live in an era of unprecedented choice and diversity in fashion. Why, then, have so many women wedded themselves to the blandest of the bland?

Let's look at a few examples, shall we?

Here we have a rather adorable, snuggly-looking cowlneck sweater in a bright shade of lemon yellow - the perfect thing to chase away winter doldrums. However, once you pair it with standard-issue black bootleg trousers, there's really not very many places you can go with it: throw on a belt to give your waist some shape and a head out the door. You can't even see the cute, punky strap-and-stud details on your boots!

On the other hand, put on a bluish-purple pencil skirt, and you have a lot more options. The blue scrunch boots would fight with the trouser legs both in color and cut, and wearing a skirt lets you put on raspberry tights.

See how much more vivid the sweater looks paired with the bluish-purple and pink? That's because the colors are in a triadic relationship (That's not nearly as risque as it sounds. Promise). My knowledge of color theory is almost entirely hands-on, so I can't really give you as much how-and-why as I'd like about how it works, but there are several fixed relationships across the color spectrum that result in eye-pleasing combinations: triads are one. Others are complements, tetrads, analogues, and accented analogues. This tool is a great way to get a feel for the way color relationships work, as well as waste quite a few hours (you've been warned).

On to example two!

Now, using that nifty color wheel tool, you've figured out that the best colors to wear with your medium-blue cardigan are purple and turquoise. However, the eye has a long, boring way to travel to unite your colorful pumps - again, mostly hidden by the trouser cuffs - with the rest of the outfit. Swap out the trou for a navy dress, though, and add a pair of purple tights, and you've bridged that gap - plus added a color that has a tonal, or monochromatic, relationship to the original blue.

Let's say you want to wear that other wardrobe basic, the white buttondown shirt:

Even with the admittedly fabulous bittersweet necklace and turquoise belt, the white shirt and black trousers combination is... well, it's a bit staid, isn't it? By changing the black trousers out for a yellow polka-dot skirt (color and pattern, egad!) there's a lot more life to it, especially with the tomato-colored tights.

But Theorist, I hear you beg, what's with all the colors? I've met you, and you're pretty darn Gothy. I prefer, shall we say, more somber colors myself. If the great majority of my ensemble is black, are the black trou really going to make a difference?

Part of the reason I'm featuring so much in the way of vivid color is the medium: black on black really doesn't show up well on the projected light of a monitor. Another part is that, as I mentioned in my last post, this time of year invokes a moderately uncharacteristic yearning for color. This is also the time of year when I start stalking my crocus patch and saying to my long-suffering husband things like "So... how about we repaint the dining room turquoise? With green trim?"

But the black trousers really don't add anything to a work-appropriate gothalicious outfit, either:

Compare these two outfits, both based around an All Saints blouse (I adore All Saints, and if I save my pennies and am a very, very good little Theorist, may someday have one of their gorgeous asymmetrical dresses for my very own). Make your own judgments here, of course, but I think the version with the trumpet skirt, red tights, and chain-draped booties is much more visually interesting, as well as liable to be more figure-flattering to a majority of women.

I guess what it comes down to, for me, is that black trousers are a sartorially safe choice. Like the aforementioned beige walls and unadorned farina, there's nothing in there to upset anyone. If there's one thing I would like to inspire you, my Fabulous Readers to do, it is to dress bravely. I don't mean runway-fashion bravely, or over-the-top-costume bravely: choose simple, quiet acts of bravery in your daily dress choices.

That's a whole 'nother post all on its own, though. Until then, I want to hear your thoughts. Am I off base about the black trou? Are they really a vital part of a woman's wardrobe? Do you love yours to death, and own a dozen pair? Could you go a week without wearing a pair (assuming you work in an office/professional environment)? How about a month? Is my mad passion for skirts getting out of hand?

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