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One of the better compliments I get on a somewhat regular basis is that I always look stylish or put-together, based largely on my penchant for wearing shapeless shirts, high-waisted jeans, and as few colors as possible. While I relish the flattery, it couldn’t be more misguided: For me, wearing black has little to do with aspiring to appear chic (mostly because I’m not; my favorite coat is from Costco and my favorite pair of shoes is orthopedic). Instead, the goal is to mask the fact that I’m a gnarly human being, at least from anyone who’s never seen me eat.
If there’s anything more depressing than looking funeral-ready on a regular basis, it’s feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable as you move through the world — which is exactly how I felt before I adopted an all-black uniform, back in the days when any air of mystery about my attire came not from its hue, but from trying to figure out what the crumbs stuck to my lap were. Throughout high school and college, I favored floral dresses, neon tees, and brightly colored jorts, all of which certainly matched my loquacious personality; they also betrayed my aversion to doing laundry, hanging my clothes, or wiping my hands on a napkin instead of my blue jeans.
It seems safe to say I’m not alone in wanting to present myself as a cleaner person than I am, or at the very least to camouflage my grossness. Who doesn’t want to look like they have their shit together — like they could be described as “competent,” “clever,” or “employed”? In a light shirt, a slob tends to look like a slob; in a black shirt, however, the slovenly somehow becomes sleek. For the repugnant among us, the all-black ensemble can be the blank canvas that allows you to portray yourself as a “better” you (read: someone who does more laundry and/or smears less Cheeto dust on her sleeves). It can also make you look like someone else entirely — say, someone who didn’t sniff the shirt she slept in, shrug her shoulders, and decide to wear it to work.
There is hardly an easier way to look like an adult — or, more specifically, an adult who gives half a damn — than to throw on a black dress, or a pair of black jeans and a black turtleneck. It’s not as if New Yorkers and Parisians have become known for their monochromatic style without reason: An all-black look is practical, classic and nondescript, flattering but not ostentatious, easy to accessorize and always bound to match. In urban environments it offers another key advantage, hiding all the dirt and miscellaneous schmutz you’ll inevitably encounter on the street. Cities are disgusting, but black doesn’t let it show — which is extra great if you happen to be disgusting, too.
(It’s important to note that if you are a true and dedicated slob, as I am, it is still possible to look disheveled in black: Darkness does not mask the fact that your cardigan is eight years old, pilled enough to have been your grandmother’s, covered in cat hair, and missing a button. If you can stick your pinky through the hole near the bottom of your shirt, other people can see it, even if your shirt is dark as ebony.)
What they can’t see, however, is the dry balsamic vinegar speckled on your left boob, fork-flicked off some spinach you shoveled in your mouth while you were eating lunch at your desk. It’s likely they can’t spot the little bit of tikka masala you got on yourself last time you wore the shirt, when you hung it back up instead of putting it in the hamper, either. Invisible are the pit stains your probably-Alzheimer’s-inducing clinical strength deodorant left behind, not to mention any rogue toothpaste or clingy dust bunnies on your chest.
When I’m wearing all black, I feel confident not only because I know my entire outfit matches, or because the color is slimming. Unless I’ve been eating yogurt or another white dairy product, unless I felt compelled to bleach my bathtub in my work clothes, or unless I’ve been invited to a white dress affair on par with Solange’s wedding, I can walk into just about any room and make people believe I am not a dumbass. Rarely can anyone tell my thick cotton T-shirt is basically a paper towel. Nobody would suspect my infinity scarf is merely a warm bib.
But if I consumed all my meals the way I do on the rare occasions I wear white in public — which is to say, in liquid form and through a straw, so as to minimize the chances of spilling — I wouldn’t be happy. I wouldn’t be me. Better I seem more funereal than fun, appear more somber than I am, and finish whatever I’m working on while simultaneously dribbling soup onto my collar. No matter what black outfit I’m wearing, at least I’ll look like myself.