Right before I moved to New York from North Carolina for graduate school, my mom said that the city would change my style. “Yeah right, I’ll always love colors,” I specifically remember telling her. I definitely wasn’t an Elle Woods type of girl, but I loved a good pink shirt. My wardrobe was no stranger to ROYGBIV.
I was never afraid to experiment with a wild printed dress, and it drove my mom insane because she always stuck to solids and neutrals. She never admitted it, but I knew she had always hoped I’d be more of the Ann Taylor Loft-type dresser like most of my friends.
“You just wait. The next time you come home you’ll be wearing all black like me,” my mom said on our way to the airport. I thought I would be the first one not to give in to the peer pressure of a mostly black, adult-looking New York wardrobe. But she was right. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I went to Parsons where black is the unspoken dress code, or just the fact that I didn’t want to look like a tourist, but after only two months of living in the city, my wardrobe was as black as my soul.
I practically bought out every black dress, sweater or black denim jeans I could find in my size at Zara. I had three pairs of black ankle boots in rotation. If I opted for any colors (which was seldom), it was a pop of grey or a little bit of white. Who am I? I often asked myself when I looked in the mirror. I felt a bit like a kid who was trying on their parents’ work clothes for fun, but it felt right.
Eight months after moving here, I got an internship at a well-known magazine where everyone has colored hair, wears Chuck Taylors and bright prints, and says things like ‘rad.’ I felt like an outsider in all black. During my first month, an employee asked me if I would ever consider dyeing my hair something more “fun,” and my face turned red and I wanted to hide under the pile of dresses I was returning to PR places. Was my ombre hair not good enough? Was I not fun enough to work there? Probably not.
My clothes were like a sign that said hey, look at me, you guys are way cooler than I am. Though I wasn’t getting near any pink hair dye, I always felt the need to conform and go back to my old ways of wearing bright colors when I was working there. And for part of my time there, I did. I caved and wore acid wash jeans with some brightly colored striped nonsense cropped t-shirt that I got at Topshop just to see if I felt any differently, like I was a better fit for the team.
I felt (and probably looked) juvenile. That’s when it hit me that this wardrobe was no longer mine, and I really wasn’t this person. Actually, I no longer wanted to be this person. I liked who I was in black. I felt mature. Bright colors and prints no longer interested me. They looked strange on my body, like when you get highlights for the first time, and it takes your eyes a while to adjust to your reflection. I had adopted the colorless wardrobe my mom always predicted.
I gave away most of my colored things to the Salvation Army when I moved apartments. What little colored clothes I have left are pushed all the way to the back of my closet, completely out of sight, just as placeholders.
Crisp, black fabrics greet me when I open my closet doors every morning, and it makes me feel at peace. Everything seems just a little bit simpler when you have a simple wardrobe. Matching isn’t something that ever crosses my mind. The morning struggle to find something to wear doesn’t exist for me. Black is always in style.
“Don’t you want to wear some colors again?” my mom asked me the last time I was home. It’s ironic because the second I stopped wearing colors, she started introducing pastels into her daily wardrobe. It was like she had to make up for what I left behind. “I wear colors sometimes. Like tan and grey. Or white,” I said to her. Those are colors too, after all. She tried to get me to buy a pair of coral shoes and I almost lost my mind.
“I’m done with those colors, mom. I’m officially a New Yorker, “ I said with a smile.