by Daniel Penny

As a teenager and young man living in New York, I wore a lot of black clothing--black surplus peacoats, black skinny jeans, black crewneck sweaters, and lots of black shoes. In the circles I ran in, black is a way of rebelliously blending in, appropriate for all occasions, and always flattering. When my wife and I got a dog, three years ago this week, things changed. I really had no intention of bringing home a dog, but earlier that week, my wife had agreed to see a disturbing, experimental film with me, so I suggested we do something she might enjoy the next day. “Why don’t we visit the animal shelter and walk some dogs?” She’d been pestering me about adopting a dog for years, so I was well-acquainted with my wife’s line of argument: They spend all day couped up in foul-smelling cages, why not help out the shelter by taking the dogs for a stroll?

Inside the shelter, we spotted a malnourished, but handsome, Australian shepherd with a split face, a fluffy coat in white, black and silver, and speckles of light brown along his paws and legs. At Westminster, you’ll hear this kind of coat referred to as “blue merle.” We took him for a walk around the block and he spent the whole time staring up at me with soulful brown eyes. When we brought him back to the shelter, the volunteer coordinator told us to take him around the block again--they were too busy dealing with a truckload of pitbulls that had just arrived from down south. An hour later, I told my wife I wanted to take him home. My wife liked the dog, but now that I was finally interested in getting one, she began to have second thoughts. I enumerated all his virtues: perfect size, fluffy, good with kids, well-behaved on the leash, didn’t bark once. She relented, and the next day, we took our new dog back to our apartment. We named him Chester.

Aside from a few health problems, Chester proved to be the perfect pet, except for one defect: shedding. So much shedding. The amount of fur that came off this dog was astounding, and it got everywhere. We bought a new vacuum, and I lint-rolled fastidiously, but the hair was never ending. When we brushed Chester, we would pull off so much fur that I joked we could make a whole new dog with it. Then I began to fantasize about the idea of making yarn with his fur, but when I Googled the idea, I was too put off by the creepy, middle-aged ladies wearing dog fur sweater vests to put the notion into practice. Before we got Chester, I had never been the kind of person to immediately change into pajamas when I got home from work, but if I sat on our couch in my favorite black jeans, I stood up with my seat reupholstered in white fur. I couldn’t wear my clothes in my own house!

It was at this point that I realized I was going to have to give up my all black wardrobe. I found this prospect deeply distressing, as much of my sartorial identity was tied to this non-color. I was a young writer living in New York--what kind of person would I become if I couldn’t wear black? In getting a dog, I’d had sworn that I wouldn’t become one of those doofuses in a “Life is Good” hoodie, covered in dog drool, but that seemed like the only path forward. Though I loved Chester, I began to resent him a little bit, too. Goodbye hardcore, hello dadcore.

Luckily, I noticed that one of my favorite sweaters never seemed to show any fur at all. It was a marled gray, with bits of dark and light gray woven together. I could cuddle up to Chester all I wanted and the fur remained mostly invisible. This was the solution to my problem! Whenever I needed to buy a new piece of clothing, I found myself reaching for shades of gray: a boiled wool blazer in a mottled charcoal, a heathered gray turtleneck, a pair of mid-gray flannel pants. I could even wear these items all at once; they looked cohesive without being matchy. These days, I’ve even begun to feel like gray is actually superior to black, just as urbane, but with a little more sophistication. The best part is, I don’t need to buy a trendy, new fuzzy sweater--the dog hair stuck to my knitwear makes it seems like I’m already wearing one.