Designers are dreaming of a black Christmas


Black, the color historically associated with funerals, clerics, ninja warriors, motorcycle gangs and urban bohemians, is now the top color for holiday fashion. Death takes a holiday? How did this happen?

"We're in a depression," says J. T. Ghamo, who runs a tuxedo store in Hartford, Conn. "People are in a more conservative mood."

In the 1950s, "black was the dress color we associated with Italian widows," says Mimi Cooper, president of the Cooper Marketing Group color forecasters in Oak Park, Ill. "Now it is the top holiday choice."

The traditional little black dress is not only easier to find in all price ranges and styles, but it is the stylish look for the coming round of parties.

Why black?

"It's a reaction to all that jewel tone and to the bad economic times," says Leatrice Eiseman, president of the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training in Seabeck, Wash. She also theorizes that as cities became more dangerous, women picked black because "it is a powerful color that casts a protective shield around them."

In the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House, Washington swarmed with wealthy folks going to parties in stretch limos, and black-tie affairs were the order of the opulent decade.

"We had plenty of jewel tones and Nancy Reagan red," Ms. Eiseman says. That was followed by Barbara Bush blue. Arnold Scaasi and Adolfo were the designers of choice.

Meanwhile, in the designer world, brasher Japanese designers were introducing ninja dressing, black from head to toe. All-American designer Donna Karan picked up basic black as her uniform. Partygoers switched to black.

As more women climbed up the corporate ladder and had to travel more, they found "it is easier to pack all-black and match outfits," Ms. Cooper says.

Despite designers' efforts to introduce new colors, black continues to be very strong for dress-up.

"You can't go wrong with it," Ms. Eiseman says. "Whenever I read that brown or navy will be the new black, I laugh. It will never be replaced."

Want more reasons for black?

"It's slimming, it's perennial and it's mysterious," says Tina Sutton, a spokeswoman for Hit or Miss stores.

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