The Hunt for the Perfect Black Skirt

I wanted to clarify my reason for writing about the beautiful black skirt I bought at H & M in the light of their current troubles over the blatantly racist sweatshirt that’s been recalled by their company. I’m an African-American fashion/feature writer, in a field that doesn’t have a lot of representation from my culture, so I’ve faced my share of racism. Instead of refusing to wear or buy their clothing I want to show them, and others in the industry, the real face of their customers to further educate them about who we are and what we really represent and look like. For me, the only way to confront racism is head-on with unflinching assertiveness. If they learn from this and become a better, more inclusive company, the effort was worth it.

The Ultimate Separate: The Black Skirt

In 1979, when my mother bought a gorgeous black skirt suit by BIS for my high school graduation from Westchester High School from Bullock’s Wilshire black skirts were easily accessible.

But when I wanted to buy the retro boho multi-tiered black skirt from H & M, a couple of years ago, that was featured in a Vogue editorial ad it was a trial. Why?

It couldn’t have been the price, since my BIS suit was $300 and this skirt $19.99. It couldn’t have been the style, since both have classic silhouettes.

Recently, when I bought a stunning green, brown and white vintage 1970s maxi dress from etsy.com for $40, from a dealer in Poland, instead of at my local Goodwill Thrift Store I realized what it was.

Despite the plethora of fashion bloggers, journalists, stores and websites promoting excellent designs and killer buys, the consumer isn’t receiving the message. There seems to be a big disconnect. The clothes that need to be worn as representatives of intelligence and good taste languish un-bought while inexpensive, passe trends are displayed briefly, then discarded on random bus benches and trash cluttered streets.

Anyone who’s paying attention knows by now that needless sartorial waste is a no-no the fashion industry’s trying to correct. Of course we have other problems to deal with besides finding the perfect black skirt, such as the closing of over 130 LAUSD school libraries, homelessness, and the sad reality that L.A. is now the second worst dressed city in the country, and 44th in education. But if a woman does make the decision to purchase one it can solve her immediate wardrobe problems by becoming a reliable staple item that will never let her down. Paired with a crisp white shirt it can take her to work and dinner with a change of shoes and layered over leggings it can easily be worn for dance class.

Looking Back to the 1940s

Edna Woolman Chase (1914-1951) editor of American Vogue in 1942 really understood the magic of a black skirt. “They are as great a standby as a black sweater,” she wrote in the article Skirt Story. Meant to purchased as an “investment piece” it served the same purpose then as it does today by being versatile and long lasting. Compared to trendier fare, ubiquitously worn by everyone who has a pulse, it has the flexibility of hamburger without undue flash.

Blessedly, all-black is no longer as pervasively popular as it once was, making room for the black skirt to make a come back as part of an ensemble that can include a floral print blouse, funky statement tee and vintage embroidered cardigan sweater for work 9-5. After 5, that same blouse and cardigan can be accented with a multi-strand necklace for a fancy dinner date or concert.

For retailers, who mistakenly thought “corporate dress or all-black” would help their sales staff increase their sales and customer service skills with a uniform instead of individual style, the black skirt would help them teach their female employees how to coordinate their work attire appropriately, easily and inexpensively. Since a major component of fashion retail is based on helping consumers buy items for their wardrobe the sales staff that reflects an attractive appearance, from their own imagination, is more qualified to improve a company’s image than a conformist who wears a uniform.

A Wardrobe of Black Skirts

A Wardrobe of Black Skirts Collage

In between my Undergrad years, at CSULA, to my Grad years, at Academy of Art University online, I’ve collected 15 black skirts that have steadfastly helped me look pulled together whenever I wear them. For my day job as a Special Education Instructional Assistant for LAUSD at Leo Politi Elementary School in Koreatown, I’ve regularly worn the long black skirt I bought at Ross Dress For Less with either a cool tee from snorgtees.com or a lightweight pullover sweater from Forever 21, my beige trench coat from amazon.com and a pair of sneakers. Comfortable as a pair of jeans, it’s perfect for my long walks to and from the bus stop, before and after work, and a long six hour shift in the classroom.

I’m just as well prepared for my off-duty social life, with a vintage velour bubble skirt I bought at my favorite Goodwill Thrift Store, and a retro self-belt taffeta one I bought at Ross Dress For Less. Combined with a lovely vintage top and pearls they’re an evening stand out.

The Perfect Black Skirt for Today

“There are few women who can wear every type of skirt,” wrote Christian Dior in The Little Dictionary of Fashion. Personally, I’ve found that to be true of every garment, and despite my thin frame, I still have to work hard to find the right clothes for my budget, lifestyle and body.

Caught between my obligation to always “dress and represent”, as a requirement for AAU, and a need to be comfortable at LPES I wanted to find another black skirt to fit both worlds. My hunt officially started after I’d bought a pair of black sneakers from H & M online. They were too big so I had to exchange them at their store in the Westfield Century City mall. I thought while I was up there, I’d buy the black boho multi-tiered skirt I saw in the Vogue ad.

