Rule: unrelieved black can make you invisible

In Famous people on May 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm


In the historic and noble tradition of stagecraft it has long been understood that you can make people virtually disappear on stage by dressing them from head to toe in black.

Many are the mime acts and puppet troupes that have made this their signature technique, dazzling audiences by making things appear to move magically on stage. The all-black get up is also used by stage hands to minimise the intrusion of them moving furniture and props around on stage between scenes.

Here Vanessa Hudgens is showing how the same trick can be used on the red carpet.

Swamped by a huge black wrap dress, she’s like the Cheshire Cat – a grinning face, not apparently attached to a body. Of course, it didn’t help matters that this particular red carpet was actually black, but even on the normal scarlet variety this ponderous black frock would have made her hard to get a fix on. Not ideal for a film star.

Were she a woman of more generous proportions, this choice of artful camouflage might be understandable – curvy Kirstie Alley looked pretty good(if a little dishevelled in the hair area) in black at the same event (the LA premiere of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides’).

But High School Musical’s Hudgens is a tiny slip of a girl drowning inside this giant sea monster of a dress. Even the coquettish flash of toffee-coloured thigh, doesn’t alleviate the disaster of the upper half of it. She could have been storing a few ferrets in those voluminous sleeves.

Adding to the optical illusion weirdness, while perfectly on-trend (everyone seemed to be wearing them at the Royal wedding…) her flesh-coloured ultra-platform shoes blend seamlessly into her legs, just as the dress blends into her hair. She appears to have hooves.

Half close your eyes and she looks like some kind of alien mini-monk, that could have featured in a Star Wars prequel. Glamour Yoda you are.

An obi (with or without the Wan Kinobi ha ha ha) style belt in bright colours, lots of beads, bling brooches and cuffs could all have jazzed it up, but really, it’s just too much droopy dark fabric beneath too much droopy dark hair.

Alley’s dress, by contrast, although also unrelieved black (apart from a matt/satin texture contrast) was a one-shoulder number, revealing a crucial shot of flesh near the head, to anchor her in the onlooker’s gaze, set off all the better by her long blonde hair.

And it’s not just blondes who can successfully work the flattering lines of full-length black, while remaining visible to the naked eye. On the same carpet of fame, most brunette of stars and very recent new mother, Penelope Cruz, dazzled in a black fishtail dress.

This one worked because it had a most flattering off-the-shoulder neckline and bare arms – crucial upper-body flesh revealed – and was sumptuously ornate, with embroidered brocade patterns down the dress and fabulous floaty feathers round the neckline and hem.

But the clinching detail which made Cruz the belle of the black carpet that night, was that she worked her long black dress with a high-ponytail up hairdo, exposing maximum elegant neck.

A blingtastic pair of dangling diamond earrings and an equally dazzling bracelet round one wrist and you had the perfect premiere look. Chic, discreet – and unmissable.


My new book, Style Notes, a final collection of the columns I used to do for that magazine – oh, what was its name again? oh yes Good Weekend – is out now.

  1. Haha “sea monster of a dress”! The hair was looking a bit seaweedy too, I thought. I’d never really thought about voluminous long black dresses before. I’ve got a lovely full length black taffeta number from Carla Zampatti which is tight (ish) in the bodice but fairly full (in an unstructured way, hard to describe) in the skirt. Thankfully, it is off the shoulder like Penelope’s. Like, her, I bought it for a “do” after baby was born – draws attention away from the heavier waist area. I figured that at least my collar bones were still visible so may as well show ’em off, not too many other bony bits showing at that stage. I would never have thought to wear it with a high pony – next time I will!

  2. What think you, Maggie, of the no stockings dingy knees? Thats all there is to look at in the bottom half.

  3. Black is definitely out…out, out, OUT. It was hard to come to terms with that realisation after having it as a wardrobe staple for more or less 25 years.

  4. Agree, black is out. Colour and pattern feel so good.

  5. Totally agree black will always maintain a place in my wardrobe but I use jewellery or scarf to give a bit of life to it.

  6. Hooves! Tee hee hee! So right – I’ve been pondering lately why I dislike this current style of shoe so much and you’ve got it exactly – they make your feet look like clompy inelegant HOOVES. Especially when they are the same colour as your leg. Oh I wish the strappy dainty sandal would make a return!

    • It will Alex, it will…. although I must say this Herman Munster shoe trend has already lasted a lot longer than I thought it was. I was over it 18 months ago x

  7. Dear Maggie,
    Greetings from Tamarama Beach, Sydney (dont snarl, its actually quite chilly here at the moment).
    Have been a big fan for such a long time and the SMH Good Weekend Mag just not the same without; but do love stylenotes and of course you aren’t restricted on line so we get as much Maggie goodness and knowledge as you choose to bestow on us. Hurray!
    I know its a long shot, but I’ve just completed my first blogsite (wordpress,like you) and would be thrilled if you could take a look (couture and ready to wear)
    Many thanks,
    Bernadette Green,

    • Hi Bernadette
      Yes I’m still sad about Good Weekend – but in some ways this is much more fun! I love getting to put mad pictures on.

      I had a look at your site and it’s great. My only comment is this: I think you should concentrat on your USP, which is made to measure. There are a million places to by RTW but ‘couture’ is rare and special. In fact i wouldn’t have the RTW on there, it’s not what’s special about what you do. That blace lace top is TO DIE FOR and I would lead with that.

      Also really get the point over about what’s involved in what you do. I didn’t have time to have a really good look, but have you got pics of you actually putting a couture piece together? People need to know what’s involved!

      How I wish you were round the corner – I’ve got a perfect vintage dress I want to get copied. Let me know how it goes with the site. Mxxx

      • Dear Maggie,
        Many thanks for your advice will take on board; very grateful you took the time to visit the site. RTW project experiment/raise/change profile/publicity but point taken. Please drop me a line next time you are heading to this neck of the woods would love to fix you up with a new version of one of your vintage favourites.

        Re men with make-up … so much more trouble men can get up to than make-up; if it makes them happy, let ’em go for it! Mind you, might be scary waking up next to a bloke still wearing the make-up face from the night before (never a good look is it on boy or girl?).

  8. re the knees – I meant Vanessa Hudgens. They look as though her mother needs to give them a good scrub with a loofah.

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