How To Soften Black Basics

Marketing often touts black as the color that looks good with everything and on everyone. That isn’t always true, but you may have a few pieces in your wardrobe in black if you are like me. Today, I’ll show you how I tone down black items and make them more wearable for the daytime or special evenings.

While I enjoy wearing all black from head to toe, it can look harsh if I don’t use some styling tricks to soften it. You can’t get much more basic than jeans and a tee. Those are the essential black pieces that will serve as the base in all the looks I’m showing you today.

The three-quarter sleeve T‑shirt is here. The black ankle jeans are here.

When I wear black, I always define my eyes a bit more and use eyeliner here. I am wearing the classic red lip color Girl’s Night here in these images.

Wearing a light color jacket and earrings can brighten your face and tone down the black. A white jean jacket and sneakers can work for any sunny day errands or meeting a friend for coffee on a patio. The jacket is here – sneakers here – similar bag here.

A bright red cardigan and animal print loafers are comfortable and yet appropriate for entertaining at home.

A similar cardigan is here – similar loafers here.

Wearing pearls always gives your face a soft glow. Take the look up a notch by wearing pumps and adding a simple jacket.

Similar shoes here – similar bag here – similar jacket here.

A red blazer and a silver/gray scarf can add holiday color and softness to your face. Velvet loafers are comfortable but look very elegant.

A similar blazer is here – similar scarf here – similar velvet loafers here – a similar bag is here.

Another bright option is a long bold necklace worn with a long cardigan and short boots.

Similar cardigan here – similar boots here – watch here – similar clutch here.

One of my favorite ways to wear a simple black look is to drape a large silk scarf around my neck. The bright colors and elegant texture makes even a tee and jeans look polished.

A similar bag is here. Similar loafers are here. A similar scarf is here.

I enjoy neutrals, elevated basics, and styling the same pieces in different ways to make the most of them. There are very few prints or bright colors and no bulky knits in my collection. I’ve learned that this is the secret to always having something to wear.

I’m grateful to blog reader Kathy for her comment that inspired this post. She wrote, “Thank you for a great post, Susan; you always give me new ideas to try. I love the black outfit on you, so dressy. That is one of my requests, to know how to wear black without looking depressing or “funeral like.” You look beautiful in black. If you could address turning some of our regular wardrobe basics into a holiday outfit, I have no interest in shopping for holiday get-togethers that may or may not happen. I never wanted to invest in strictly Christmas looking pieces. Thank you for working so hard for us.”

Shopping links in this post may generate a small commission for me at no additional cost to you.

  1. I would like to echo Kathy’s sentiments you sight at the end of your blog. I too have many black pieces and don’t want to look ‘funeral like’.
    You have helped me learn how adding certain pieces can change the look of an outfit. I totally agree, “ Thank you for working so hard for us.”

  2. Your blog has been my inspiration for years. Thanks to your lovely ideas I have elevated my daily appearance and can dress confidently for any occasion. Your health posts sent me on a path of healthy eating and a fifty pound weight loss. I am immensely grateful.

  3. Your glasses look great on you. Can you share with us where you purchased them?
    — Thanks, Paula B

  4. Thank you so much Susan!!!!!!! This post is so helpful to me. You have answered my request perfectly. Your kindness and consideration for all women is such a blessing to us.

  5. Good Morning- I wear a lot of black tops, but the tricky part of black clothing is the care. I find black tee shirts fade rather quickly in the wash and I refuse to send simple tops to the dry cleaner. Also, dark clothing and lint is an issue for me. A crisp black top is sharp, but even slightly faded gives an old worn look. Tried and true recommendations for detergent and water temperature would be appreciated. Thank you. Susan

    1. I use a minimal amount of Tide Original HE, Liquid Laundry Detergent, and save all of my black garments to wash together in cold water on the Colors setting. I tumble them for only a few minutes and hang them on a rolling rack to air dry.

  6. Once again such a useful post no matter age or body type! Another opportunity to “shop my closet” for new combos to try with the basic blacks!

  7. Thanks for the idea Kathy and to Susan for the terrific suggestions. Very appropriate give our current lifestyle.

    Susan, do you dry clean or home launder your black denims to keep them fresh looking? I’m interested in any tips you can share. Currently I launder them on a very gentle cycle in woolite. I hate when black jeans streak or quickly fade. They go from stylish to tired out.