Everything was going great-they had a pair of black sneakers in my size and the blue and white/floral shirt I’d had my eye on was on the Sale rack. Then when I showed the cashier the ad and asked about the skirt things got shaky.

“I’m not sure we have any left,” she said. “If we do it’s a Petite.”

“May I see it please? I’d like to try it on anyway,” I said.

She asked another clerk, who was working on the floor to see if they had any more, and if they did, to bring it to me. When he found it, he carried it to me, holding it with the delicacy of an Egyptian artifact. He then repeated what the cashier said, “It’s the last one and it’s a Petite.”

“Are you planning on stocking any more soon?, I asked. “No,” he said. “We’re lucky we have this one, because as soon as it was featured in the magazine ad it shot off the racks. Editorial items always sell out quickly.”

“Okay, I understand that, but why was this particular skirt so popular?,” I asked.

“It looks good on almost every body type and it’s versatile enough to be worn with a tucked in or loose fitting top,” he answered.

“Well, I usually wear a Medium, but you never know with sizing, so I’ll try it on and see if it fits,” I said, taking the skirt from him, and heading for the fitting room.

Doubtful, and holding my breath in anticipation, I slipped it on then exhaled with relief when it fit perfectly.

It’s been more than a year since I bought this skirt, and although I haven’t worn it yet, I know its timeless silhouette makes it a worthwhile addition to my collection.

Fashion Coordination Tips for Black Skirts (2019):

  • Work: Power Separates The Easy Way (Pair a mid-calf A-line black skirt with a white button-down shirt, striped short-sleeved Breton shirt, or plain crewneck pullover sweater, then top with a mini trench coat and accessorize with a structured bag, colorful scarf, shades, and ballet flats or sneakers.)
  • Casual: Fun, Fun, Fun Days (Pair a long straight black skirt with a t-shirt then top with a cotton, army or denim jacket and accessorize with sneakers or sandals, shades, a baseball cap or bucket hat.
  • Formal Evening: Swanky Times (Pair a mid-length retro full black skirt with a sequined shirt and decorative cardigan or bolero jacket and accessorize with black decorative pantyhose, pointy-toed flats, a turban and clutch bag.

Images Cited:

  1. Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons, Japanese Designer. Sweater and skirt, 1984.(Berg Fashion Library)
  2. Bernhard Willhelm. Black with multicolored diamond design sweater, headpiece and skirt, 2002-2003. (Berg Fashion Library)
  3. Junya Watanabe for Comme des Garcons, Japanese Designer. Black ensemble. “Linen blend jacket in the style of a man’s 19th-century tailcoat; wool skirt resembling a deconstructed trenchcoat.” Spring/Summer, 2016.

Works Cited:

  1. Woolman Chase, Edna. Fashion: Skirt Story. Vogue; New York, Vol. 99, Iss. 11 (Jun 1, 1942).
  2. Dior, Christian. The Little Dictionary Of Fashion, Abrams, 2007.

Five Ways to Wear Vintage Jeans

      two hanged blue stonewash and blue jeansPhoto by Mica Asato on Pexels.com

There are so many brands and styles of jeans on the market you could spend a whole year trying them on. Despite my fondness for the Mossimo jeans I bought this Spring at Target, the white skinny jeans from Ross, and the Blue Desire Midrise with the distressed hems from T.J. Maxx, my all time favorite type are pre-owned and vintage. Soft, worn in and characteristically inexpensive their main attribute is timelessness.

Paired with a feminine Ralph Lauren blouse they’re “shabby but chic” or with a pristine white tee and menswear blazer, they’re ’80s street. In homage to one of my prized separates, today’s post is all about how to coordinate them five different ways.

Look of the Day-Blues
Look of the Day-Blues

Mixing It Up with Florals and Stripes

Painter’s jeans are considered serious work pants when worn with a flannel shirt and steel-toed boots, but they can also be playful when worn with a blue floral jacket and a navy-blue and white Breton (sailor top). Perfect for a quick jaunt to your neighborhood Farmer’s Market or local art gallery, museum or used bookstore they’re tidy and chic.

Farmer’s Market: Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (Farmer’s Market, every Saturday 10 a.m. through 3 p.m.,seela.org 3650 W. MLK Jr. Blvd., L.A., CA. 90008, 323-290-6636).

The Museum of African-American Art: Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (Macy’s 3rd Floor, 4005 Crenshaw Blvd., Thursday-Sunday:12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.,maaala.org). Please call about exhibits and special events.

The Whole 9 Gallery: 3830 Main Street, Culver City, CA. 90232, 310-836-4600. Please call for more information about hours, exhibits and special events. thewhole9gallery.com.

Casual distressed jeans errand outfit (10)
Casual neighborhood errands: White cardie over a  tee and distressed Levi’s. Access. with white cotton hat, shades, tweedy socks and suede sandals.

