Over the past year, I’ve gradually been wearing more black.
Readers will have seen that in the recommendation of this Berg & Berg black shirt, for example, and these black cords. It's been particularly pronounced with shoes though, and I also mentioned I’d picked up some Edward Green loafers in black cordovan.
As usually happens with such tendencies, they do not occur in a vacuum. I see others wearing it, others see me, and everyone influences each other.
There are various reasons I’ve found black attractive.
One is that it is simply new, and fresh. This happens with all clothing: everything has trends. We’re just lucky in menswear that they last longer and are less fundamental.
The second reason is that it sits well with the cold, dark colours I like to wear anyway. Dark brown flannels, charcoal coats and cream knitwear make me happy. They feel stylish and refined, but not as showy as bright patterns or bold colours.
And a third reason - one that I think lies behind much of black’s general appeal - is that it has some attractive associations. Whether Johnny Cash, Parisian women, or bikers, black has historically been considered chic, young or cool.
This is particularly powerful in classic menswear, given a regular concern for many who wear it is that they might appear too traditional, old-fashioned, or simply old.
Black is also more likely to look more urban than rural - city not country.
In the traditions of classic menswear, however, black is usually frowned upon (outside of smart shoes and leather accessories).
There are good reasons for this. Black suits generally look bad - cheap and flashy - compared to the sophistication of navy.
So do black coats, with charcoal being a better choice. Knitwear too, to a lesser extent.
And while black shoes are great, they're usually prescribed for formal business clothes, not casual ones. Brown shoes are more casual and more versatile.
As for black trousers or black shirts, how do you wear them? Do they go with anything besides grey? What shoes do you wear with black trousers?
All these things remain true.
I never like to call them rules, but these customs are the foundations of dressing well, and should be learnt, practised and understood before moving onto anything else.
But having done that, it is interesting to move on - and play with exceptions and alternatives.
This is how I would categorise wearing black: as a niche, interesting exception. And one that isn’t easy to do well. Rather like high/low dressing, it requires that foundation of classic combinations to understand what works and what doesn’t.
The most important thing to understand is the ‘coldness’ of colours, mentioned earlier.
You can read the full article on warm/cold colours here, but basically cold colours have less saturation - less colour overall.
Anything without real colour is easy: grey, charcoal, white, cream, black. And then most other colours can have cold equivalents.
My dark-brown flannels shown in the top images and below, for example, are colder than most browns. Indeed, Fox calls the colour ‘char-brown’ to reflect the fact that there is so much grey/charcoal in there.
Olive green is usually colder than forest green. Dark navy is good, but not blue. Oatmeal is better tan.
These kinds of colours are the easiest to wear with black shoes or boots, as illustrated above.
In the images from Florence I’m wearing black Shannon boots from Edward Green with my char-brown trousers. And in the studio shot, my charcoal Vestrucci suit with those same boots.
And this is the biggest attraction of black for me at the moment: casual shoes such as boots or loafers in black, when a shade of brown would be more expected.
Another example is the outfit here, from the pop-up shop last January, where I was wearing dark-brown loafers but could have worn those black cordovan ones - and the effect would be pleasingly different.
Alan See from The Armoury also illustrated ways of wearing black during Pitti. He wore a charcoal coat from Liverano over grey and black on several days.
In the top image above, it’s a black roll-neck with a grey double-breasted suit, and black leather shoes. Another day it was the same roll neck over a grey checked jacket, dark indigo jeans and black boots. And in the lower image above, it's a black tie and white shirt, with black-suede loafers.
Others worth looking up are Kenji from Bryceland’s (below), who likes a black tie with his grey suits, and a black alligator belt; Oliver from Rubato, who often wears black loafers or slippers with white jeans; and Willy from The Anthology (shown lower down).
One thing these examples also make clear is that black is quite restrictive. It makes some demands on everything else in the outfit, given its tone.
And this is why it remains, for me, an exception.
I’ll still wear brown shoes far more often - but I like playing with the option of black in more casual situations than I did in the past.
Also, shoes and accessories are easy. Clothes are harder.
Black trousers are even harder. Worn with black shoes, there's a lot of black going on. Dark-brown suede shoes are OK, in a casual style. Perhaps Colour 8 cordovan at the outside.
But few jackets that look good with black trousers. My Berg & Berg cords have just been worn with grey or cream knitwear so far - no jackets.
Of course, you can wear black all over - as Berg & Berg creative director Andreas Larsson (below) does. But that’s more of a ‘look’ than I think most Permanent Style readers will want.
Two more things.
First, black-suede shoes belong in this category of difficulty. I have a pair and love the effect with grey suits, perhaps grey trousers (Cary Grant has a lot to answer for here). But that one piece is driving the whole rest of the outfit.
And second, skin colour has a role. Someone like Kenji, with his high contrast between skin and hair, looks particularly good in black and white.
That’s doesn’t mean others can’t wear it (as I argued in my piece on skin colour, it’s a factor, not an absolute) and Andreas or Ethan Newton do it well, despite their colouring. But it’s something to be aware of.
I would encourage PS readers to try more black. It is often in unusual touches like this that a real personal style develops.
Just approach with caution. Start with a black loafer, for example (which you might already own) with more casual combinations. Grey flannels perhaps, and a dark/cold sweater or jacket.
Find out if you like it first, before trying the full Johnny Cash. Or full Andreas.
- Bespoke coat in charcoal herringbone tweed from Ettore de Cesare
- Grey roll neck from Luca Faloni
- Char-brown Fox flannel trousers from Whitcomb & Shaftesbury
- Black calf/suede Shannon boots from Edward Green
- Cream watch cap from Permanent Style
- Dark brown gloves from Lavabre Cadet
Photography: of me, Jamie Ferguson; others, courtesy of The Armoury, The Anthology, Bryceland's, Milad Abedi and Berg & Berg.