The fashion rule for London 'cool'

It's not the masses of roses clambering over winter barren walls or the sunlight still streaming in our windows at 8 in the evening. It's not even the King's Regiment Horse Guards pulling cannons down our street at dawn, getting in shape for the annual Trooping of the Colour, that give it away.

Summer has arrived in what everyone is wearing. No more heavy black overcoats or practical rubber-soled black boots or wooden-handled black umbrellas. These have all been replaced by lightweight black raincoats, practical rubber-soled black shoes, and wooden-handled black umbrellas.

Subtle change, but I noticed.

When you live in London, as I have for the past three years, you begin to notice black in all its subtle hues: raven, pitch, coal, obsidian, midnight. But whatever name you give it, it's still black and it's everywhere.

Salespeople wear it in department stores. It's also the employees' uniform at Starbucks. I've seen tennis players wearing black shirts and lifeguards wearing black socks. And I'll never forget the night I joined my husband for dinner in trendy Soho wearing (save me!) a dark purple dress. I had to walk down a broad curved staircase to the lower-floor restaurant, and I remember feeling as if I was wearing flashing neon pink! I was the only person in the whole restaurant not wearing black.

How do these people find anything in their closets? It's all black in there.

MAYBE the commoners wear black to allow the royals to shine. In fact, in all of England, the queen seems to be the only one who adorns herself with color. But she tends to go overboard: The hat matches the shoes, which match the gloves, which match the purse, which matches the dress. A little too matchy-matchy for me, but then she is the ruling monarch. And at least her dressers can sort out her clothes without additional lighting.

The only place I've seen a lot of color is on BBC broadcasts of ladies' day at Ascot and the Henley Regatta. It's as if the queen herself has declared those "no black" days. From hats down to shoes, the guests are swathed in shades of sherbets, rainbows, and flowers. The hats are festooned with feathers, fabric, and confections of all kinds. The bigger, the bolder, and the more outrageous the better.

The next day, everyone goes back to wearing black.

There are advantages to having an all-black wardrobe. You're always in style. It makes you look thinner. It all matches. It never looks wrinkled or dirty.

If you're young, it makes you look older. If you're older, it makes you look sophisticated. It can make you look demure. Or racy. And if you don't know what you want to be, it allows you to hide. I'm getting used to it now, and I've relegated my pastels and their brighter cousins to the back of my closet. They emerge only for infrequent trips back to the States.

I listen to the fashion icons who tell me what the "new black" is going to be each season. Two years ago, it was brown. Last year it was gray. Neither of them took hold.

This fall, if they're smart, they'll look around them and declare black the "new black." Then we'll all be in style.

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