My affair with black and white started in grade school, when I was learning ballet.
Sadly, I was no prima ballerina-in-the-making—my jeté
wasn’t high enough, my plié
wasn’t deep enough, and my poor flat feet couldn’t mimic the arches that my teachers displayed in their satin pointe shoes. Still, I was flexible, and I loved to dance, so I dutifully attended my weekly classes in blissful ignorance.
But I had another reason for going to class, an ulterior motive which trumped my desire to traipse around on tip-toe. It was this: I loved
my ballet uniform. Every time I had a lesson, I wore a black leotard, a short white dance skirt, and sheer white stockings. To my young mind, this was the epitome of style. My mom would pin my hair back, and I’d lace myself into my pale pink ballerina slippers, and as I walked into the dance studio and saw my reflection in the wall-to-wall mirror, I’d think, “I wish I could wear this every day.”
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until I saw Clueless
as an impressionable tween that I truly understood the fashion value of black and white. My ballet days were long gone by the time I caught the flick on TV—but little did I know that a lifelong obsession with B&W was just on the horizon. Wide-eyed, I watched as Alicia Silverstone went shopping in a crisp white shirt, black blazer, and matching diamond knit mini. In my head, a robotic voice intoned, “Must. Have. That. Outfit
And I was hooked.
Back then, skorts were all the rage—those miniskirt-and-short hybrids that female tennis players favor. I had two skorts—one white, one black—and I alternated them every other day, since my school didn’t have a uniform. My favorite blouse was this sleeveless white number with a little hood; I even wore it on my 13th birthday instead of asking for a new dress. I also had a pair of clunky black maryjanes with Velcro straps that I used as often as I could—after all, Mom said that black went with everything!
That’s not to say that I shunned all other colors. As a child bred on rainbow-bright programming like Jem and the Holograms
and Akazukin Chacha
, pulling off a two-tone wardrobe was virtually impossible. You’d be teased for dressing like a referee, or a nun, or Hamburglar. And anyway, your mom probably wouldn’t let you wear a color as “grown-up” as black. Brights all the way!
But I couldn’t help it—I was all about black and white, and the feeling only grew stronger as the years went by. I remember the first time I saw an LBD—Rachael Leigh Cook’s prom dress
in She’s All That
. I had a guttural reaction when Carrie Bradshaw donned black and white stripes
in Paris—it’s been my favorite Sex and the City
look ever since. Even a decade later, I still get chills whenever I see the Valentino gown
that Julia Roberts wore to the 2001 Oscars—vintage, black and white, and a back
to die for. The more movies—and movie stars—I saw, the more I witnessed these two colors woven effortlessly into fashion wonders, and the more I wanted a piece of it.
Then, in college, I discovered the splendor of classic films. The first one I watched was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. I was fascinated by the natural, un-Botoxed beauty, the pristine costumes, the red lipstick. I was a goner, plain and simple. I even convinced my parents to switch our cable service so that I could tune in to TCM, the TV channel for Turner Classic Movies.
I worked my way from My Fair Lady
to Pillow Talk
to Some Like It Hot
, and there I met the most elegant, alluring women in history—the Old Hollywood style icons. Marilyn Monroe, the bombshell. Marlene Deitrich, the mystery. Grace Kelly, the sophisticate. And above all, defying time and trends themselves, Audrey Hepburn, the eternal.
It goes without saying that these women did B&W like no others could. Those scrumptious vintage silhouettes gave them a leg up, but apart from that, these fashion muses just had It
—that gossamer-fine quality that separates the stars from the supporting cast. Onscreen, they dazzled in gorgeous black and white costumes (as you’ll see in the gallery below)—but even away from it, they were revered for their glamor, grace, and, yes, good sense.
The very qualities, in fact, that tell you all you need to know about black and white.(Flashbox photo of Elizabeth Taylor from
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer; article photo from
Suddenly, Last Summer courtesy of Columbia Pictures. Flashbox and article photos of Audrey Hepburn from
Breakfast at Tiffany’s courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)