I was fretting to Ingrid the other day about whether black and white prints were becoming a cliche. I freaking love black and white prints, but I’m starting to see them everywhere, and I was fretting that five or ten years from now, they’d be like bell bottoms from the ’70s or shoulder pads from the ’80s. “Do you remember the early 20-teens, when everyone was wearing black and white prints? God, we were such dorks!”
And then I decided: No. Black and white prints aren’t a cliche. Black and white prints are not going to be a cliche. Black and white prints have skipped the “cliche” phase entirely, and are going straight from “trendy” to “basic.”
And there’s a reason. Black and white prints are awesome.
Black and white prints are neutral — i.e., you can wear them with any color — without being boring.
Black and white prints are elegant and classy, but still attention-grabbing and playful. Or, if you prefer: Black and white prints are attention-grabbing and playful, but still elegant and classy.
Black and white prints are a great way to make black a little more interesting. As someone who loves her some black clothing; as someone who used to wear all black all the time; as someone who had to make a New Year’s resolution one year to start buying at least some clothing that wasn’t black — and as someone who was finally, reluctantly, forced to admit that black needs at least a little something else to set it off if it’s not going to go completely flat and disappear into itself — I very much appreciate the value of this.
Black and white prints are super versatile, and can easily be dressed up or dressed down. A black and white print blouse, for instance, can be worn with jeans for a casual look; a jacket and trousers for the office; heels and an elegant skirt for evening.
Black and white prints can be mixed with other prints: either colored prints, or other black and white prints. Mixing prints can be a nifty way to create a dramatic look, but it’s tricky to do without looking like you either dressed in the dark or escaped from the circus. Black and white prints make this balancing act… not easy, exactly, but less difficult.
Black and white prints can, as noted above, be worn with any color. But they can also be worn with no color at all. They’re a perfect way to get the sparse elegance of a no-color look, and still look interesting and eye-catching and not blend into the background.
And you can go in a lot of different directions with a black and white print. You can go with zany patterns or classic stripes; little florals or vivid op-arts; simple checks or wild zebra stripes; strong graphics or subtle patterns that read as gray from a distance. They look great in blouses, dresses, skirts, jackets, tank tops. So there’s a lot of room in there for personal style.
I was so very happy when I started seeing black and white prints everywhere. I love it when styles I love come into fashion. Not because my closet is all of a sudden trendy — I don’t much care about that — but because I’ll be able to buy the clothes I like. Military styling, richly saturated colors… it tickled me pink to see these things show up in the fashion magazines, because it meant they’d be in the stores soon, and I could buy them.
But there is a danger to it. Styles that are trendy today can easily become dated tomorrow. And while, for the most part, I don’t really give a shit about what is or is not currently in fashion, I don’t want my look to be so dated it’s ridiculous. To hammer the “fashion is like a language” metaphor into the ground: I don’t want to be using slang from twenty years ago. I don’t want to be one of those wanna-be hip codgers who has no clue that nobody says “Groovy” anymore.
I don’t think that’s going to happen with black and white prints, though. I think — and I should clarify here that I am by no stretch of the imagination a fashion expert and I could very easily be wrong about this — that black and white prints are not going anywhere. I think they’re becoming a classic. A basic. Like denim, or the little black dress.
There’s a different danger to that, of course. Part of what I like about black and white prints is that they’re so distinctive. And if everyone is wearing them… well, they’re going to be a lot less distinctive. Pretty much by definition.
But I’m okay with that. Again: Black and white prints are versatile enough that they can easily be made distinctive, even if lots of people are wearing them. If they become a basic, I’ll still be able to make them my own: with jewelry, with shoes, with jackets, with colors, with patterned stockings, with other prints. And of course, there can be a nearly infinite variety of prints… just like there’s a nearly infinite variety of little black dresses. There’s lots of room for distinction and expression and playfulness in basics — and there will still be lots of room for distinction and expression and playfulness in black and white prints, even as they become a basic.
And if they become a basic, then they’ll always be in the stores. And I’ll be able to buy them.
Which will be totally awesome.