November 6, 2017
Yes, I wear almost only black and white… especially in cold weather, when I can use some pattern and texture to add a bit of interest to my outfits. But frankly, once I’m sure that I’m appropriately and comfortably dressed, I don’t look to my clothes for any sort of entertainment – the idea of being bored with what I’m wearing just doesn’t compute for me.
I’m updating the “Shopping The Vivienne Files” page that shows where you can get a better look at (and purchase) some of these goodies. I think that this is an interesting way to approach the French 5-Piece Wardrobe, too, although it certainly won’t be for everyone!
First, the things that I wear consistently, and that I would replace immediately in case of a disaster:
I’ve been deliberate about collecting cashmere sweaters over the years – my turtleneck was purchased in Milan in 1999! (On December 29th, if memory serves…)
And this is what I would add, if I were adding 5 pieces. Realistically, I already own pieces very much like this.. I particularly love my “sweatshirt skirt,” because everybody thinks “holy handbags – she’s wearing a skirt!” when I’m feeling more like “I can’t believe that I’m going out in public in pajamas…”
This might seem really somber to you, but after I look at colors all day and sweat bullets trying to get everything to coordinate – beautifully! – I find this very restful…
I would, of course, add a pair of loafers and a pair of ballet flats, as well as a wee bucket of jewelry and scarves; this wardrobe is an excellent background for the spoils of years of scarf collecting…
While these look very muted, you can imagine that with the right accessories they could be lovely…
Years ago, when I was in my 20s, I only wore black and white for about 10 years. For some reason, as I had more money to spend on clothing, I had LESS structure, and wasted a ton of money… Now that I don’t need so much clothing, because I work from home, I realize that I was right all those years ago!
Taste of France says
It's definitely easier to find items in black or white–whatever you're looking for, there will be a black or white option, whereas you never know whether you'll find the right shade of the color you want, AND in the right size AND with the right fit.
I might have to attend a business conference in a snowy clime (I live in the south of France where to see snow I have to drive to the mountains). I am wondering how to handle snowy mess, unaccustomed cold and yet look professional. Since I, like you, am self-employed, I won't be able to stay nearby but will have to commute in from cheaper lodging, so I can't ignore the weather. And I have no budget to go buy anything. Your wardrobe here looks like a good start.
I like the idea in concept. In practice, however, I have never been able to wear a column of color. Regardless of my taste, this is a perfect starting point for so many good wardrobe decisions. Well done.
The Bride says
My wardrobe is starting to look like this ( thanks to you) but I still haven't mastered the texture/pattern element. I might have to add that Brocade scarf because it is killer, and the Eileen Fisher velvet dress looks incredibly wearable. Also, it's clear from seeing this that I need a couple of black patterned tops.
I have had a secret goal that I call 'jammie dressing' for 20 or 30 years. At all times I strive to be as comfortable as if I were in my 'jammies' and appropriately dressed enough that no one ever thinks – my God she's wearing pajamas.
For those looking to wear "jammie-like" items, you might want to check out
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Last Christmas I had to replace my convenient work-at-home job with a long-commute, face-the-public office job. The transition shook my self confidence to its foundations…but shifting to a black-and-white wardrobe with a consistent silhouette mitigated the self doubt beautifully. I didn’t have to think about clothes, I could concentrate on managing the other crazy in my life.
Black: my favorite color and favorite clothing!
I started using black as a basis for my wardrobe when I was teaching. I couldn't tell navy from black early in the morning when I didn't want to wake my honey by putting on the light. Even though the navy was at one end of the closet and black at the other I still ended up with black pants and navy socks, or navies that didn't quite match. Black works, with white in the summer, a cream or gray in the winter, and cobalt blue and red accents any time. I have clothes older than the college students I teach part time but the black still works. Never worry about my clothes. Thanks for all your wonderful ideas.
