The New Black and White

Marc Jacobs-Spring-2013(Reuters)Marc Jacobs, Spring 2013 (Reuters)

It’s right there in black and white. Between jailbird stripes, checkerboard squares and tuxedo-like ensembles, black-and-white pairings are an ‘It’ look for spring.

In their search for new colors, more designers have returned to the staples: black and white. Don’t confuse this with basics; this trend involves pulling the colors together in new ways, as Christina Binkley explains on Lunch Break.

Designer Marc Jacobs went gaga for black and white in his spring collections—showing a psychedelic take on stripes for his eponymous label and mating checks with bigger checks in designs for Louis Vuitton. Both collections are considered among his most memorable.

A model walks the runway at a Marc Jacobs fashion show.

So many fashion labels, from Calvin Klein and Alexander Wang to Balenciaga and Givenchy, showed black-and-white looks for resort and spring wear that fashion magazines are already hammering home the idea. Wintertime issues of Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar are chockablock with black-and-white fashion spreads.

“It’s great that something so classic is suddenly so cutting-edge,” says Los Angeles stylist Penny Lovell, whose client list includes Keira Knightley and Diane Kruger. Many women already have closets full of black clothes and white clothes.

But the black-and-white trend isn’t as simple as it sounds. For many women, it presents a style conundrum: How does one make a white blouse with black pants look fresh?

Often, the new black and white has a twist. Top off the pairing, for instance, with a slightly surprising black-and-white accessory, such as a white belt, a black-and-white handbag or saddle-inspired shoes. White accessories can add an unexpected element to an all-black outfit.

It isn’t necessary to push the look over the top, though. A crisp white blouse and tailored black pants (perhaps with white socks and black Oxfords) has its own impact—especially if the pieces are well-cut and the shapes are stylish. Today’s silhouettes involve longer skirts, and either slim pants or very wide-legged slacks with higher waists. Bonus points for a striking material such as a skirt in snakeskin.

It is fine to add a splash of rich color, such as maroon or emerald green. Keep it focused on one area of your body so that it looks intentional. (Avoid mixing crimson with the tuxedo look, unless you’re aiming for butler chic.)

The most in-vogue way to do the look is to invest in some of the graphic prints—stripes, checks, giant houndstooth prints and other patterns—that are coming out in shirts, slacks, skirts and even shoes and handbags. A rush of these loud black-and-white prints will start arriving in stores in January and February. These patterns can add spice and action—and the play of the colors may be more flattering for women who feel drab in too much black or white.

Ms. Lovell warns that the graphic black-and-white approach “doesn’t need a lot of jewelry. Keep it simple.” And she rejects the traditional warning against horizontal stripes, saying what works “depends on the cut” of the clothing.

Another stylist, Laura Jones, says she likes to dress client Alicia Keys in “that black-and-white look because it has that cleanliness” with a minimalist feel. But don’t wear a busy print look head-to-toe, Ms. Jones warns, “unless you’re prepared to own it.”

Tuxedo-like pairings of black pants and white shirts have instant edge. The best versions playfully stretch the look beyond what Cary Grant wore so well—think jeans and a sleek jacket. But whether you’re working with denim or wool crepe, preserve that penguin-like contrast.

“You have a lot of freedom,” says Ms. Jones. “They’re two colors that will go together no matter what, so play with the silhouette.”

The black-and-white pairing is one of those trends on which so many designers have agreed that one wonders who sent the memo. Sharon Graubard, fashion director for the Stylesight consulting service, says the trend may have originated from a few memorable spring 2012 collections, including Marni, Rick Owens and particularly Phoebe Philo for Céline.

Ms. Philo’s all-white looks, with strong black shoes, in particular, were seen as widely influential. “I think the black and white thing has been percolating,” Ms. Graubard says.

Sometimes a look just feels right for an era. Black symbolizes elegance and power, while white suggests purity and simplicity. Fashion consumers have embraced both these themes—yin and yang—since the 2008 financial crash.

There is science in the way that fashion lovers engage with this emerging trend. The stark contrast between black and white is stimulating to our brains, says Caroline Winnett, chief marketing officer for Nielsen NeuroFocus. The consulting group, purchased last year by the Nielsen Co., studies the way consumers respond to market stimuli neurologically, tracking how trends emerge.

What’s more, the graphic elements of many prints are stimulating to our brains. That’s one reason why the baby-product aisles in stores are full of black-and-white cubes to hang over cribs.

“The brain has a lot of fun processing not just the colors going on but the shapes,” says Ms. Winnett, who notes that different parts of our brains respond to shapes and colors. So that’s why those Marc Jacobs stripes woke us up. “You’re engaging more up there,” she says.

Shoe designer Stuart Weitzman says he was inspired last summer by memories of an old pair of saddle shoes. He updated the look with a high wedge heel that will ship to stores in February.

It’s a nice contrast, he says, with all the floral patterns of the previous spring.

“We have learned,” he says, “that a new fashion look does not evolve from last year’s fashion look.”




  1. Love that picture! Personally I love black & white, you can never go wrong it’s always such a classic. It’s easy to change it up with a pop of colour or just keep it streamlined!

  2. Love that picture! Personally I’m always drawn to Black and White, it’s always such a classic. You can add a pop of colour or just keep it classic.

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