It felt like a part of me went into the charity bin when I deposited three of my black shirts which I had proudly – and confidently – worn for a couple of years. The fabric had started to show signs of wear and tear on the stitches and the collar. Black shirts teamed with matching trousers were at one point my wardrobe favs. No one mourns the loss of a shirt, but I did. I had loved the cotton comfort so much and adored the way they had collaborated to project my public persona.
The scene that followed the “decease of the dress” was like a page wrenched from Robert Frost’s Home Burial.
“Don’t agonise so much, dude. You look like coming from a funeral,” wifey tried out some black humour that failed to amuse me.
I hit back at her, singing the parody of a couplet from Home Burial itself:
“God, what a woman! And it’s come to this,
A man can’t speak of his own clothe that’s lost.”
My first sartorial knowledge was acquired from my father who advocated smart dressing to make a great first impression. The colour of a clothe never bothered him; the fabric and quality did. It’s my decade-long stay in Singapore that made me couture-conscious. It’s there I realised that black, the king of colours, is class-rich. The elite Chinese in the city-state – both men and women – wore black to quintessential gala events. Like in modern Moscow, black BMW was also in vogue among the rich Singaporeans.
But my affair with all-black attire wasn’t born out of class consciousness. Black is Beautiful, the cultural movement started in the United States in the 1960s by African Americans, is a maxim that fits well with black clothes. The movement that encouraged black people to celebrate their natural features, was given a new identity by celebrity photographer Kwame Brathwaite’s powerful images of the eponymous series, Black is Beautiful. For a person who found his calling in photography in the early part of his life, it was natural for me to get influenced by Brathwaite’s epochal work.
Over the years, black has become a symbol of confidence in my life. I wore black to every crucial job interview and came out with flying colours. I remember one I attended in Dubai in 2010. The room decor was minimal with two pieces of sofa and a centre table. The two editors and I sat facing each other. Half way through the conversation, I stood up pulsating with the confidence my black attire radiated to my soul, delivered a short speech and walked away with an appointment letter safe in my pocket. According to designers, the color black affects the mind and body by helping to create a sense of potential and possibility.
What I enjoy most in black is the mystery associated with the colour. People in black expect an inconspicuous feeling but end up being at the centre of attraction, eliciting comments and queries. While black is an elegant, prestigious and authoritative colour, it can evoke strong emotions, which could be one of the reasons mourners wear it at funerals.
Much before the colour black became associated with death and mourning, and Queen Victoria reportedly touched off the trend for white wedding gowns way back in 1840, black wedding dresses were in vogue in different cultures. Roman Catholic brides were known to wear black to symbolise their devotion to marriage until death.
Remember actress Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s? Like how actress Kelly LeBrock became synonymous with the colour red through the 1984 romantic comedy The Woman in Red, a single scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where Hepburn appeared in a sleek black dress designed by Hubert de Givenchy, reinvented one of fashion’s most iconic garments: the little black dress (LBD).
The origin of the LBD dates back to the 1920s. According to fashion writer Marianna Cerini, Parisian designer Coco Chanel had a drawing of a knee-length black dress in crepe de Chine published in the Vogue magazine. “The fashion bible declared the little black dress would become a staple for women across social classes,” she says. Designers like Chanel and Givenchy only took the LBD and popularised it as elegant yet economical.
The sustainability of the little black dress was proven beyond doubt by Sheena Matheiken, who wore a single dress for 365 days to raise fund for a non-profit organisation providing education to children living in Indian slums. Starting on May 1, 2009, the Uniform Project – which saw her reinvent the little black dress using accessories that were either vintage, handmade, reused or donated – became an online phenomenon, raising $103,378.
While the LBD is solely attributed to females, there are male celebrities, including actor De Niro – and yours truly – who are known to wear black tuxedos and casuals teamed with denim. If every woman needs a little black dress, every man needs a woman who adores his own Lustrous Black Dress.
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