Unbasic Black

During the Victorian era, black clothing symbolized the absence of light and life; however, in modern times, wearing sooty shades has little to do with this bygone notion. Yes, inky outfits are still de rigueur for sad situations, but it is certainly appropriate to wear all-black for any happy occasion. Whether you want to get a glamorous, modest, seductive, practical, elegant, powerful, or modern look, black should be the go-to hue for your winter wardrobe. Not only is noir easy to integrate into your rotation, but it's also flattering and complimentary to any skin tone (in an office full of blondes, brunettes, and a redhead thrown in for good measure, we constantly rock the all-black ensembles!) Needless to say, we are going back to unbasic black in today's How They Wear feature!

Though it's easy to get overwhelmed with the sea of black garb, there are only a few hard and fast rules that you should absolutely observe. For example, a black dress or pair of pants may be a closet fundamental, but that doesn't mean you should let your look veer into boring territory. To keep it interesting, make sure you pepper your inky ensemble with eye-catching patterns, and pay lots of attention to fit, proportion, and silhouette. If you do, we promise, there will be nothing basic about your look!

It is always instructive to see how trendsetters are incorporating certain shades or styles into their rotation, so we decided to gather a stellar sextet to help you navigate the noir waters-proverbially speaking, of course! Stylist Kate Young (the woman responsible for dressing Michelle Williams and Natalie Portman's understated élan) looked spot-on in a vintage Yves Saint Laurent top and sleek Zara harem trousers late last month, when she attended a dinner celebrating the directional designer Marios Schwab. The modest neckline and draping of her shirt is not only wildly figure-flattering, but it is also subtle and sophisticated; try Spiegel's Velvet Burnout Tunic ($79), for an alternative to her animalistic piece. Like velvet and brocade fabric, sequins are another great material that will punch up a monochromatic ensemble. Agyness Deyn, who was spotted at the New York premiere of An Education, kept it dark with her Topshop Over Knee Boots ($250) and a Mihara Yasuhiro shimmering chemise. When worn with understated black staples, like skinny stovepipes and an oversized boyfriend jacket, the whole look is as intriguing as it is easy to achieve. Make sure you pick up Wet Seal's Scrunch Over The Knee Boots ($50) and Marciano's Savannah Sequin Shirt ($98), which is an equally gorgeous glittering garment, to mimic Deyn's notable attire!

If you are looking for a dark dress inspiration, nothing can quite beat muse-of-the-moment Dree Hemingway's knitted Calvin Klein frock (which she wore to the first Annual Art Awards at the Guggenheim Museum this month). Though the jagged hem is definitely dramatic, what we love most about this outfit is the unexpected and asymmetrical peek-a-boo paneling. Make sure to check out her exact Puzzle Crochet Dress ($2550, 212.292.9000) from Calvin Klein Collection, or try Erin Wasson x RVCA's S. Congress Dress ($160) for a zigzag and fringe-hemmed alternative. Victoria Traina, another member of Alexander Wang's impeccable inner circle, proved that a skirt with an interesting proportion can pump up the volume when wearing an exclusively noir number! Traina, who rounded out her chic skirt with Givenchy booties and Proenza Schouler's Motorcycle Leather Jacket ($2518), is always ahead of the curve, so we recommend that you take her lead and try Cynthia Rowley's Silk and Wool Tulle Skirt ($310) with Dolce Vita's Violet Lace Up Open Toe Booties ($250) and luxurious little leather jacket this winter!

Of course, you don't need to go buy a whole new wardrobe to achieve a flawless onyx outfit. In fact, a smart accessory is the perfect way re-energize your black separates, as seen on girl-about-town and art director extraordinaire, Julia Restoin-Roitfeld. The flawless Frenchie won our hearts by updating her strapless LBD with substantial Black Suede Lace Up Biker Boots ($895, 310.550.4500) and a stud-adorned belt, both from Burberry. A chic cincher and shoes will make your favorite frock even more fashionable, so make sure you consider Be & D's Woodstock Skinny Waist Belt ($195) and Jeffrey Campbell's Poland Lace-Up Booties ($210). You can also stay stylish in somber shades by layering a patterned silk bed jacket over a noir number. As effortless as falling out of bed, a soft and sumptuous silk robe will add a touch of decadence to even the simplest black dress. Alexandra Richards, for example, opted for a geometric garment, but White House Black Market's Fringed Day Wrap ($28) will also do the trick. In short: elevate your black basics with interesting prints, patterns, fabrics and proportions and you will achieve a look that is anything but!