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...