When I began my professional life, I wanted to do this, only with navy and white. My older sisters were appalled! How boring! How unimaginative! I allowed them to sway me, and fast forward 35 years … I have a Crayola worthy closet full of clothes I rarely wear. Even after decluttering for six years straight, and going a year without shopping for clothes. sigh
I am seriously thinking of honoring my younger self, and putting all non-navy, non-white clothing away. Let's see if I can make it through the winter. BUT – I still need black bottoms for "library shirts", but I can throw those in my uniform drawer. Thank you, Janice!
Janice Riggs says
Try pulling all of your navy and white stuff to the most visible area of your closet, and cover everything else with a sheet or other large piece of something, so that you only really SEE the navy and white. Live like that for a while and just see how you feel – comfortable? limited? liberated?
I find that as I get rid of most colors (except an occasional SMALL accent), I feel more like myself. With all of the time that I spend reveling in colors, it's a surprise, but I'm going to honor my feeling and reactions and dress this way!
This is exactly what I'm doing for three months — November, December and January. After years of fiddling with color I and ending up with a lot of things I don't wear, I boxed up everything that isn't either black, white, gray (or very dark navy, which I wear with black anyway and treat as black) and put it away for the season. I feel so much more myself, too! And it's very freeing. And it always looks put-together, even with the most casual components. I realized that I was headed in this direction when I finally admitted to myself that I only like black shoes — on myself, and on other people.
I love color too — but who says I have to wear it to appreciate it?
Janice Riggs says
Women have known this since forever – we have decor, art, nature – all KINDS of ways to enjoy color. The idea that we have to own and wear everything that we admire has got to stop before we destroy the planet, our budgets, and our self-esteem!
I am envious of all who look good in black and gray, because that is what dominates the retail industry. As a “ Warmie,” however, browns are my black , and I do love a variety of accent colors. While I will never work toward a minimalist wardrobe , I do have various iterations of browns that I rely upon as my closet backbone . I had my “ Black phase “ several years ago , and not only was it not flattering , it just wasn’t “me” , but now I am happily satisfied harmonizing with my natural coloring.
That having been said, I do shop at second hand shops, as well as through catalogs, as I am hard to fit , but shop much, much less frequently than in the past , and periodically bless someone else with what I no longer wear .
First let me say that "The Vivienne Files" was a life-saver to me when I turned 60 and wasn't sure what 60 should look like. You gave me so much inspiration, and I have passed your "files" on to so many. So thank you for that.
Like you, I live mostly in black and white with a touch of grey. I have come to believe we instinctively know what works for us and what makes us feel best. Black and white makes me feel confident and relaxed. I am a "deep winter" bordering on "deep autumn", and what colors do you see in late autumn and winter? Black and white..with maybe a splash of color here or there. I have had white hair since I was just past 30. I have tried different colors in my wardrobe, but NEVER feel my best in them. Mind you, I am a jewelry artist, so can make myself a virtual rainbow of accessories…but even there, I tend toward silver, crystals, and black. If I want color, I wear a scarf.
It always surprises me when people feel free to comment on what I, "should" wear…always people from a season like "summer", "spring", or "early autumn"…the seasons of color that they feel comfortable with.
A friend who was a model, told me as a teen…"You can go anywhere with a good black turtleneck, black trousers or skirt, and a scarf." At 66, it is still my mantra.
Jean Shaw says
I believe Yves St. Laurent said something similar–black turtleneck, black trousers, and a trench coat. Shazam!!
As a "spring" who is unlikely to ever have white hair, I envy you. Perhaps others do as well, which is why they want to comment on your outfits….?
I always enjoy posts about your own wardrobe. I don't find your wardrobe boring at all. Your use of patterns (not to mention your amazing accessory vault) adds interest just as much as color would.
