Trust Your Style: A Manifesto Of Sorts

Detail: Everlane v slingback flats. More on these and learning to trust your style at une femme d'un certain age.

I sometimes get grief online for wearing black as often as I do, and perhaps on a purely objective level it’s not my best color. But truthfully, it’s the one I FEEL best in.

To me, black isn’t mournful or depressing. It’s deep and dramatic, strong and calming. Wearing something black makes me feel grounded and more defined. Powerful, too.

That said, I do sometimes enjoy wearing lighter neutrals or more color. It’s fun and refreshing. But black always calls out to me, and always feels right.

I get that not everyone likes black, on themselves or others. Some may have negative associations with it that I don’t, and that’s OK. Some people need a lot of color and brightness and pattern. I get that. The wonderful thing about fashion and style right now is that there’s room for all of it, for the myriad ways we choose to express ourselves.

Building Trust

With so much style advice and inspiration out there, it can be easy to lose your style voice amid all of the competing choruses. It’s great to learn and try new things, to figure out what works best for your body and lifestyle. And to reassess and refresh periodically. But the bottom line is that your style should feel good to you. It’s empowering when your style is an authentic expression of yourself. Trust that. Pay attention to the “click” when something just feels right. That’s your style voice. The more you listen to it and work it, the stronger it will get. (And something interesting: the more I learn to trust my style, the more I learn to trust my voice and perceptions in other areas of my life.)

There will always be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing or thinks something else would look better. That’s OK too, and doesn’t mean your preference is wrong. À chacun son goût.

What style advice do you sometimes ignore in favor of your own preferences?

Above: those Everlane slingback flats are just SO GOOD. Refined but not fussy, and very comfortable! Right in my Style Sweet Spot.

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  1. I tend towards black and white, even in the summer (nothing is crisper to me than black and white…) It’s just what I feel most comfortable in. When I do wear colors and prints I feel a bit like an imposter, and those items always end up in the back of the closet. It always amazes me when total strangers feel entitled to comment on my choice. Meanwhile, I would never comment negatively on someone’s fashion choice (unless asked to do so by a friend, of course). To each his own, indeed!

  2. I remember a watershed moment – when wearing black became a fashion statement. I was a junior in college. My best friend let me borrow her new black tafetta skirt to wear to a wedding, and I thought I looked very glamorous. For ladies with light hair, I think, nothing looks more stylish than black garments with a red lip. Regardless, at any age, we should all wear what makes us feel good, and wearing black makes me feel GREAT.

  3. I sometimes think that I wear too much black. For me, it is the ease of it–and the practicality. On a recent 21 European cruise, ALL of my ensembles for evening dinners were black. It worked for me!

    1. I loved your post today, Susan! I agree with your “words of wisdom”. Finally, I’m discovering and showing who I am. “Trusting my voice and perceptions”….thank you

  4. Brilliantly and succinctly said, you hit the nail on the head! Particularly with the observation that, as our sense of our authentic style grows, we gain insight in other areas too. I would love to wear more black, as it makes me feel confident and a bit sassy, but alas it really does me no favours near my face, unless I wear heavy make-up. So my alternative is a hit of leopard print, it has the same effect on my psyche. The search continues for another solid hue that boosts my confidence to the same degree… khaki comes close…

  5. I love black and I love it on you too. It’s so elegant, clean, minimal, and like you, I always feel good in head to toe black, or deep navy.

  6. Yes you wear black but seldom head to toe! Black is a great wardrobe builder and can always be jazzed up with great accessories. When buying ‘investment’ pieces it makes sense to choose black ( or the neutral one likes, could be navy too) I love the Eileen Fisher pants but at their price point I’ll buy black and wear for years. Why invest in a trendy colour and get bored of it in a year or two? Black looks great with white ( my own favourite) and can work all year round. Same with shoes, my work horses I buy in black ( although I did snag a trendy pair of red leather booties for half price;) Colours come and go but black is always chic!
    Bon weekend!!

  7. I don’t wear black, although black is highly regarded by many people. However, I have two daughters for whom black is serene and peaceful. For me it is too heavy and weighs me down. I don’t mind seeing you in black at all. Most (if not all) things can be interpreted beautifully in other colors. The only time I’m disappointed is if one of your fab links has an only-black option. Keep up the good work, Susan

  8. I like wearing dark colours like burgundy, steel grey, aubergine purple that’s almost black. People complain not just about the black clothes but the lack of any pattern or flowers in my wardrobe.

    Like you, clothes in black/ dark colours make me feel confident and powerful. We’re all different women and surely we can dress in the way that suits our personality and lives without feeling guilty about it.

