Reader Request: Accessorizing All Black

how to accessorize black outfits

A few weeks back, I got this inquiry from lovely reader msmeta:

My question is about livening up a basic black wardrobe. I have a lot of really nice, classic pieces — sweaters, pants, jackets, leather and even a couple of dresses — that I enjoy wearing and that make me feel comfortable and even chic. But I know I’m playing it much too safe with accessories: basic silver or gold hoop earrings and necklaces, and some fairly conservative scarves.  How can I get out of my rut without calling too much attention to my middle-aged self?

I, too, dig the monochrome look and wear loads of black, so this is a question that hits me right where I live! Here are some ideas for enlivening all-black or black-heavy outfits:

Add a black-and-white print

This is a great middle ground for someone who wants to add spice to black outfits, but isn’t quite ready to bring bold colors into the mix. Black-and-white prints can be bold or subdued, classic or trendy, and always look fabulous on a solid black background. Adding a scarf will give you a quick fix, but a printed jacket or cardigan will work, too. Regular geometrics like stripes or houndstooth will give a more conservative impression, while irregular organics like florals and watercolors will add movement and interest.

Layered necklaces

Necklace layering can mean artfully arranging three tiny pendants or it can mean piling chains on top of bibs. Either will work, but I’m in favor of the latter for black ensembles because a blank black palette is the perfect foundation for a bold jewelry look. If piling five heavy chains over your black tee and jeans feels too flashy, add a black blazer – it’ll subdue the look a bit, but allow the layered necklaces to peek out and add sass.

Colorful shoes

If you’re going to dress in black from top to toe, a splash of color in the ankle region adds interest and cheek. Red patent, purple suede, teal leather, yellow PVC … how fun to pair any of those options with a black boat neck and cigarette pants? If a single pop of color at your feet feels imbalanced, add another with earrings, necklace, or brooch in your top half. (As always, black looks best with strong, cool, bright colors like red, turquoise, and hot pink.)


Belts can be hard to master – but posts like this and this can help! And we’ve got more belt options than ever these days, which means that more body types can explore this accessory successfully. With black, a brightly colored belt adds an attention-getting but tasteful accent. Carefully done, a chain belt can be sleek and mod. Even black patent on black cloth can look polished. Belts are a great way to draw attention to your curves, and they give you a chance to break up the black a little.

Animal print accents

Not everyone wants to play bombshell and wear a leopard print sweater. But animal prints and black are a classic combo for a reason: They work together. Snakeskin shoes, a leopard print scarf, or a zebra pattern belt will make you look sassy but classy.

Funky eyeglasses

Obviously, not a suggestion for those blessed with 20/20 vision. But for those who don specs, what better place to express a penchant for creative accents than right there on your gorgeous face? Pick something architectural, with a hit of color, an interesting texture, and lots of personality.

In terms of guidelines for getting dressed – especially if, like msmeta, you want to be stylish but not spotlight-grabbing – you should chose a single bold accessory to break up the blackness. Don’t do a houndstooth scarf AND a red obi belt. Don’t do a stack of bangles AND a chunky silver necklace. Just one glam accessory at a time will keep you looking classy and modern, and prevent you from crossing the line into brash and brassy.

Finally, if chic-monochrome is likely to be your look for life, I hope you’ve got some white, gray, and brown in rotation, too. You can maintain that arty, slightly Parisian, übercool look with a couple more neutral shades thrown in.

Originally posted 2008-11-06 07:13:00.

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15 Responses to “Reader Request: Accessorizing All Black”

  1. La Belette Rouge

    You could have been writing this for me. I have a primarily black wardrobe. But, I do follow many of your suggestions. I do lots of coloured shoes. I have a lovely hounds tooth jacket, loads of animal prints accessories and bracelets are my thing! The only place I diverge with you is that I am a gold girl. I think because I have red hair, silver looks wrong on me.

    Great post. I really appreciate you not doing what many style experts do when faced with a black sea of a closet and advise to simply stop with the black.

    Oh, and you’ll be happy to hear that I just bought a bright pink corduroy jacket.;-)

  2. Songy

    This is really for me too. I’m a girl with black everything. Never tried any patterned things so I might try houndstooth.

  3. lopi

    I love the fact that you took the time to write down all that lovely advice. I am definitely not in a black rut, but if I were, this post would come in really handy! And I am a firm supporter of accessories to dress any outfit: scarves, belts and chunky necklaces are fundamental!

  4. K.Line

    Excellent advice. And I do think black and gold are terrific together – and black and silver for that matter.

  5. Sarah Von

    Well said, Sal! Also, that long silver necklace just so.damn.cute.

  6. momo

    I used to wear a lot more black, but it’s too dark in winter in MN, so I’ve livened up my palette. And black next to my face makes me look tired. so a bright scarf or muffler is easy to throw on, bring attention to the top of me where I want it, and can make my complexion look less wan.

  7. please sir

    Ohh great tips! I love the necklace – I think they slim you down too!

  8. kittyscreations

    I love how you explain things about fashion. These are all things that I was thinking, but couldn’t put into words. Seriously, you should collect all of you advice into a book. I’d be one of your first customers.

  9. Miss Karen

    These are really awesome tips – I have a few all black dresses that really need an extra something special and your advice is just what I needed 😀 Thank you!

  10. enc

    You made all the best suggestions, including my favorite, animal print with black! And I don’t even wear animal print!

    I love these tips and will use them myself.

  11. Shannon (A beautiful Dream)

    I love all black with ‘splashes’ of houndstooth, or gold jewelry or bright colour. Black hides so many sins (except cat hair when you have white cats…) and the splash of contrast adds sass.

    Oh and for those with 20/20 vision, you can always pick some awesome frames and get plain glass lenses put in them. This actually makes them a LOT cheaper than prescription glasses.

    Great post my sweet!

  12. Miss_Corrine

    Fabulous tips, and that houndstooth scarf is so divine – yum yum!

  13. Monique

    Wonderful! I always find that I mainly wear black or gray to work, so I tend to add lots of color via jackets, scarves, shoes or long necklaces. Great blog!!