Gail Finke says
I love that wardrobe. I have been working on my winter wardrobe and discovered that what is making me happy this year is black, gray, and denim. I love sweaters, and I have waaaaay too many of them, (even after giving some away I have about 20, and that doesn't include cardigans or my "light fall/light spring sweaters" or my super warm heavy cashmere sweater that is only for wearing to outdoor winter events!!) but I am going to see what I like wearing most and what is most flattering from what I have before getting rid of more. My sweaters are where I add color, although I've got several black ones and want a nice light gray one. My sweaters are all shades of burgundy or shades of teal, and I have a pair of burgundy jeans and a pair of leggings/type teal pants as well. That's it. I used to have so many more clothes and feel as if I had nothing to wear, and now I worry if I still have too many to wear them all! While I have found all your "systems" to be really helpful, the Common Wardrobe is what I come back to most. My current one looks a lot like that, but with blue jeans, a chambray shirt, and a heather blue t-shirt (along with black, gray, and white).
Lynn Carroll says
Joan Rivers always said start with a black top and black bottom- hers were usually pants – then add color. After a failed fall capsule (due to lingering hot weather), I am putting together a winter capsule based on black, white/cream, gray and red. I do like scarves and can add colors by adding a scarf. Sometimes, the simple way can be the most complicated but it is all a work in progress. I am retired so no pressure for business clothing. All that said, my favorite color idea of yours lately has to be that gorgeous moth! Need to find a "moth scarf" to zip up the black!
Deborah Montgomery says
I think this is beautiful and it must make getting dressed so easy. I know what you mean about quiet clothing. I need my clothing to feel restful. There's too much going on in my mind and around me in the world that I can't have my clothes talking too loudly — haha! For me it's grays and cream.
Thank you for sharing your wardrobe with us. It is indeed restful, interesting, and complete. Following your intelligent posts for a few years now, I am approaching that elusive goal.
I was fortunate enough to see an exciting exhibition entitled Georgia O'Keeffe: Living Modern in Winston-Salem, NC at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. Not only were photographs by Stieglitz and many other photographers included, but also many, many items of clothing from her wardrobe. She had sewn many garments and they demonstrated her skill as a seamstress as well as a designer. She purchased many fine custom garments by men's tailors and had definitely created a certain style of "uniform" based on the idea of a suit. She might then replicate the same garment in a variety of fabrics. She was influenced by Japanese style and favored kimonos and wrap-style garments. Brilliant!
I thought of your many wise posts and your own wardrobe of black and white while enjoying the exhibit. I knew I'd have to share at least some of what I remember of the experience. I loved that she mentioned William Merritt Chase as a major influence and referred to Claire McCardell was the greatest American designer. Two of my personal faves!
Sorry to go on so long, but it was an incredible exhibit. I had to purchase the huge book of the exhibit. Can't wait to open it!
The overview of the exhibit is here
Eddie Bauer has everything, including the Women's Bremerton StayShape® Stretch Twill Pants, at 60% off today. I noticed that you have a pair in black. I have the navy and they are comfortable and attractive. The side zipper is sometimes hard for me to reach and I miss pockets, but these features also make the pants very slimming.
The Pouting Pensioner says
Thanks for sharing what you wear for a change. My day to day wardrobe is probably much like yours. But with less white (I struggle with white near my face). And less shirts (I'm an ironing hater). I love all black outfits, I feel more sophisticated and they always sing out "well groomed". Black detail is lost in photos, however. Thanks as always for a helpful and thought-inducing post, Janice. Hugs x
becky johns says
Are you planning on a 5-6 item shopping trip for Winter? I find I shop about four times a year…with the seasons which we have in Utah. It would be fun to see this wardrobe added to with each season! I love the first of the month wardrobes and this could be a fun variation on a successful theme. I admire the way you find the perfect items to add to your black and white wardrobe that are such valuable core wardrobe purchases…so love the links!
Another big black-wearer here; I'm not bored, but in summer switch to white jeans and a few printed skirts b/c black just looks too heavy when it's over 80F. When I worked in big business, there was a real goal to have many changes of outfits; now, younger people are very different in terms of awareness about the environmental effect (and onerous upkeep) of a big wardrobe.
Madonna Ziegler says
Black, white and grey with a bit of teal are my colors. Would love to see a simple capsule with only long skirts and modest tops. I do like to wear cardigans year round.
I love all of the variations of prints and patterns that you have in this wardrobe! – nancyo