  9. Black doesn’t look good on a lot of people. It can even be aging. But, i’m not going to tell someone what they can or can’t wear. Even though I have quite a bit of contrast in my coloring, I prefer black on the bottom part of my body or as a sweater. It’s not terrible, but it’s too heavy and not my best unless I show more skin around my face. My best neutral is charcoal gray. I have recently learned that ink blue is just as harsh and so it’s limited in my closet as well.

  10. Agreed! I love black – and yes, even head to toe, sometimes (but always with non-black accessories)! I’m not overweight, I’m not in mourning, I just feel good in black. When nothing else feels right, it’s my go-to.

  11. I feel good in black as well, Sue. Especially a black jacket. Cannot begin to count the various black blazers I have had and worn to death over the years… beginning with a lovely black corduroy one in high school that I wore with faded jeans. Still love that look.
    P.S. I find I always have to remind myself of “my style” before I embark on shopping that pesky Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I can be lured by price alone if I’m not careful.

  12. Jeez, people can be so judgy. I think you have a nice mix of neutrals and colors as well as basics in black. Although women of a certain age are being told that black is too harsh for older coloring, who died and made them queen? Black pants, black leather jacket, little black dress — those are my tried and true standards, although I’ve gotten ideas to add some other colors from your blog. Or I can always add colorful accessories. I’m happy for others to stick with colors that make them feel good. There’s room in this world for all kinds of choices.

  13. When I was 16, my father took me shopping and bought me a black dress. My mother was outraged. Ever since then I have loved black, but just not right next to my face. I’m a fair skinned, natural blonde. Black makes me feel like an adult. It’s chic, seductive and practical. Susan, you look great in black. I imagine it must make you look somewhat unique in LA, and that’s good!

    Some years ago, I sat next to Claudette Colbert in a restaurant here in NYC. She was wearing black lace with a beautiful pearl choker. Her dinner partner was a gorgeous long-haired blond wearing a filmy pale silk print dress. Guess who looked better, the somewhat elderly Claudette or the young blonde? You’re right. The blonde looked like a shadow of the dynamite Claudette. So wear as much black as you want to and don’t worry about what others think.

  14. Dear Susan
    at the risk of disagreeing!
    You always look great-and I have some other thoughts.
    When I think of a great picture of you, you are on a path on Lake Como, in the green/sage utility jacket with a
    colorful scarf. I am not sure of your eye color but (IMHO) greens on you seem to look great!
    To each his/her own: black can be powerful, it can be sexy-
    for clothes, it is what makes you feel good about yourself. For me -deep navy is the darkest color in that spectrum.
    Several years ago, I had my colors done. No black or red. Completely emptied out my closet, redid
    it with only my new colors and got way more compliments–
    and “found your blog” which really helped with choosing for travel!
    Very much agree with the above comment re black near the face/black pants are a completely different story- Also, another topic (food for thought) –when you see movie/TV clothes for characters, it is frequently
    deep blues that are used for men and women. Example: Pierce Brosnan in “Love is all You Need”-
    Does anyone love the clothes in the “Grace and Frankie ” series?-each character to her/his own!
    Again thanks for a great blog!

    1. Loved Grace & Frankie especially watching how Grace’s style softened. Found myself realising that my wardrobe sways towards a ‘Grace’ but my heart wants to be a ‘Frankie’.

    2. When you mentioned to the Lake Como picture, I knew instantly the one you meant. It sums up travelling in style (and made me want to go out and buy a utility jacket.)

  15. You described black perfectly for me……not my best color either but it’s what I feel best in. On a side note, the black Everlane slingback flats have enticed me to try a pair of flats again. I’m short and lean toward platform shoes but will give these a try.

  16. I wear black all the time, too. Right now–black polo and black linen shorts. Yesterday–black dress. Day before–black capris with a black top. Part of it is that when you’re shopping for clothes, it’s already hard enough to find the right size and fit/cut at the right price point, and even harder to find fabrics you like, but to also find the right color? Black is almost always one of the options. No wondering about whether it’s the right shade.

  17. I always wear black and always feel great in it! Right now, in our hot summer, I am wearing totally white… but black will appear soon! And for travel there is nothing as versatile as black (with, of course, some bright color scarf or necklace.)

  18. You look great in black – it works with your coloring and your aesthetic. It IS about the click, and I feel the click viscerally. It would be fun to do a step-by-step getting dressed, or shopping, and the moment/underpinnings of the click.

    In my next life I’ll write that;).

