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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.

That black corduroy shirt of mine from Berg & Berg is great, but I can only wear it with a few pieces of clothing - such as the dark green of my Zizolfi tweed jacket, and grey trousers. 

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. 

My clothes:

  • 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. 

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Stephen

Hi Simon.

I was wondering what your opinion about midnight blue is (especially for a suit or a blazer/sport jacket). Would you also say that this colour is also more difficult to wear versus, for example, navy blue.

Thank you.

Peter K

I have a midnight blue blazer and it isn’t very versatile. I usually pair it with dark brown trousers. That works well. Mid gray works too but you look like a security guard so I avoid that combination.

I might try cream trousers with it after reading this article.

Peter K

Had a flash of inspiration and am wearing the midnight blue blazer today with charcoal trousers and a dark grey merino turtleneck and black oxfords.

It looks elegant.

Troy

I’ve also been wearing more black this year, after considering it a more difficult colour to wear previously, outside of funerals and black tie.

I’d suggested/requested in your end of year survey that it would be nice to see more of other people as comparison to the style advice or style themes you were discussing in your articles. I can’t imagine a softer shift in that direction, than in this article. It’s nice to see, helpful and in this particular case I think it works really well.

Keep up the good work!

Fred

Black was my uniform in NYC in the 1990s; it was (still is?) everyone’s then. Like short hair, I suppose, black is so much easier. Just put it on and go.

Anonymous

Yes, black is the standard in NYC from September to March, particularly for women. My (English) wife caused quite a stir when we lived there as she refused to conform, and regularly wore white, pink, blue etc. Some of the locals decided it would be fun to follow her lead, and all decided it was very liberating!

All black is really hard to pull off, but wander around Paris in winter and you will regularly see guys in very dark grey flannel with a black roll neck sweater and black suede shoes. And dark glasses in sunny weather. That does work.

Anthony

The article a while back about wearing your Dege and Skinner brown linen suit with white shirt and black tie has been useful to me in thinking about black – the environmental conditions seem to be important. You made the point that in the harsh Naples sun with deep long shadows the high contrast look feels more germane. The more regular ‘high contrast’ scenario most of us might find ourselves in is of course under artificial light at night time, and that’s where I’ve grown fond of wearing black. A fairly obvious position to reach given the historical custom of wearing black and white at night, but a few years ago I wouldn’t have considered it in any context other than a dinner jacket. These little progressions feel significant in our slow fashion world! Thanks Simon.

Shoddy

Thanks Simon for another thought-provoking article.
Too many half-formed ideas to put down. But first -and I hope not reductively- it occurs to me that this may be a form of seasonal dressing: diametrically opposed to the notorious Autumn dressing; Winterreise album cover maybe. And second, it strikes me as a low-contrast, finely graduated and softly-spoken statement. Little bit of a code?

Shoddy

On the first point: i don;t just mean “not summer”; i mean specifically Winter -spare, grey/black, bare trees, crows maybe- look at any picture of Ian Bostridge looking moody on Winterreise promotional materials- and the antithesis of the Autumn palette because those lovely red/brown/gold leaves are now dead and gone.
Not meaning to be cryptic about the second point, but most of the illustration are operating not only in monochrome but at the mid to dark end. i was thinking about rembrandt etchings and the way the modulations of darkness draw your eye in. (granted that it’s light on the left of the picture, but i always look right)
http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/rmbrdnt_selected_etchings/recent/rembrandtchristbisbis.jpg

Anonymous

Simon, what do you think about black denim jeans? Been eyeing some by Blackhorse…

Anonymous

I’ve been a fan of black jeans for a long time.

Black jeans, chestnut/espresso suede shoes, white OCBD, charcoal sweater.

Black jeans, chestnut/espresso suede shoes, pale blue or white OCBD, rust/sage/moss tweed.

Black jeans, black suede BC’s, black rollneck.

And so on.

As ever, don’t overthink things.

Matt

I think black Jean’s, if they’re actually denim, will look more like charcoal as you tend to have some white showing through. If not right away, then before long.

