What better way to get dressed chicly, quickly, than by wearing black and white? In the words of Coco Chanel: "Women think of all colours, except the absence of colour. Black has it all. White, too. Their beauty is absolute. It is the perfect harmony." Theoretically, of course, this is absolutely correct. Unfortunately it can be surprisingly tricky to get black and white right in real life.
The problem is, simple and easy are two different things. Monochrome is simple but wearing it requires a bit of forethought. Try too hard and you'll look like a French mime. Don't try hard enough and you'll look like a bored waitress (disclaimer: if you are a bored waitress this is an awesome look, carry on). The key is to choose the right monochrome for you, and style it up (but not too much).
The combination is eternally chic, but spring/summer 2014 saw checkerboard collections popping up all over the fashion map, from Alexander Wang to Derek Lam. If you want to give it a try, here is a selection of this summer's best takes on the look.
Pattern is still popular, but last year's grids have softened up. Marc at Marc Jacobs showed scalloped black lines on white, giving cool, graphic styling a feminine feel, while black polka dots were – ahem – spotted against a white shift at Sportmax. Carolina Herrera's and Céline's monochrome were similarly chic and ladylike. Coast and Oasis have gorgeous stripes in spades. If you favour spots, try this versatile shirt from Miss Selfridge.
If you're up for splashing out on an investment piece, why not try something in Diane Von Furstenberg's signature zebra print? The designer showed a lot of black and white this season, but her famous zebra stripes never looked fresher than they do on the stunning "tattoo print" Fanny dress. Having said that, you'd have to look twice to tell the difference between DVF's dress and this stunning Karen Millen frock, in monochrome croc (at a fraction of the price).
For sharp two-tone, check out Saint Laurent's Chrissie Hynde tribute (very 80s: asymmetric stripes, leather leggings and glittery socks – black, white and silver work beautifully together). Alternatively, be inspired by the modern, minimal silhouettes at Victoria Beckham and Jil Sander. Here, monochrome was clean without being austere. Beautiful tailoring and soft touches (such as a white cocoon coat with opera-length sleeves over a white shirt at VB) are the key to doing smart monochrome.
Finally, a word on footwear. Black and white shoes are an easy update and look surprisingly fresh with jeans. There are innumerable styles to choose from (pointed flats are this summer's brogues), but my pick would be these Whistles flats, which show that leopard print can be cool and casual – especially in black and white. Or try these Louboutin heels, which confirm that leopard is still sexy, even when you change its spots.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010