Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Black Is the Old Black

“Give ’em any color they want, as long as it’s black.” Henry Ford is supposed to have said that when asked about his cars. A lot of people seem to feel that way about suits, too. The black suit is, I’m afraid to say, here to stay.

It actually never went away. Well, since Brummel’s day when he put Edward, Prince of Wales into blue or black. Black is the old black.

Since the Industrial Revolution, dress clothing for evening — the white tie and tailcoat for men — has always been black. (The dinner jacket, derived from the tailcoat, is usually black. It was the Duke of Windsor who popularized midnight blue since it looked better under artificial light.) Serious men wore the frock coat and later the morning coat (in black) with striped trousers when cornering the market, opening a new bank, signing a treaty, that sort of thing.

(Anthony J Drexel, Sr., via The London Lounge)

Does the black suit have a place in a gentleman’s wardrobe today? Well, yes and no. It depends upon what you do. It is a stark colour. It stands out. Architects seem taken with it (my friend excluded).

As are celebrities (who choose Armani’s versions)

Celebrities do a lot of work at night. Black can be useful as a more formal option than denim and less so than a dinner jacket. But as business wear? I’d say no.

Why? It’s too easy. It shows no thought. How much more elegant is the man who can mix blues with browns and greys, greys with lavender, pink or yellow, brown/khaki/tan with greens, greys, reds and black? Perhaps elegant isn’t the right word. Sophisticated?

There are those who will insist on wearing a black suit regardless. I hear from my friends in The State Department that it is the predominant colour for men’s suiting. If you do choose to wear a black suit, particularly during the day,  please take note of the cut and fit. Go for modern — a slim suit, a white shirt, dark tie and classic black slim cut rounded plain-toe oxford laceups.

Of course, you run the risk of looking like the driver…

10 thoughts on “Black Is the Old Black

  1. Having lived and worked in NY in the Fashion world…Black always seemed to be an easy uniform. I still love black but then again, one does run the risk of looking like hired help. We have always refered to it as a “SOHO” look, or a downtown look.

  2. I still don’t understand the use of a black suit. Dark navy has so much more going for it and can look black or blue depending on the accessories. Dinner jackets even look better in midnight blue than a true dark black.

    Am I missing something?

  3. Agree vehemently with using a little imagination to introduce color, and color coordination, into the male wardrobe. It would physically pain me to limit myself to black and white.

    Mildly surprised to hear you advocate a slim silhouette for suits, as you tend to favor drapey cuts reminiscent of the 30s and 40s.

  4. I have a rather embarrassing article Esquire did in 1993 about the ‘perfection’ of the black suit. Avant-garbed they call it. Being from the south, I could never get past the fact that black sucks up the sun.

  5. Tintin, does it ever. But I sure get looks when I walk into a restaurant with my white linen suit on. Regardless, I think I’ll have to insist that my driver wears a black suit.

  6. i am a ‘black’ person.
    for me it is like an anchor.
    and i suppose i like the ‘black on black’ thing
    clooney is wearing.
    it has an ‘element of danger’ to it.

    and to me,
    that is sexy

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