  19. I love black ! I wear black & white so much in our hot Texas summers and always feel “correct.” Black and ANY COLOR also look fabulous. I have girlfriends who do not wear black because they think they need color. I need the elegance and sophistication I think black can lend to anything.

  20. I don’t enjoy wearing black, but I wore it for years because I didn’t know how to do anything else. With the help of your blog and the Vivienne files I have been able to switch my neutral to
    navy. Now some people complain or tease that I wear too much blue. But it’s what I feel best in. In the winter I also add in burgundy, and in the summer pink. I’m having so much more fun with clothes as I have learned to listen to that click you talk about, Sue. I love your choices on you.

  21. I had my colors done years ago under the system that was used to show people why Jackie Onassis looked so great in the colors she wore, especially black. It’s all about skin tone. Anyway, I’m supposed to be best in primary colors and a variety of other great light yellow based colors. I love them but as my body has changed over the several years, I moved to black to hide the imperfections. Sad but true. However, my scarves are colorful and as of late, I am working to change my closet a bit and get back to the ivories, reds, etc that make me feel happy. I also think it is less about color and more about shape and proper fit. I have tons of EF but have gotten rid of most of her boxy items as it doesn’t hide anything it just makes a person look bigger with some few exceptions unless we go back to the thin folk.
    I say “live it up…wear what you love and the heck with the rest of the world….unless you are going for a job interview!!”.

  22. I guess I just find it intrusive and rude to make negative comments about other people’s preferences or taste. I think if your clothing, decorating or food choices make you happy and feel great, more power to you! I personally love black and wear it a lot. A sales woman at a fancy department store commented that I should not wear black near my face and completely took the wind out of my sails for the rest of the day.

  23. I love black. I love other things too, but some days black is the only option. I too feel its power, its drama, its sophistication. Your advice about listening to your own click is right on. We can’t please everyone; the least we can do is please ourselves.

  24. I love black and have been wearing it continuously in some form since I was 25, and am now 67! It looked sophisticated and sharp when I first noticed it on a trip to NYC. forty something years ago. I called it the poor girls secret- it can be worn anywhere and anytime and the wearer look s polished and “ serious”.
    And as the basis of a capsule wardrobe, especially for travel, black ( especially pants, skirts and shoes )will
    always be appropriate and in style.
    Susan, you always look great- really enjoy your blog

  25. A wonderful, insightful “manifesto”. I agree wholeheartedly and also wear mostly black an white too. Thank you for your wisdom insightfulness.

  26. Black in the daytime works well on younger people. It’s quite aging on mature women, accentuating all the unwelcome changes on ones visage! When I wear black I always add white or a combo for balance. Years ago, when in Milan, everybody was in black. So unfortunate, as Italians complexions are olive, so they all looked in “mourning”. However, I say, “ chacun a son gout “!

  27. Today’s post is on the mark! I wear mostly black, but I am surrounded by color in my home. I love color “around” me, but not “on” me.

  28. I, too, used to catch a lot of criticism when I traveled for work for wearing so much black. At one point, I bought a beautiful coral colored jacket. First trip I wore it on, I managed to spill coffee on it and in spite of getting it to the cleaners immediately upon arrival, the stain never fully came out. Needless to say, I am back to black and navy for travel especially for slacks, jackets and outerwear. Both are elegant colors that can go from day to evening and if something goes get spilled, it’s not the end of the piece. I bring in color through less expensive tops and scarves. Since I don’t like to have a separate travel wardrobe, I still have a lot of black in mine.

  29. When I was in the workplace, black was just so easy. Now that I am retired, and my coloring has changed (Gray hair!), I feel like black is too harsh and am transitioning to navy and charcoal for my neutrals.

  30. I really enjoy your contemplative posts, Susan. Had a thought while looking at these elegant black slings. Why not pair your jeans with the more casual rust colour version of these slings? You mentioned in a recent post from France that rust seems to be the current colour there. I think (who’s to say I’m right) the rust colour would look great, even more summery, and then go right into fall.

    1. Hi Elizabeth, funny you mention that…I’d decided I liked these shoes so much I ordered the rust color a few days ago. Should have them soon! 😉

  31. I really enjoy your contemplative pieces. It was the Rethinking Classic piece that brought me to your blog. Navy gives me that feeling like I’m right on my game sensation. I didn’t wear it for years as it was my convent school uniform colour!
    I’m astonished that people feel moved to criticise your style, you are undoubtedly a style ambassador for the US when you come to Europe. Perhaps people should look instead at the vast numbers of American visitors committing sartorial crimes on the streets of London every day and have a word with them instead!!

