How to Wear Black and White if You Love Color

Certain rules are so affixed to our identities that to break them would be like drinking a cold brew with no caffeine, or riding a bicycle whilst wearing no knickers. Dang nonsensical.

Well! Stop all the clocks, as W. H. Auden once wrote, because I’ve gone and sold my soul to the dark side. That’s right. Me, a lover of color, forcibly incapable of the ascetic, has fallen in love with black and white.

My eschewal of the color-free life for my first 29 years was not one borne out of deliberate resistance. There was no such intention, nor any underlying narrative. It was more a dismal belief that I couldn’t be chic in simple and non-shouty fashion (like, say, that of British Vogue’s Sarah Harris, who does this so famously well). I feared it wouldn’t feel authentic, that I’d look like a fraud and, in turn, the black-and-whiteness of the outfit would make me look pale and boring and then everyone would realize how pale and boring I actually am. See how it escalates?

But then I quit my job as an editor at The Sunday Times Style in January, I turned 30 and, cliché as it may be, I started to look at myself and my wardrobe with fresh eyes. “Who am I?” I thought, dreamily surveying myself in the mirror like Derek from Zoolander. And then I thought, “How do I wish to clothe me?”

I decided I feel a little bit less razzmatazz. Not always, mind you. I still love to dress up in the evenings. But I felt like flashing less flesh, wearing flatter shoes, keeping things comfortable (anyone else find they’re really shying away from ostentatiously corseted items or complicated hems and whistles and bows and dresses with 487 things going on?). I felt like — and I’m loathe to use this explanation because of the patronizing relationship it implies between color and youth — I’d grown up a bit. I felt like I’d grown in to black and white. Like I’d earned it. I’d shrugged it on and it finally fit. Here it was, presented forth to me, in a way that now made sense and I was rrrrready.

Once I fell hook, line and sinker for black and white — and it happened gradually; I couldn’t tell you an exact date, just that I found myself wearing black jeans with a white T-shirt and a white blazer, and triptychs of this same color-free color wheel more and more — I realized that, like many great discoveries, there was so much more to it than I’d realized. There are worlds within this monochrome world. And the choice was plentiful.

More than any other shoot I’ve done for Man Repeller, I had pieces vying to be included in this shoot. My Realisation Par polkadot wrap dress is still pissed off with me, as is my black denim skirt and my white Racil blazer. And my black silk Rosetta Getty palazzo pants and my Maison Cleo white cotton puff-sleeved blouse.

See, here, the myriad ways of black and white. The milkmaid prettiness, espoused by Rejina Pyo’s iconic Greta dress (the shape is so flattering) made modern with the black stitching.

Then we have sci-fi monochrome modernity, in this supremely comfortable yet streamlined combination of heavy jersey skirt, silk blouse and leather over-the-knee boots. Not an inch of flesh in sight and yet, because of the lack of color (I think), I felt really sexy rather than librarian-like.

Last but not least, we have black and white as I know it best: a detail-orientated, vintage-cued blouse (this one is actually by an excellent young New York-based brand called Oresund Iris, but mostly this component would be an actual vintage blouse) and black jeans.

These outfits all feel so different, and yet, they are bound together by their monochromatic status.

I once thought a black and white outfit had no scope for adventure or personal interpretation. I stand corrected. These outfits feel more me, right now, than most of my wardrobe put together. I haven’t entirely lost my penchant for color. I’m still reaching for it in my accessories: sunshine yellow Manolo Blahnik mules; beaded Mochi earrings; the vintage pink canvas Prada bag that the internet cannot find me but which I remain devoted to. Start the clocks again. My revelation, startling as it was? Not so much of a revelation or a personal departure, after all.

Photos by Frances Davison.

Pandora Sykes

Pandora Sykes

Pandora Sykes is a contributing editor at Man Repeller, freelance journalist, stylist and consultant of She is also the co-host of the weekly news/pop-culture podcast The High Low. Follow her on Twitter @pinsykes @thehighlowshow and Instagram @pandorasykes.

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