Thursday, May 20, 2010

On Not Wearing Black

When I started my sartorial rebirth, well over half the clothes in my wardrobe were black.  I had been favoring black since at least age 14, when I padded around barefoot in my favorite black leotard and patched jeans, through college, where I swooped across campus in a long black wool cloak, to clubbing's black miniskirt, graduate school's black v-neck pullover, pregnancy's black cotton maternity dress, poetry readings' black portrait neckline, and so on for nearly forty years.  My mother told me she didn't think I should wear so much black; when I asked her why she could only say that it depressed her.  She said it for so many years that I never really heard her. A painting teacher said she didn't use black, but darkest purple or brown instead; she considered black a color that hurt spiritual energy.  I thought she was making an aesthetic mistake.
Now the daughter who was a baby when I took that painting class was 10, and she was starting to tease me:  "mom, you're wearing black again? don't you ever wear anything but black?"  I finally started to think about it.  I was defensive.  "I wear other colors!" "Well, show me!"  So I wore some other colors for a couple of days straight.  It felt interesting.

Then a week later, at last year's July Stonecoast residency, I was talking with two of our fourth-semester students about the upcoming graduation ceremony: two wonderful, wise, women writers, one deeply grounded and active in Yoruba tradition, and one in the Inuit culture.  Neither of them wanted to wear the standard black robes to the ceremony.  They told me that in each of their cultures, black was considered a "heavy" color to wear, one that could interfere with one's openness to spirit.  Here were two people from entirely different spiritual traditions, with both of whom I felt much in common on a deep level, corroborating form the perspectives of their own cultures what my mother and daughter had intuitively felt.

As I thought it over, I considered more seriously the voices I had been writing off for so long, and I began to notice how defensively and reflexively I had responded to my mother and my daughter.  My attachment to wearing black was more than a fashion convenience; perhaps it had gradually become more like an addictive habit.  After dressing primarily in black for nearly four decades, without even realizing it, I'd become so attached to the color that I couldn't imagine not wearing it.  What if, like any addiction, it was also beginning to interfere with the fullest living of my life?  I decided to try an experiment which shocked me by how novel and radical it would be: I would not wear black for a week and see how it felt. . .

It felt like coming out of a cave, a revelation at the cellular level.  Pounds of internal heaviness lifted off me.  After two or three weeks, I felt as if the sun were peeping out from behind private clouds.  I began removing black things from my closet--at first just duplicate sweaters and jackets.  As I went through one week after another in other colors, I began to feel lighter, happier, gayer, indescribably, incrutably easier in every way.  More weeks went by and I removed more and more, finally feeling the need to purge every black accessory, down to the last belt. I put my very favorite black items in storage just in case, went to the thrift shop, and discovered new favorite colors.  Fuschia replaced maroon, tan and apple replaced rust and sage.  I indulged in chocolate brown and became drawn to my childhood favorites, navy blue and turquoise, again, after avoiding blue for twenty years.

After two or three months, much of the heaviness I had been carrying felt flushed out, but it took at least six months before I felt as if I wasn't bearing the accumulated decades of vibrational weight under my skin anymore.  Yesterday, about nine months after I stopped wearing black, I was going through summer clothes and, somewhat to my surprise, felt like keeping two black sleeveless dresses.  I hung them up gingerly, feeling the way I felt when I started adding the occasional cup of decaf coffee back into my life after quitting coffee drinking decades ago.  I may be ready to wear black again now, in great moderation.  But I doubt I will ever want to go all the way back.  And I am now thinking very carefully about the colors painted on our walls...

12 comments:

WolfsGotYourTongue said...

Very Interesting.. and also now the 3rd time I've heard about avoiding black clothing, however, your explanation was the most moving. Thank you! :)

Annie said...

I'll have to think about this, and whether and how to apply it to my own wardrobe. I wear a lot of black, primarily in fall and winter, though I'm craving wearing it now, and it's too hot where I live to comfortably wear it in the day time. My favorite colors to wear, however, are shades of bluegreen; followed by shades of blue and beige. I wore a black leotard nearly every day through my first three years of college, excusing myself because I was also taking dance classes and stage movement. Now, it's my teenage son who wears black every day; and he definitely makes a statement with it, reflecting his conflicted mood and warding people away. Thank you for this post!

Mim said...

Didn't Machiavelli recommend black for courtiers? He also wrote, 'It is wise to appear to be religious.'

Cheers for your switching to a broader palette!

theinspiredgarden said...

Kudos to you for recognizing the power of color. I am a recovering "black only" dresser but I find myself reverting back to it much too often. It's easy, familiar and a good color to hide in when I'm not feeling social. But I absolutely love color everywhere else in my life. You have inspired me to start purging - but not the great little black dress I snagged this weekend in a girlfriend clothing swap!

