Monday, November 29, 2010

On Tango Black

From the time I was a tiny tot, on up through high school, even college, my grandmother always used to take me shopping for new Christmas and Easter outfits. It was very generous of her. She is an amazingly lovely and classy woman, who always knows how to make herself and her home beautiful and welcoming for family gatherings. Taking me shopping was a way for her to help me look and feel extra-special for our family occasions, and spend some extra time together.

I don't know whether it's that early learning from my grandmother, the idea that one should have something new and special for celebrations, even if they aren't Major Life Events, or simply that by the end of a year, one may be a little bored of one's clothes--they require a bit of spicing up, and worn-out things need to be replaced--but I've kept up, for the most part, this little tradition of getting myself something new and nice to wear for Christmas and for Easter.* I spent some time this weekend shopping for my Christmas outfit for this year, starting with a new winter dress.

One of the principles of clothes-shopping that I've developed since starting tango is that I'd prefer for dresses and evening outfits to be functional for dancing too.

(Its corollary has become, "No clothes that I can only justify as being good for tango"--but I get a little loose on that. After all, if something is good for tango, it would probably be knock-his-socks-off on a nice evening date. Voila, built-in second use! And I do go out often enough to make this a desirable goal, though not often evening dates that require much formality, just now. So I must get better about making sure my purchases fit at least one other other purpose.)

The danger is always that basic black is so very easy. It's simple; it's prevalent; it connotes elegance; we're told "it goes with everything" and works for everyone, and that it's slimming. It seems so safe; what's supposed to be one of the workhorses of the well-dressed woman's wardrobe? The Little Black Dress.

My problem arose a few years ago, when I looked into my closet, flipped on the light, and had to look up to check whether the bulb was out. My closet was starting to look like the wardrobe of the Batcave. I know goth kids who probably owned less black.

In addition to being dark and, let's face it, boring in those quantities, black isn't really my best color. I don't look bad in it, but I look great in jewel tones. And the idea that black is always slimming is not really true; if it's not well cut, black clothing can actually make one look larger than not. It does not automatically make our figure flaws invisible--but if we're trying to hide behind it, it can make us invisible.

So now, when I look for dresses for tango or more general use, as for my Christmas outfit just now, I actively seek to avoid falling into the trap of the Little Black Dress. (Besides, black for Christmas is really not very festive.) Not long ago, I had to regretfully give up on an outfit from a small tango clothier when I learned that the top I had wanted was now available only in black. The pretty details that I liked about the shirt, I thought, would be lost in black-on-black; and the last thing I needed, I told myself, was more unrelieved Tango Black.

(I may still go back for that skirt sometime, if they've still got it. My favorite A-line skirt cannot, unfortunately, last forever.)

What I ended up finding was a gray dress with a pretty pattern of black flowers. I bought it online, so until I can try it on, I just have to hope that the cut will be as flattering on me as it looked on the screen.

Okay, so that's maybe not a whole lot better than solid black, and it's not exactly those jewel tones I had mentioned. But it still isn't plain black, and I think the flowers do a lot to make it cheerful and different. I plan to spice it up with a red beaded necklace and red shoes; I love the way red glows against a nice, cozy gray. I'm hoping it will also look nice with a blue-shaded scarf that I already own, and with a particular strand of purple beads. (Gray, black, and purple is another combination that I love, and that appears to have come around again in the stores this winter.)

For more encouragement to be brave and look beyond black, I cannot sufficiently recommend this reflection by the lovely Ms. Twistie, on the Manolo for the Big Girl blog: "Death to the Little Black Dress."

*I feel I should mention that I'm not generally a frivolous shopper; I will wear clothes that I like until they are beyond decent repair, and when they finally wear out, if I liked them that much, I usually try to get the same thing again, as nearly as possible. But even so, one sometimes just wants a little something new.

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