Cool Errand Gear

Distressed and faded Levi’s can still be stylish and versatile when mixed with a vintage white cardigan, statement belt, and shades. The patina and wear of both items also give them a modern elegance. Slip this outfit on when running out to McDonald’s for a quick lunch, bank for much-needed funds or the cleaners with your suit for a job fair. Comfortable enough to be laid-back, but not so sloppy you’ll have to hide behind a nearby bush if you run into an old boyfriend, the structured lines of the jeans and sweater prevent it from being slovenly.

Four Ways To Wear Vintage Jeans Collage
Vintage jeans are so versatile you can dress them up or down depending on your mood and the occasion.

Baggy Hip-Hop Swag

Loose, baggy jeans add an extra saucy edge when coordinated with an oversized white Ralph Lauren shirt, vintage Levi’s jacket, and suede sandals. Then accessorized with a vintage red, white and black print vintage 1940’s doo-rag and oversized shades, it exudes a feminine allure to an ensemble comfy enough for a morning matinee at the Cinemark, artsy afternoon at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) or craft and school supply haul at the Dollar Tree,  JoAnne’s or Michael’s.

Blue denim and pink
Pink wraparound cardie over a pink tee and distressed jeans. I wore this outfit to run errands at “Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza”.

Distressed But Louche

If you buy a naturally worn and paint splattered pair of jeans from Timeless Treasures or another local thrift store, you can always dress them up with a knock-off Chanel-esque blazer to give them that high-low appeal that’ll take you to school and studying at the library afterwards, or dress them down with a grey retro Aerosmith tee from Ross, for a personal field trip to a Saturday yard sale. Brimming with lively backstories, if you’re lucky enough to find ones this authentic and beloved, they may soon accompany you on your own adventures, and collect tales picked up along the way, for the next owner to ponder over.

Peach blouse with vintage jeans (2)
Victoria Moore in a vintage peach tie-front blouse, vintage Levi’s and straw hat.

Streamlined Blue

Sometimes it’s not just nice to comingle prints and patterns, but layers too. A cropped cardigan can be very smart when placed over a striped blue and white blouse then accented with a navy-blue and white polka-dotted scarf tie and cuffed vintage Levi’s. If you work somewhere semi-casual, arduous, yet with exposure to the public in a school or library this combo is just right for long shifts and hard physical tasks that would render nicer duds torn and tattered in minutes.

As you can see, the ways to coordinate vintage jeans are as varied as the occasions they can be worn too. With a little ingenuity and self-analysis, you can easily include them in your wardrobe and use them to add uniqueness and classical styling any time you need to.

The True Story of Jeans

1) “What textile are they made from?”

They are made out of a material called “denim”. Its name comes from the French term “Serge de Nimes” where they originated in Nimes, France.

2) “How is denim created?”

Denim is created from the weft of the “cotton twill” which goes beneath the warp “threads” before they’re woven together. To get the distinctive blue and white shade of traditional jeans, the warp is “dyed indigo” while the weft is left white.

3) “When were jeans first invented and by whom?”

Jeans were first invented in 1873, by Jacob W. Davis a Reno, Nevada-based tailor and Bavarian native, “businessman/entrepreneur” Levi Strauss.

4) “Which group first wore “blue jeans” and why?”

Cowboys and miners were the first groups to wear “blue jeans. They wore them because they were sturdy and held up well over time.

5) “How did they become so popular with the mainstream?”

James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956) made them popular and okay for anti-establishment males to adopt them as an alternative garment that signified youthful rebellion and allegiance to a sub-culture separate from their 9-5 fathers. Marilyn Monroe in the 1961 film The Misfits did the same for females.

References Cited

      1. historyofjeans.comHistory of Jeans and Denim
      2. historyofjeans-making/how-jeans-are-made
      3. www.racked.com/2015/2/27/8116465/the-complete-history-of-blue-jeans-from-miners-to-marilyn-monroe, Wright, Jennifer. The Complete History of Blue Jeans, From Miners to Marilyn Monroe

girl jeans kid loneliness
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 Places to Buy Vintage Jeans in Los Angeles, CA.

    1. Goodwill Southern California Store and Donation Center, Culver Junction, 3340, 8950 Venice Blvd., L.A., CA. 90034, 310-845-9327. Hours: Sunday (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.), Monday through Saturday (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.), www.goodwillsocal.org. Online store (www.shopgoodwill.org), Ann Taylor Loft, Tommy Hilfiger, Lucky Brand, etc., (Under $50).
    2. Etsy.com, Levi’s vintage jeans (Various prices, under $100), www.etsy.com
    3. Timeless Treasures Thrift Shop, 9441 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA. 90232, 310-559-8338. Hours: Tuesday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
    4. Out of the Closet Thrift Store, 8224 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA., 90046, 323-848-9760. Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.