    1. I answered almost the same question in the comment above. If other readers have a better way to preserve dark colors, I would deeply appreciate it if you would share your tips with us. Thanks!

  8. What a coincidence! I recently found a great white jacket just like the one you are wearing! I plan to wear it with navy or chocolate brown as my column of color.

  9. Great post! When I was in my 40s & 50s I thought it very weird that certain older women I knew only wore black. However, now in my 60s I find myself loving black, feeling confident and a bit elegant whenever I wear it, even in workout clothes. It just seems to look good always and minimize figure flaws like the extra bulk in the chest and abdomen that seems to have accumulated (I am not overweight by any standards, btw). I have surely learned from you that accessories–scarves, jewelry, shoes and bags–are the trick to variation and styling for the occasion. What I really have noticed about your blog, compared to some others, is that you don’t simply post pictures of yourself in the same outfit posing 10 different ways. It’s way more about the outfits than you. But to your followers, we always see your beauty, class, and elegance at the center of it all!

  10. Wonderful post Susan. You always seem to know just what I need as this week I had pulled out my Black Outfits. My friends tell me do not wear black, but with your help over the past three years or so, I have up my style. Thank you so much for all the hard work you do to make our life a little easier. Take care.

  11. Great and useful post ! It is always helpful to see the various pictures of outfits lined up visually side by side to compare.
    I like to use the detergents made especially for DARKS …for example WOOLITE .
    I use a Cold water cycle and hang to dry after a quick warm up in the dryer.
    I have noticed a distinct difference in the longevity of all my black pieces.
    Thank you for all your inspiration, Susan !

  12. Thanks for the great styling tips on black – I’m a natural blonde albeit at 68, it is streaked with “wisdom highlights” – I’ve always used black as my basic but I like your tips for taking it down a notch in casual mode.

    I really want to thank you for telling us about Sheek socks/footies! I ordered my first pairs of the super low and couldn’t be more pleased! I have a size 10 foot so no-show socks never stayed on my foot but these do! I have been wearing knee high stockings with my flats but that’s not good in the South…so thank you for sharing this tip!!

  13. Great post. You always look so put together. I have been kicking myself that I did not buy some of your jewel-toned scarves when you had them in your online shop. I like the Everlane sneakers featured in this post. How would you gauge the width? On the wide side of medium or the narrow side of medium. I notice they only come in medium width.

    Thanks for your wonderful insight on clothes as we move forward in life with gray hair.


    1. I still have a couple of those scarves. I’ll send you an email. I would say that the width of those sneakers is on the narrow side of medium. They are super comfortable!

  14. As I sit here with my trouser pants, floral blouse, grandma sweater and without a haircut for 7 months, I am grateful that you continue to make an effort with your blog! I am soooo tired of this isolation/covid precautions. What are you grateful for?

  15. This post is so timely for me, Susan. I have always enjoyed wearing black & receive compliments. But since Covid reared its ugly head, I just don’t want to wear this colour.
    You look smashing in each outfit (also really liked your Sept 24 Styling Classic Basics For Fall). So, today’s post is inspiring me to try a little black again. And, such a nice letter from Linda. Keep well, Susan.

  16. You’ve now come to my clothing dilemma twice in as many weeks. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m eternally grateful. Last week you showed us how to incorporate splashes of color to add some zip to our basic neutrals. Wonderful job. Now today, the basic black outfit made way beyond basic. Perfect in every way. And I shall now order the pair of grey reptile print loafers I’ve been wondering about! You’re the best, Susan. Thank you for the time and energy you put into creating this valuable, informative and safe place.

  17. I loved this post! Thanks for the style tips. I’ve been using scarves more and would love some tying tips!

  18. I love all of these! I would have never thought of the “dressy” jacket and pearls. Keep the ideas coming!

  19. I love the idea of styling multiple outfits using the same basics. This is the second post I have seen like this, and I really enjoy seeing you generate multiple outfits from basics.

  20. Another helpful post! Thank you Susan. I like black or dark grey for basics. For some reason navy just doesn’t look great on me. Also, I can see how useful these styling ideas will be whenever my husband and I travel again. Have a great week!