Ian A

I think during the Pommella talk with Simon and Douglas Cordeaux! I believe it was Douglas who made the statement that if you can get anything vintage in Black it is well worthwhile as the black newly created is not a true black as they are not allowed to use those dyes anymore. There is a video recording the talk in this websites previous posts.

Karol

I’ve got a pair, and I would not recommend them. Basically, they go only with certain pieces, and mostly casual one. White tshirts, grey and oatmeal sweaters, white sneakers. Easier in winter, thanks to charcoal and camel coats. Black boots as well, of course. Dressing them up is easy, but it’s one way only – white shirt, black shoes, maybe grey cotton jacket. Go for them only if you have many other options, because they don’t offer much

Anon

An interesting article. Here in Toronto black has been a mainstay of urbanites for 30 years……almost a throwback to the “hip” generation of the late 50’s. And early 60’s. We hardly consider ourselves fashion trendsetters here in “the great white North” but it appears we might be. I myself have a black linen suit and a soft flannel suit which I reserve for funerals ( choice depending on the season) but have always considered them too severe for everyday wear….almost like “mafioso” cosplay. I also have a black wool/cashmere pea coat and several both black cotton and wool trousers. Perhaps I will now give them more “air time”.

Vahn

When you say, “oatmeal is better tan” do you mean oatmeal is a better version of tan or that oatmeal would be better if it were tan (in this situation)

Karol

Simon, could you please explain the difference between tan, oatmeal, cream and beige? I’m not actually sure which of those are used here interchangeably…

Nick

Hi Simon, thank you for you article. I would really like to wear black jeans (perhaps washed so more grey-black) with a jacket but have been struggling, as you mention, to think of a suitable paring of jacket. I was thinking that perhaps marling and Evans PoW tweed or one of the recent fox PoW tweeds in grey/black/cream whatever they are would be an option, what do you think?

Winot

I wonder whether it’s easier to wear black clothing that has a prominent texture (e.g. your corduroy trousers/shirt and suede boots).

One of the problems with black is that it can look flat and texture helps avoid that.

Gab

Hi Simon, I think black mostly works when the texture brings a subtlety, making it lean towards a dusty charcoal. I notice that your two recent acquisitions from Berg&Berg are corduroy. Linen might be put in this category as well.

zo

black definitely adds an edge and youth to any appearance. Its a good recommendation to experiment with the colour; and It’s not incredibly difficult to pull off. just wrap a black scarf around any of the models in the photos above and you can see their image transform. Black + charcoal and black+ tan (both seen above) are really cool combos.

DY

Great article Simon, I’ve had a black and grey check wool blazer for some time but find it very difficult to pair with anything other than grey. What color trousers would you go for when wearing a dark grey blazer?

Valentine Hayes

There are warm blacks that go with other warm colors

Valentine Hayes

Add red to black to warm it…my Italian fabric trousers are warm black

E L

Again, you are confusing saturation and hue. (Wikipedia has an article on color theory that explains the difference between these two terms and between warm and cool colors). Coolness and warmth of colors is a property of hue, not saturation. Blue, for instance, is the coolest of the cool colors and can be very saturated. I don’t say this to be pedantic. I say this for several reasons.

1) The terms ‘cool colors’ and ‘warm colors’ have very standard meanings that are quite different from the way you are using them (I haven’t seen anyone else use these words the way you are using them). Using these words in other ways can genuinely confusing.

2) These terms capture important differences that are useful in explaining meaningful differences. For example, whether a color goes with black is mostly a matter of saturation (whether something is colorful or more grey/black/white), but hue (this is where coolness and warmth come into play), and value (how dark or light something is) also probably play a role. Any theory of what goes with black will be incomplete if only one of these factors is considered.

E L

“So when I say the colour is more saturated, I mean hue. Got it.”

