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12/18/2018 12:40 EST | Updated 12/18/2018 17:53 EST

I've Worn Black Every Day For 4 Years. I'm Finally Asking, 'Why?'

A trend became an aesthetic, an aesthetic became a quirk, and I now wonder if the quirk has become a compulsion.

My desk neighbour of more than a year walked into the office, looked at me, and asked who was sitting at my spot. Later, another coworker gave me a long, puzzled stare as I headed toward him. On another occasion, someone else in the office glanced at me, laughed and started talking about me with others as I looked on.

I was wearing a shirt that wasn't all black.

I don't blame them for their dramatic reactions. If anyone has seen me over the last four years, regardless of the setting or scenario, there's a 95 per cent chance I've been wearing all-black, and a 100 per cent chance I've been wearing mostly black items.

HuffPost Canada
The author's closet when he lived alone.

The first time I did a TV appearance, the producer specifically told me to avoid wearing black. I had nothing else.

I wear so much black that I can vividly remember occasions where I haven't — recently, a wedding where everything I wore was black, except a newly-purchased white dress shirt with a black pattern.

Some people in my life have asked me a simple, but difficult-to-answer question about my all-black aesthetic: Why?

How it started

I'll start by getting some possible explanations out of the way: I've never had a goth or emo phase; it has nothing to do with a dress code or uniform; there's no religious or spiritual significance; I'm not an Instagram influencer, and am not even on the platform; I'm not trying to get into any social group or clique, although I definitely do fit in at techno clubs.

As a younger man, I wore bright colours, v-necks and even white, skinny jeans. I enjoyed showing off items that may have been considered too flamboyant in my hometown of Cambridge, Ont.

Sean Carvalho
The author on a trip to France in 2010.

Around the age of 20, I started naturally shifting toward a monochromatic wardrobe, and by 22, I adored black clothes. I felt better in black, and thought I, and almost everyone else, looked sharper in it, too.

I started experimenting with minimalism at the time, prompted by a move from Montreal to Toronto where I had to consider what I really needed. One rule I enacted was tossing any piece of clothing that passed its season unworn.

That spring, I looked at the remaining greys and whites, and the odd splashes of colour, with disdain. I didn't wear them anymore, and didn't want to; they'd become an eyesore in my closet I could no longer tolerate.

I purged them, and it has been all-black-everything ever since.

Why it continued

There are some logical reasons I could offer for my clothing choices.

All black means everything matches. Getting dressed is simpler. There's only one load of laundry. I'll wear anything I buy, which wasn't the case before. Shopping is also a lot easier.

But I'm not an "American Psycho"-esque CEO looking to shave minutes off my morning routine — I discovered the efficiency of the all-black regimen after I'd been on it for a while, and it's not the reason it has continued so long.

Hadeel Al-Sayyed
The author in March 2018.

Some friends say black suits my personality, as I love taking time out of my day to smoke and brood on my balcony. But while fashion can be a reflection of our personalities, it has never been the primary means of expressing mine. The connection between black clothing and my personality has been imposed on me, rather than being something I buy into.

Recently, however, I got some troubling insight into a more likely reason for my wardrobe choice.

I had a guest over to my condo, and they were impressed and entertained — and maybe a little worried — about how few items there were in the place, and how tidy and organized they were.

The guest asked me when I started being so neat. I told them it was in the first year of my masters program. Then, they asked when I started wearing my all-black wardrobe. I paused, before giving the same answer.

What it became

Shortly after moving to Toronto, the symptoms of mental illness I'd been struggling with for a couple of years became harder to manage. I eventually decided to get help for the first time, and as a result, received a diagnosis and started treatment.

I've never been a fan of surprises, and prefer to be in control of my environment as much as possible, so this presented a challenge. Mental illness doesn't work on your schedule.

As I tried to come to terms with what the future might look like for me, post-diagnosis, I began having urges to reassert control in the places I could, including my wardrobe and condo.

Sure, my mind may have been a mess, but I thought that if I could keep my home looking pristine, and my outward appearance polished, it wouldn't be as apparent to others.

Jess Baumung
The author in April 2018.

This didn't start off as a bad thing. The house I shared in undergrad with a few other guys was a disaster, so having a clean and tidy condo was an objective improvement.

But, did every item really need to be in its specific spot, without any exceptions? Did all my hangers have to be identical? Did my books really need to be organized by size and colour? Did I really need to rearrange how my cousin, who I lived with at the time, packed the dishwasher? What good did taking time flipping light switches, to ensure the five lined up in one strip all faced the same way, do for me? Was it "normal" that I started having difficulties focusing on work unless everything around me was tidy; like there was a constant, distracting hum that would only subside when things were organized?

As I got older and started to move toward the professional world, I cared more about looking sharp in public. But has going to the extreme of wearing one colour for four years really been necessary to achieve that goal?

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A trend became an aesthetic, an aesthetic became a quirk, and I now wonder if the quirk has become a compulsion. Has something I adopted to cover up the illness became a sign another is also at work?

I don't have these answers, and because I can't self-diagnose, I won't be able to get them on my own. The people in my life won't see me wearing colour any time soon, but I'm now as curious as they are as to why that's the case.

That means there's no tidy resolution to this article; no soundbite response to the question. But I've finally realized what I'm doing probably isn't common, and may be more serious than I previously thought. If change is needed, that's the first step.

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