When I moved from New York to Los Angeles last year, I experienced adjustment problems: the awkward sensation of being the sole pedestrian on a street, learning how to breathe effectively through the fuzzy brown blanket of smog (somehow New York's smog didn't seem as dense and certainly not as brown) and accepting the fact that a decent restaurant could not be had after midnight.
But those woes were minor in contrast to my monumental problem of how to dress. In New York, I would roll out of bed in the mornings and pull on black wool trousers, a roomy white shirt, toss on a black jacket and an accessory or two, add black opaque knee-high hose and black low-heel pumps and off I would go. I was dressed perfectly in a no-nonsense style, and it took all of five minutes.
Those carefree days are gone. Here, in the land of sunshine and golden bodies, bright colors abound. Even the endless palette of red, purple, pink and lavender cars on rush-hour freeways seem muted in the breathtaking light of the sun. And where else can you find brilliantly colored flower gardens year-round?
My black wardrobe, so right for the concrete jungle of Manhattan, became so very wrong. Black appeared too grim, cumbersome and stark for this light and airy town.
I needed an entirely new wardrobe, a colorful one. Confused, I didn't know where to begin. My husband thoughtfully suggested a store, so I trotted off to the mall, where I bought color--clear reds, buttery yellows, pale pinks, minty greens and bright, electric blues.
But I was totally unprepared for what happened the day I stepped out in a red miniskirt and red-and-white striped sweater. The skirt forced my hips to wiggle and perform zippy dips. I was humiliated. I thought I felt male eyes (and a few indignant female ones) directed to my derriere. All I could do was shrug.
The next day I wrapped myself in the comfort and security of my beige bathrobe . . . and decided to stay home.
I ventured out again a few days later, wearing a pink dress. By day's end, I had helped two old ladies cross the street, rescued a stray kitten and resolved a family disagreement--a family I had never before met.
I learned that one had to wear color very differently from the way one wore black. Moods and personality all come into play. Also, one's body.
For example, don a pair of black straight-leg trousers, and watch once-lumpy hips become smooth as a sand dune. Saddlebag thighs rein in mysteriously, while legs become suddenly slim.
Put on the same style of pants in a sunny yellow, and yes, you may feel cheerful, but that will be short-lived once you catch a glimpse of your legs, which now resemble a big glob of mustard.
There is a word of caution for wearers of black: Black on the upper body will smooth pudgy arms and pull in torsos, yet it will also minimize bust lines. This may or may not be of concern to you, depending on your beliefs, the tightness of your clothes, and/or your cup size.
A male friend of mine is wary of women who wear black. He met one sleek and sexy woman at a cocktail party. She looked sensational in a black jump suit, he claimed. After the usual banter and goofy grins, they managed to exchange phone numbers.
The following week he called and they arranged a date. He went to her apartment; she opened the door. He smiled, looking at the somewhat dumpy woman framed in the doorway and announced, "Hello, I'm Ron, you must be Rona's roommate."
Same Old Story
Rona, dressed in a lovely cream dress, sighed and muttered, "Not again!"
Of course, this same tale can also illustrate men who wear black, such as Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Zorro. Between the three, I would wager that some 500 extra pounds are artfully camouflaged and that countless more women have been fooled.
I also discovered that colored clothing requires frequent laundering. Every grass stain and every soiled spot demands attention.
This wasn't my experience with black. It conceals dirt exquisitely. Dry clean when you wish, not when you must. You can go out in black, spill drinks down your front, dip your sleeve in guacamole and even change a flat tire.
Black is also an excellent color choice when you need to wield authority. Wear black when you return merchandise to a store. Chances are that the manager will find your dark presence intimidating and without too many questions, clasp a credit refund into your haughty hand. If you add a floor-length black cape, a black fedora and keep one black-gloved hand hidden inside your cape, you'll surely receive cash.
Now imagine paying a visit to that same store with the same request, but this time dressed in a sweet floral print. It's very doubtful that you'll get anything but a tweak on the nose and perhaps the opportunity to apply for a position.
With color, there is always the problem of coordinating, making sure that the colors don't clash. Much thought is required and even more time.
Consider this familiar scenario: It's 7 a.m. and you're standing in front of your closet pondering what to wear. You finally decide on the sky-blue silk dress. Now what color belt? The blue belt that came with the dress? A gray belt? Perhaps a taupe one would bring out the blue? Then what about shoes? Blue? Or if you selected the gray belt, would matching gray pumps be appropriate? Now what color panty hose?
Need a Head Start
What you'll discover is that 7 a.m. is definitely not enough time to get dressed, that perhaps the previous evening might be a better solution. With color, you learn that the thought of dressing, coordinating and mood-matching will take over your life.
Once, when I used to reach into my closet with confidence knowing that regardless of what I pulled out, I would match, now I approach my wardrobe with a trepidation tinged with excitement. That's because nobody, least of all myself, knows what I'll look like when I walk out the door!