Has the Basic Black Dress Disappeared?

AS A BABY EDITOR at fashion magazines in the 1990s, I was raised on a steady visual diet of the chicest black clothes. The office grown-ups at Harper’s Bazaar, W and Vogue would glide down the halls in form-fitting knits or svelte Helmut Lang pants that grazed their Manolo Blahnik BB pumps. Their sleek black Jil Sander suits and pencil skirts were constructed with care. My middle-aged years, it seemed, were going to be sartorially amazing: Choosing an artistic black wardrobe would give me a license to ignore lesser trends, signify maturity and fill my closet with essentials to rely on for decades—especially once I had the financial leeway to splurge on quality pieces. “One day,” my peers and I would say while enviously eyeballing our bosses in black dresses by Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga, “that will be us.”

Now that I’m in my 50s, life—and the clothing available—falls well short of the cashmere-swathed ’90s Donna Karan advertisement I dreamed it would be. The only hall I glide down connects my kitchen to the back door. My commute is 30 feet to an office above our garage, my co-workers are two terriers that shed shamelessly, leaving anything I wear covered in hair. But the few clothes I own that have gone the distance are, indeed, black: a Co silk blazer and Iro leather jacket from the 2010s; a Veronique Branquinho tuxedo jacket and Hussein Chalayan top I bought circa Y2K.

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