It's an experience many women have had at one time or another. You're wearing a colorful new outfit, one that may have cost a bundle, and you're feeling good. Then along comes a women in basic black and white and suddenly your new duds look like yesterday's leftovers.
What makes the difference?
An elegant underplay, for one thing. Also a sophistication rarely possible with brights. It's the kind of chic Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, made famous and still perpetuates. She reportedly wears her clothes for many years because they're so simple they don't go out of style. She's also a stickler for quality, so everything lasts.
Then there is the always appealing Kitty Foyle or preppy look of a pristine little collar played against black linen, silk, or cotton dresses.
In addition, the popular positive-negative prints which surface every summer, the small neat geometrics and polka dots, always manage to look fresh and right in most circumstances. In pure silk or silky polyester, you can work them like mules, but they usually perform like thoroughbreds.
Striking alternatives to such choices are current animal prints and those big splashy Michaele Vollbracht fantasies. Just make sure you're adventuresome enough to carry them off.
Of course, designers don't stop with prints. Some like to capture the way early movie queens looked in their black and white film costumes. So bold contrasts and high drama, done with a 1981 twist, are part of the picture.
Designer Bill Blass goes the glamour route when he bares one shoulder of a black crepe sheath and edges the asymmetric line with an enormous white organza flounce. Just as romantic is a strapless gown in white georgette veiled and tiered in black lace.
Richard Assatly uses a trick you may want to copy. With his pretty lace-touched black dresses, he shows white stockings.
If being trendy is your thing, line up a chalk-and-charcoal pants or tunic outfit.
The summer pants choices are mind-boggling. After classic slacks, expects to see every style from Bermuda shorts, skinny knickers and skirt pants (culottes) to evening pajamas and harem bloomers.In fact, those oldfashioned gym bloomers, worn for laughs to costume parties, may not seem so hilarious now.
If you choose carefully, it's possible the tunic you pick now can go right into fall when tunics will flourish as never before.
Yves Saint Laurent, for instance, is making them in imaginative variety, some as simple as a classic hip length blouse worn over a skirt or culottes, others long and slithery for evening, and still others airy smock shapes floating loosely over flippy skirts.
Somewhere in all this, you should pick up ideas for updating clothes you already own. What's more, there are a lot of black and white separates around, which defy you to guess their prices unless you shop by labels.
For a compact summer wardrobe, for instance, the kind you need for many vacations, consider the great look of crisp white pants with a black T-shirt or blouse. Trade off with a comfortable cotton kit chemise, marvelous for travel because it can be changed with belts and scarves.
For a dressier mood, slip a silky black tunic over those same white pants.
Such combinations also make a perfect oil for brights, perhaps a favorite red blazer, sweater or shawl. Incidentally, shawls are an important fashion item once again, so dig out those you own and enjoy them.
What's the perfect shoe for black and white costumes?
Black and white spectators, of course, or another front-runner for summer, low-heeled pumps (great in patent) with small flat bows over the vamp.