  21. Very good post. I like the one with the longer red cardigan best. You always look so pretty and put together. Thanks for your blog.

  22. Thank you for this post, Susan! In spite of the fact that I’ve always known that black doesn’t look good on me, I’ve always wanted to be able to wear it. Consequently, there are a few black pieces in my wardrobe and you’ve given me some new ideas for how to style them in ways that won’t look too harsh.

  23. Great series showing us how to start with the basics, Susan. I have given up on jean jackets of any kind. They don’t suit my shape. However, chore/utility jackets work for me. They’re longer and lack the bottom band of a jean jacket. There are so many more color choices, too. Proof that there’s something for everyone. They’ve modernized my fall look without costing a fortune.

  24. Another perfect post. I’ve needed ideas for my black cardigans, and tops, love them, have many, but feel too drab when I try them on. I will try to pair with my white jean jacket too! Another solution to say thank you! So pretty.

  25. Susan, just wanted to tell you that I think your hair has been looking great the last month or so. Very flattering!
    Thanks for all your tips.
    Carol in Missouri

  26. You can find a Jean jacket that is longer with a nipped in waist. I look terrible in the banded bottom jacket but I love the one I’ve described. Unfortunately I don’t recall where it was purchased. Maybe looking for a different cut in a nice denim would work for you too.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Georgia. Finding the item that is right for your shape is always a priority. I’ve learned to layer over a longer top so that the band of jean jacket creates an illusion of a waist rather than pointing to the most unflattering spot.

  27. I have had great success using Woolite Dark for all my dark clothes. I also turn my denim jeans inside out to wash themand then turn them right side out to dry them for a few minutes in the dryer. I then hang them to dry completely on a pants hanger with clips.

  28. I so enjoy your posts. They are upbeat and share fashion knowledge of which I lack. Thank you for helping me find my style without wasting money on the newest fashions. For me, classics are the way to go.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your fashion journey and help us spend less of the Lord’s money on clothing that will last.

    Robynne Mieding

  29. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been following you for a while but never commented until now. I must be a slow learner because I finally realize that I don’t need more clothes, I simply need more/different accessories. I’m stuck in a rut with lots of shoes and purses but mostly black. Regardless of what I wear I look the same.

    Would you please consider posts on how to build a collection of jewelry/scarves/purses/shoes (I realize this would be multiple posts)? Thank you for your blog and being the voice of reason in a world of fashion blogs where most push the new and trendy.

  30. I’m a ‘black fiend’ so this post is immensely useful to me, Susan.

    Like other posters, I’ve learned so much from you, not least how to strike the right balance and look perfectly age appropriate. You never look as if you are desperately seeking a lost youth; nor do you look as if you are hiding from the world. You look relaxed, confident, elegant and happy, a woman who knows how to make the best of life, and of herself – and is generous enough to share her knowledge and wisdom with others. Thank you.

  31. Thank you Susan for your helpful ideas. I am 78 years old, in good shape but have started to have wrinkles around my neck… what are some good ideas for hiding them without looking like I’m choking to death?

  32. Such a great post!
    I have a lot of black and navy blue clothing. Washing them together in cold water with Tide seems to keep them from fading. I put them in the dryer for a brief time and then hang to dry.
    Would love to see a post on how to pick style of earrings for your outfits and face shape.

  33. Thank you Susan for this post! Black on me is not a flattering color. Thru this blog, you have shown me how to wear black. Glad Kathy asked for your expertise because now I can wear black clothes.

  34. Susan,
    Thanks for the ideas. I wish I could hire you to go through my closet with me and tell me what looks good, what should stay, what should go and how to pair what remains (with accessories !!)
    I love your eyeglasses, they are very flattering to you.
    Thanks for the tips.

  35. Love love love….the “black” helps to elongate my 4’11” frame and the idea to bump it up a notch is classic. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve saved looking at your suggestions and talking myself out of buying something that is NOT classic and I don’t need. As a retired teacher, I need all the savings I can get! I have so many of these suggestions: white jacket, red sweather, scarves, etc. Thanks again!

  36. Thank you for sharing. One question though, how do you secure your scarf so it stays in place? I’m afraid of using a safety pin for fear of putting a hole or a run in my scarves. Than you. Have a wonderful day.

