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How to Make Black Work When It’s Not Flattering or You Have Too Much

If you are like most women you have a lot of black clothing in your closet.

Often this isn’t because you love black and know you look extraordinary in it—although that is certainly possible. More often than not you buy so much black because it is easy, safe and available.

Am I right?

And, this is especially true if you hate to shop…anything that will make the shopping trip shorter feels good.

Today we are not going to debate the beauty of black – that’s a discussion for another time (and please know that I am not opposed to black at all—many of my clients look amazing in it).

Instead, what I’m going to do is show you some ways to make black work better if:

  1. You feel black is a bit draining or harsh on you and want to transition to less black in your wardrobe, or
  2. You like wearing black, but you want to balance it with other colors so your wardrobe doesn’t feel too heavy or (as so many women have said to me) dull.

Either way, this will be a very valuable exercise.

This is also a much bigger topic than you might think. You’ve probably heard things like…just add a scarf or throw on a cardigan or jacket. Well, sure, that does change things, but the idea of this exercise I’m going to share is not just to drown out the black…

The goal is to add color in a way that makes you look and feel beautiful!

Believe it or not there are many ways to offset the black in your closet, but I do not want to overwhelm you. So, let’s start with two ways and I will explain all along the way why I chose what I chose. That way you can begin to experiment with it within your own wardrobe. In the upcoming ‘Styled by Ginger’ program I will periodically share the other ways to do two things:

  1. Offset the black clothes you have in your wardrobe (beyond the two ideas I’m going to share here).
  2. Give you some ideas for how to choose black clothes if black is not one of your most flattering colors, but you still want to wear it. (Since nearly everyone wears some amount of black you might as well understand how to make the best selections for you!)

So, without further ado…

Here are two ways to make black more wearable and/or supplement your black wardrobe with color so you look and feel amazing.

1. It’s not always about adding more clothes

Sometimes the solution is not about adding an article of clothing to the outfit. I remember a time when I was shopping with a client and I overheard a sales woman say to a woman she was helping, “Just adjust your makeup and you can wear that color.” She was talking about a mustard color sweater and I cringed. No matter how much makeup that poor woman put on her face mustard was not ever going to be her friend. It would always make her look sallow!

But, thankfully black isn’t mustard. And, sometimes adding a bit more makeup can help balance the intensity of black.

Here is an example. (Sorry it’s a bit blurry, but it’s the best I could do with a catalogue picture.)

This woman has very delicate coloring and black looks heavy and overpowering on her. We see the shirt way before we see her. But, if we adjust her makeup slightly (and notice I said slightly) it can help a lot.

In this case I only did two things:

  • Added more eyeliner
  • Gave her a slightly richer lipstick

That’s all that was needed. In fact, anything more and she would have lost her natural glow and been overpowered by the makeup instead.

2. Offset the Black

Adding a scarf is one surefire way to soften or offset black.

But, has anyone told you HOW to select the scarf to add?

Probably not.

I can help by showing you several ways add a scarf to a black outfit:

1. Add a solid colored scarf in one of your best colors

This brings the viewer’s eye up to her face because the color surrounding her face looks beautiful on her.

2. Add a beautiful print scarf that has a touch of black in it.

When you have a touch of black running through the print it helps tie in the black outfit with the colors in the scarf so they feel more cohesive. If black is not one of your best colors then be careful about how much black is in the scarf.

For example. This model has very delicate coloring – light hair, light skin and light colored eyes. Too much black in the print will easily overpower her. I have taken two prints that have beige/green and black tones.

Notice the look on the left feels too heavy and the one on the right feels light and lets us notice her more. I know the lighter tones are different (one is more beige and one is more green), but the point is that the black feels more pronounced in the one on the left.

It is a subtle distinction, but that is what makes it so powerful.

A good way to figure this out is to give it the ‘blink’ test. In this case, I closed my eyes and when I opened them I looked directly at the scarf. The first color that popped out to me was black. We want the first color we see to be one that looks great on her.

In the print on the right, it also has beige and black tones, but with the blink test I see the beige first.

3. Add a print scarf that has charcoal instead of black or choose a scarf fabric that is sheer to soften the intensity and contrast level of black.

Here is an example with a blue sheer scarf where the black can shine through. It takes the edge off the black and brings a beautiful color up around her face.

Two special considerations when choosing a scarf:

  1. Scarf with white in it? When you are trying to soften a black outfit, be careful of choosing a scarf that has any white in it. This is especially true if your coloring is very light like the model. While the white in the scarf might look great on you, in general, when worn over black the white can create a higher contrast level between it and black. Instead of softening the look it will make the combination even more overpowering on you.
  2. You won’t know until you ‘tie’ it. You have to try the scarf on to know for sure that it works. A print or fabric can look beautiful when you first see a scarf, but it isn’t until you fold it and tie it around your neck that you know for sure whether it looks good or not. Certain colors can unexpectedly come forward or disappear as you tie the scarf and sometimes a fabric can look more opaque or heavy when it’s tied than when it’s open.

But that’s not all! I am including many more scarf ideas with explanations about why they work or don’t work HERE.

To find out what colors really do make you shine (and see if black is included), have a personalized color analysis done (no matter where you live). You can learn more about that here: it can be done in-person or long distance —


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Ginger Burr is a fashion stylist and personal shopper serving clients worldwide from metro Boston.