Black suits

I have a friend that loves black suits. Can’t get enough of them. For him, a black suit and a white shirt are the chicest things a man can wear. He is a big fan of Reservoir Dogs, so that might have influence him somewhat, but he still has a point – black and white is the combination of choice for Hollywood stars and fashion designers, everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Simon Cowell.

Yet I hate black suits. Can’t stand them. When a graduate turns up at an interview in a black suit and a white shirt, no matter what the tie, he looks immature. The outfit looks cheap.

Black suits almost no one. (Sorry for the pun.) Most men’s complexions are washed out by it. They are not high enough contrast. Blue and grey are much kinder, with mid-grey probably being the easiest of all.

And black can look cheap. That’s why navy blue is the smartest option for a suit, and why some men wear midnight blue for evening wear. It looks blacker than black.

So why does black look great on Dolce & Gabbana? Well, for a start they and their Hollywood peers tend to be more tanned or darker skinned, so are better able to pull off the high contrast. But more importantly, those people are often photographed at glamorous occasions.

Usually in the evening, these occasions are about dark backgrounds and bright lights, velvet drapes and sparkling jewellery. They are about high contrast, and the outfits are planned to match. The women just as much as the men would look gaudy and cheap if they wore those outfits in the middle of the day.

This is the foundation behind black tie, traditional men’s evening wear. It is about monotone, contrast and variation only in texture. Subtle changes in colour are lost in those situations, so tone is kept simple and the adventure is in texture – silk and satin, velvet and patent.

Even when designers or film stars are not at an evening function, they are associated with glamour. Indeed, the very fact that you have seen them probably means they have been photographed – and long-range photography isn’t much good at picking up the subtleties of Glen check or harmonised colours.

Black suits with white shirts look cool because of their associations. And they can look good on you at an evening event – as a cocktail suit, for example. (Mohair suits similarly.) Just don’t wear them for business.

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Alex

I’m a huge fan of your blog. I have one question and I’m pretty sure it’s never been addressed by you. I usually buy my dress shirts off the rack. The problem is I am very thin and the shirts tend to look ridiculous on me, especially around the waist area. I have read that some men get darts put into their dress shirts in order to slim them down. But I’ve also read that this ruins the line of the shirt. Do you have any advice for me in this area? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Horatio

Amen! I can’t stand black suits too, and feel sorry for the fashion victims that own and wear them.

If you’re stuck with one (or, heavens forfend, more), you can always wear them when you go out at night. Paired with a white shirt, it is the modern semi-equivalent of black tie.

Miss Kin

I believe that depends on the fabric that the suit is made off, there’s no way that a black suit looks cheap if the fabric is excelent.
However, I concur with you when you say that black suits are night suits.

ps. I really like to see a tall skinny guy in a black suit…

A Super Dilettante

Thank you so much for this informative post. It answered all my questions about black and white conundrum. Another place you would see a lot of people where black and white is a place where the art curators meet. Dark glasses, dark shoes, black dress, black suits, black shoes and more black and black – one might as well go and look at Malevich’s black square. Isn’t it odd that people like curators or fashion designers who should appreciate more colours – but everytime I’ve been to exhibition previews and fashion shows, everyone wears black and white! They said black and white make them look Parisians – very lazy Parisians in that case who don’t want to make any effort in clothes.

ralhp

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Raj Vora

Every professional man should read this article.

Alexandru Serban

I disagree with you. Is true black is not high in contrast but is a non-color so should normally be this way. And if you want a business outfit you don’t wear a white shirt. There are a lot of yellow/blue 0 shirt/tie combinations to go with or pale pink shirt/grey tie, etc..
As for the cheap effect.. obviously you should always buy the best quality one and never go under 500 pounds, by the way you should aim to get a 1500+ one. Otherwise you will end up with what you mentioned: a cheap look like a plastic 50 pound River Island trash.

wole

Good evening Simon,

Thanks for the good work.I want to know if coffee brown suits can be worn to work and with what colour of shoes?

Wole from Lagos nigeria

wole

Thank you Simon..

Anonymous

Simon, I have a bit of an unusual question. I’m a classical musician, and if you’ve ever been to concerts in your life (I’m sure you have) you know that the dress code is usually black suits, although some players in recent years have taken to showing up wearing jeans or garish colors. Musicians have always dressed rather poorly anyway, wearing black suits just because that’s what you do, no matter how ill-fitting your suit is. It used to be tailcoats, though, and white piqué bow ties (so I guess it was a white tie affair then? Or is that black tie?) Anyhow my question is, what should a young musician do if he’s to dress well on the stage? I’m of course talking about a solo player, not a member of an ensemble. Isn’t there a way to avoid black suits? How would you tackle it? Thanks, David.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,
I thought so. However the dress code is not really set in stone. I mean, besides the blue jeans example, I’ve seen people sporting mid-gray suits or just black turtlenecks. Do you think a dark navy suit would be out of place? Or a charcoal one?
Cheers!

Anonymous

May I ask what conclusions you arrived at with your two musician friends?

Anonymous

Thanks, Simon, much appreciated.

Rol

Hi Simon. I purchased a black mtm suit for a friend’s wedding and other than a black tie event, wedding, or funeral I am having trouble finding a good use for black. Do you have any suggestions on how I can use black in a work setting? Perhaps using the jacket to pair with gray trousers and vice versa? Or wearing certain shirt, tie, square combos! I hope you can provide some insight. Thanks.

Scott

Simon, perhaps you should update your comments on the black suit so people won’t go out and spend money on a garment that makes them look like a limo driver. I too have a black suit that I struggle finding a use for and it just hangs there looking almost forlorn. Of course Tom Ford is a big advocate of the black suit, but I don’t think he makes a very good case frankly.

Blake McNamara

I agree that black suits can look cheap however if done right, they can look very suave and serious in a business setting. I own a black suit that is more of a matte black so it is a bit closer to charcoal but I have always been able to make it work even with contrast collars and such. Furthermore, black suits can have the potential to look very sleek and retro. I don’t believe that black is the worst suit colour but I do think that it is the most misunderstood suit colour in both analysis and execution.