    1. I don’t use pins with my scarves. You can use magnets or a scarf clip, but I go with the flow and understand that the scarf will move with me all day. It is part of the charm of nonchalance.

  37. Your outfits look awesome. Lots of great ideas. I have quite a few pieces of black in my closet and one pet peeve is some blacks do not match, they are not true blacks. Does that bother you when wearing black pieces together?

  38. Thank you for your post this week, appreciate the links to shops that aren’t Canadian. Might I ask a makeup question? Are your eyebrows grey or brown? Now that I am no longer colouring my hair, my dark brown brows are too much of a contrast with my grey hair.. Thanks for your help. Linda Z

  39. Hi Susan,
    I am new to your blog, and I am so glad I found you! So many great ideas. Our style sense seems to be very similar, so I especially appreciated today’s post and the accompanying video. I am working on streamlining my wardrobe,, and found your suggestions extremely helpful! Looking forward to many more posts. Thank you!

  40. I loved the 7 thumbnail pictures posted together of the outfits you created. It provided a nice comparison of the outfits, helping me put together your ideas to fit my style. Thanks!

  41. Thanks. I love the posts where you take basics and demonstrate how to change the look with different tops and accessories. So inspiring!

  42. I’m really enjoying these posts Susan. Changing outfits with just accessories is a favorite trick of mine & you’ve give me some new ideas. Thanks

  43. Love all the different looks with all black top and bottom. I wear a lot of navy and camel. I will try the same thing with those. Maybe I will bring back the scarves I wore when I worked. Being retired and in Florida eliminates a lot of jackets but I do use vests. With the stay at home time, I wear mostly casual tops and shorts, but am trying to wear slacks more. Keep the good advice coming, and all the lovely pictures from your outings.

  44. I am barely 5’2″ and have always worn one color on top and bottom as my base…black, navy, gray etc. but then I add really fun jackets, sweaters, vests and accessories like scarves, jewelry and belts… also fun shoes. I never feel like I’m in a drab outfit, but the one color base gives me a longer look that anyone of my height is always hoping for.

  45. OMGosh, this has to be one of my all time favorites. I think I will never fret over what to wear for any occasion, whether it’s daytime or an occasion. Thank you!

    Thank you also, once again, for combining all of the looks into one group pic. I love being able to save one pic in a folder of wardrobe ideas I’ve set up in my files folder. If I want to see an enlarged pic for any reason, I can always refer back to your blog.

    Be well.

  46. You look great in all the outfit, one of my favorite is the black with the white jacket and another favorite is the scarf I love scarfs don’t really know how to wear them but love the looks.
    Thanks you for sharing your outfits and ideas.

  47. Thank you so much for this post!!! You have opened my eyes to how I can get rid of so much clothes…and yet still always have something to wear no matter what!

  48. As usual, your post was timely since fall weather is here, and I’m looking for ways to wear black pants or jeans in a variety of ways. Thank you for always coming up with fresh ideas for us!

  49. Always enjoy your posts Susan! On the subject of washing black tops and dark jeans, I always turn the clothing inside out and wash on cold, gentle cycle. Sometimes I add a splash of vinegar to set the color. I tumble for a few minutes in the dryer and hang to dry.

  50. Great ideas! I love these posts styling basics that we all have, I can’t wear black as it drains me and always add a scarf, need to invest in a red thin cardigan for Christmas this year as it will be a very pared down event, the velvet loafers are a great idea I shall be copying too!! Thank you for your elegant inspiration.

  51. Hi Susan, Iwould like to try BeautyCounter products, I am a bit confused as to what to order. It seems some products do the same thing. I am 73. I am interested in making my completion clear & firm enough to go without makeup. I do have some slight sun damage. What products do you suggest? Thank you.

    1. Start with these products as your regular skincare items that you use twice a day. Scroll down on the page to learn more about when and how to use each product. If your skin tends to be very dry, you can add this oil. I pat it on my face and lip several times a day in the winter.

  52. Are you posting on your Youtube channel anymore? I haven’t seen a post for 6 months….Just wondering- I will be happy to pop over here instead 🙂

  53. Thank you! Such great idea for our wardrobes. This will be so helpful. I really like the small pictures side by side which shows the variety. Thanks again.

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I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.