Robin - Erithacus rubecula said...

You only have to sit on the London tube and see EVERYONE in black to notice the effect that that most dense of colours has on your energy.....

Ms Baroque said...

Annie, I think your comments are very interesting. In general I love wearing black - its so clean. It's like a palette. But I completely know what you mean about haviness; I don't think I'd wear it all the time.

In practice, these days I wear a lot of grey, many tones and shades of it from pale grey to charcoal, which I mix up with mauve, taupe, black, and colours like lime green, khaki, maroon, white. It's softer than black, but then it can lack the wonderful definition of black.

And apropos what Robin says, well, the light in London doesn't really suit lots of colours. Bright colours quickly look garish here - especially in the tube! I've come to see the black/grey thing as a kind of ergonomic response to environment...

Mascottblog said...

Interesting, what you say .... What colours we wear certainly do have an effect on us... I have even been worse , wearing a lot of red and black , which I felt was very smart , and easy to accessorize with many combinations ... Until very recently I discovered that according to feng chui principles , it is a catastrophe to wear these two colours together , the red is fire and the black is water , and the two annihilate each other .... And are contradictory ... No wonder I felt I couldn't face my own contradictions ... So I realized , not too much en rouge et noir for me now ;)

greenwitchaustralia said...

I am embracing the non black challenge after reading your black blog. Don't know what to wear but will persist and emerge from the fog. I've noted your piece in my blog. Thanks and will let you know how I fare
Green Blessings

Annie Finch said...

As the months have gone by, I've noticed that my palette is still evolving--it now has quite a bit more white than before and, otherwise, a pretty good distribution through the rainbow.

Will be very curious to hear how it goes for Green Witch in Australia and others!

Robert said...

Perceptive, and something I have been noticing for myself as well. From fifteen to twenty, I don't think I owned an article of clothing that was not black, except for my father's army jacket from the Vietnam war. These days, it's mostly blues and grays. Two of my favorite t-shirts (Ojai Poetry Festival 2005 and a Star-Wars-Themed Powell's Books Shirt) are black, and reserved for weekend use. Yet they do, indeed, feel more like chain mail than cotton, even now, when I put them on. Amazing how clothing color, like smell, can have deep roots in the psyche.

Magickal Hummingbyrd said...

)O( Bright Blessings Annie American Witch! )O(

Its wonderful to hear that you are inviting colour into your wardrobe! We Witches are daughters of the Goddess and Mother Earth ~ Nature ... and Mother Earth does not have much black anywhere ... unless you site onyx or obsidian stones. Wearing the colours of: forest and emerald greens, purples and lavenders, silver, gold, copper, azure and indigo and colbalt blue, maroons, cherry reds, fuscia, purpleish/red, bright orange, bright yellow etc ... colours abounding in nature & in flowers ... all these are magickally and mystically beneficial and healing. Black often worn can completely destroy your health and spirit and well~being on all levels. It is extremely depressing to the immune system and mind and blocks spirituality and psychic ability and healing. The colours you wear are vibrational and affect all levels of your being and your aura and persons who are with you. If black is found in your aura it means that you are dying of cancer or another terminal disease or that you are a criminally psychotic murderous person. Wearing all black too often invokes deep depression, illness and death... it makes ones aura very sick and vulnerable to invasion by negative entities. Black clothes are not "protective" as many Pagans and Witches want to believe. High~Vibrational colours are protective... including white for healing as well as other specific colours. The same is true for choices of colours in candles used in candle magick and spellcraft. Of course we can wear black on Samhain ... dark purple is even better. The only reason black was worn by Witches during nightime Esbats in the olde tymes was to be more hidden from the murderous inquisitors and inquisitions... that is the only reason. Wearing black too often will seep into your aura and can cause misery and bring on death and it will completely prevent healing and all spiritual growth. This does not mean that one cannot wear all black sometimes... but make sure that you are very healthy, high vibrational, happy, positive, giving, compassionate... strong in your meditative and magickal practices ~ if you do wear all black on rare occassions. Even I do! </:-)

♥Bountiful Blessed Bees!♥

♥)O(♥ ~~~ Magickal Hummingbyrd ~~~ ♥)O(♥

Rottman said...

I'm not sure how to react to your post! :D
Well, I was a big black clothing fan, and then I became a big colors fan (But when I say colors I mean COLORS! pinks, greens, blues everything!), and now when I finally reached 25 I started wearing black and classic colors again like nudes and grays.. Not sure if it's a matter or fashion or just changing tested but nothing can't compete our staple little black dresses.