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Don't Be Afraid of the Bright

April 06, 2001|JEANNE STEIN

Dear Fashion Police: I was walking along Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade the other day and was astonished to see that not a single person was wearing color. All I saw was black and white, denim and khaki, and the dullest of grunge. I thought this was a subtropical climate. The only people who wear color today are ladies and gentlemen "of a certain age"--female news anchors, politicians, and bicyclists wearing outfits designed by parrots.

I'm curious: Is this because the clothing industry won't sell color, or that people won't buy color, or is everyone so frugal they figure this way they can mix and match forever? Do the masses display any clothing courage? Don't you have to be really boring to dress this blandly?


Dear Asking: Boring? Not really. We think this aversion to color has more to do with fear, uncertainty and convenience: fear of looking garish, fat or ridiculous in shades that might be too overpowering, uncertainty about what colors are harmonious and flattering, and the convenience of not having to think too much when putting together an outfit.

Though we understand all three--not everyone has the confidence or know-how of a top stylist to always choose the best clothes--we do think black, gray and other neutrals have become too-comfortable fallbacks. Some women, especially, cling to black clothes as if they were life-sustaining organisms. "Black is slimming" is the modern woman's mantra. Sure, we're guilty of a plethora of black in our closet, but we usually give it some punch of color. As much as we want to believe that black makes us look thinner, how much of a difference are we talking about?

Men usually rely on gray, navy, khaki and white, in addition to black. Though casual work dress codes have gotten men out of dark suit uniforms, and stores such as Banana Republic have introduced a range of interesting hues, many men are still reticent to move out of their comfort zones.

We don't think the fault lies with designers or manufacturers, because we see lots of color when we go shopping. Breaking out of the neutral rut is just a matter of trying something different--a shirt, blouse, skirt, even a tie or scarf, in anything from pastels to jewel tones. Start with colors you like and see what kind of reaction you get. If you're worried a color doesn't flatter you, move on to another. Once you have found two or three shades that work, build your wardrobe around them. You also may be surprised at how color lifts your spirits. There are studies ad nauseam on how various colors evoke feelings of tranquillity, excitement--even hunger.


Dear Fashion Police: Capri-length pants this season--in or out? I'd like to wear my pants from last year.


Dear Waiting: Those summery pants that end about mid-calf are still in. Though we don't know what yours look like, there's much variation in the style. Some capris are skinny, hugging the leg. Others are roomy and end in a little flare at the hem. They come in denim, khaki, cotton, blends, and stretch, in prints, solids, plain, and embellished with ribbon trim and embroidery. There are low-slung versions and ones that hit right at the waist.

Capris are a casual look, so keep that in mind when choosing tops and accessories. Everything from a T-shirt to a twin-set will work, but it should match the style of the pants. For instance, denim capris would be great with a gingham short-sleeve blouse. Black stretch capris would go well with a sleek boat-neck blouse.

The same idea goes for shoes. Very casual styles look good with low to mid-heel sandals or sneakers. For a dressier look, try low-heel mules or sling-backs. Nix the socks or stockings.


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