'Is it too much to ask that everyone wear a touch of red?'
It's a Sunday afternoon in early November, and my mother is pleading with us Ñ her kids and our kids Ñ to cooperate with her vision of the family Christmas photo.
I see where she's going with this: The 'touch of red' is meant to distinguish us from other families, whose photo garb will invariably lean heavily toward the popular 'jeans and a white shirt' theme. And because we are known for our tidy, sportif style, we do not want to disappoint our viewers.
My sister and I give each other the well-honed 'here we go again' brow-lifting signal. Because although we appreciate our mother's efforts to impress, there's no getting around the fact that we haven't worn a 'touch of red' since grade school. It was then that my carefully coordinated Ñ and highly patriotic Ñ red, white and blue wardrobe inspired my classmates to sing the national anthem whenever I entered the room.
Years later, the pro-American ensembles have been replaced by something perhaps more understandable to children living under a fascist regime: Black, white and gray now make up most of my wardrobe, with a rare nod to whimsy via baby blue or camel. Anything more flamboyant is like kryptonite is to Superman, draining me of my style strength.
Psychologists might say that my relatively dour duds are a reaction to grade school taunting Ñ or that they reflect a need for meds Ñ but I stand behind the beauty of a closet that resembles a black hole.
First, what could be simpler? Instead of wasting scads of time pondering whether to go with the plaid or the zebra print (no, wait Ñ I wore those last week), I find comfort in knowing that one pair of black pants is as chic as another. A variety of cuts and fabrics lend themselves to different moods and events. For example, the men's tux pants worn with a jeans jacket on Saturday gets sexy at night when mixed with a white ribbed tank, a glam choker and strappy sandals.
Second, a dark silhouette suggests wealth, polish and a lean physique, which is why you'll never find a photo of Coco Chanel in a floral shift. She used to say that a woman needed just one perfect black suit and black dress (anything more was excessive) and that when you're finished getting dressed, you should 'take one thing off.' She probably was referring to accessories.
Little has changed decades later: Those who land on the best-dressed list still know that a few simple, well-made pieces are the backbone of a good wardrobe. The result is saved time, closet space and money not squandered on throwaway trends. Trickledown simplicity is an added bonus. Stick with a black, white and gray palette, and you can skip the expense of buying shoes and bags in brown.
Those who find comfort in color should know that a graphically simple aesthetic doesn't have to be dull or less than flattering. A pashmina in beige-y pink, for instance, may do more for a girl's complexion than a boyfriend. A crisp white shirt, a bold cuff bracelet and the new oversize bag (dare I suggest red?) are also an easy way to lighten things up.
Finally, the streets of Europe provide proof that black is beautiful Ñ again. Parisians are embracing the '90s noir look again, this time worn with a very pointed, unmistakably modern, toe.
And the family Christmas card? It looks like we're going with a newsletter.