  32. A couple of years ago I put on my slim straight Gap jeans in a medium wash and a black tank top and, even thought I had worn that same outfit hundreds of times, at that moment something went off in my head and I knew that was the look for me. I also realized that I will never like anything frilly, sweet, colorful, whimsical, or patterned and that I was a deep-down jeans and tee gal. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sewer and love all textiles and appreciate all forms of clothing but for me plain, simple, neutral works best. And jeans – the only pant I will wear.

  33. Part of my effort to simplify my life was to wear only black on the lower half of my body — slacks, socks, shoes. On top I love solid blocks of contrasting colors — top, jacket or vest, scarf. I hate wearing black on the top half of my body; it makes me feel sad, uncreative and dull. My daughter and daughters-in-law wear mostly black. All are busy professional women and it works well for their lifestyles.

  34. I, too, wear a lot of black. It is a no brainer and allows me to feel comfortable, appropriate and confident. When I am in a social gathering, I don’t think about myself and if I look ok, I can focus on others and enjoy myself. I have grey hair now and so it is even easer to style black.

    I love this blog and I look forward to it always. Susan, you have given such fantastic travel wardrobe that helped me so much. Thank you for sharing so much about YOU, I enjoy that immensely !!!

  35. What a delightful post, Susan! I really enjoyed reading it and also all the replies. My mother did not think young girls should wear black. So when I finally wore black it was a big deal. When I wear black I feel powerful. But its not my best color. I wear a lot of greens, yellows, and blues. Besides I have a little dog that sheds her golden hair on my black and my love of red wine makes white an unwise choice. The message you were sending is one we can never hear too often. Cultivate your own sense of style. Its fine to briefly consider comments from others whether they are complimentary or critical. But only briefly. Whatever makes us feel attractive and on top of our game is what we should wear. When we hear the “click”.

    1. My little cat is the colour of night, and also sheds, though she has a short, close, silky coat. No white shirts or white anything!

      Pseu wears blue very well too – cobalt and other “hard” blues look very harsh on me.

  36. With 47 other comments you do not need mine. However Susan you look wonderful. You dress also for travel and to look appropriate anywhere. Southern California is hardly the place where style has been born. I live here too and often think women look poorly dressed it does not matter the price point. Anyway black is a basic all over the world and always looks smart plus it works for travel as it doesn’t show the wear and tear so much.

  37. I too have a black cat and, like her, regard it as the perfect colour for me. Have worn it for many years – black, white, gold, black, white, tan, black, white, silver. Black on black. Because once it is on then I do not need to think about it anymore. Frills, florals, patterns in general are not for me though if they are on the right person they look great. And navy blue reminds me too much of school uniform. But I do love blue and white in the summer. So cheery. The only colour I cannot abide is mustard yellow. Mustard, I love. On a plate.

  38. Thanks for the supportive and reassuring post, Susan. I am glad that you are authentic to your own feelings, and wear what you feel is right for you.
    That is why I continue to visit you here!

  39. I just recently located my set of colors from 30 years ago, when I had my colors done. The lady who performed her color magic on me said that I might not want to wear “my” colors at that time, but that I should consider it as I got older, because skin and coloring changes over time do definitely have an effect on one’s overall look. And of course, I rarely wore any of my colors for the next 30 years. I wore black a lot, until the day not that long ago when I just had had enough of the struggle of trying to make this harsh and aging color work. I sat for awhile with what I was giving up. Could my ego withstand the perceived loss of “power”? Finally, I decided that I, and only I, contain my power; it’s going to be there with or without a magic color. And then I started tossing everything that just simply no longer worked. It was not like shedding a skin, it was revealing the rainbow that might just be symbolic of true power: you can play certain cards in your hand until your entire body, including your skin, hair, facial shape, etc. rebel. I used to LOVE black, but eventually started to see it as a crutch, an easy out, no thought required, and since I grew up (recently) I wanted to be and act with more creativity. Black is not the boss of me. 😉

  40. I love wearing color – cobalt blue, vivid red, sassy orange, bright rose……but my closet is full of black because it seems like everything comes in black. When there’s something online I’d like to order that comes in several colors, it seems the colors sell out first, and I’m left with – black. 🙁 I find it very hot to wear in Texas – especially this summer with day after day of 108, 109, etc. I admire it so much on others, but I feel and look great in color.

  41. I am also drawn to black though it doesn’t look so great on me, but I like it anyway… I am blonde & blue-eyed & I do love pink & blue but the color has to be just right bc if it’s too pale or not saturated enough, it’s more like a white, which is not my best “color”…