-The issue is that you take cold and warm to mean something different than what these words normally mean. One of the ideas in this article is that black goes with things that are less saturated. The problem is, instead of saying “less saturated” you say “cold”. The coldness of a color has nothing to do with how saturated a color is. Coldness is a matter of how blue a color is; warmness is a matter of how red a color is. You are basically talking about how grey/white/black things are, though.

“On point 2, I also see how all three things are all important, though I’d say dark v light is less important. Certainly it feel less to me.”

-I agree. Saturation by far seems to be the most important. Value (how dark or light something is) does seem to be important, though. Most outfits you have pictures of above have only very limited amounts of whites, light greys, and creams.

“On point 1, the way I’m using the phrases feels intuitive to me and it seems to communicate with others. I’m not sure anyone else has said it’s confusing.”

-It makes sense to you because you are expressing the right idea, but with the wrong words.
-They may not realize it is confusing, especially if they are unfamiliar with the distinction, but it certainly can lead to confusion. For instance, if another clothing site were to use these words in their normal senses and someone were to read both that could lead to confusion or at least hinder understanding.
-The other problem I mentioned before is that using ‘cool’ and ‘warm’ as you are using them, may lead people to overlook other important aspects of color.

“If I change the word ‘saturation’ for ‘hue’, how is the way I’m using the words confusing? I’d like to understand”

-The main problem is your use of ‘warm’ and ‘cool’. The main point in the above article actually has nothing to with warm and cool colors (at least as far as I can tell). ‘Cool’ is basically how blue a color is and ‘warm’ is basically how red a color is. Your main point, though, is that black goes best with very low saturation colors like grey, white, and cream. These colors need not be warm or cool.

Again, if any of this is confusing (as it is to most people when they first learn about these things) the Wikipedia article I mentioned before lays out things pretty clearly.

Ben

Etymologically, warm/cold colors may have been first uttered in descriptions of landscapes in daylight vs. night. This is consistent with your intuition that black trends cold. But modern color theory indeed uses the terms to describe different hues, with red/orange/yellow near the “warm” pole and blue/green/purple the “cold.”

No simple theory using any of these concepts—saturation, value, hue—perfectly describes my preferred pairing with black. Generally, I strongly prefer colors of both moderate to high value and saturation next to black: oxblood, copper, forest or olive green (the forest green coat in the Alan See picture works well with the very dark trousers), aubergine, navy. I can’t imagine most pastels working with black. But then white, beige and camel are all great. None of this makes black suits easier to wear with non-whites, though there’s a recent black tie trend of wearing bold velvet jackets over black trousers that illustrates my preferences pretty well.

Anonymous

This is just my personal view too, of course, but the way warm/cold has been used on PS has always seemed intuitive to me. All you need is a couple of examples, as there were in the original post, and say that one’s warm, that cold, and it immediately makes sense.

I find EL’s information very interesting, but perhaps too technical and a little confusing. There’s no need to get into colour theory, and separate hue and saturation, if simple descriptions such as those on that post make sense. Equally ‘value’ – just say darker or lighter. Even if it’s less technically accurate, it doesn’t matter, as the point has been communicated (at the level required for the point) effectively.

Also, I think the way a lot of people are used to describing colour comes through editing photos these days – on their phone for example. And the way saturation and warmth are used in these posts is as how I experience them from that editing. I can give a photo more saturation, I can adjust the temperature, and I get the effects Simon is describing.

Again, great discussion.

Chancellor

Personally, I’ve found the usage of warm/cool on this blog confusing, and I’m finding EL’s definitions much more intuitive. I don’t want to say your usage is wrong, Simon–I’m sure you picked it up from somewhere and it may well be the standard in certain quarters. From my background (some formal training in physics, as well as some knowledge of computer image processing), EL’s definitions are more in line with what I know.

Matt Spaiser

I agree with this and have found “warm” and “cool” confusing in this article, but I also come from an art background with an education in colour theory. But these things do not come in absolutes. Some say red is the warmest and purple is the coolest, based on wavelengths in the colour spectrum. Then others place orange as the warmest and blue as the coolest. Warm and cool colours are all relative (some blues are cooler or warmer than other blues), but most importantly they are based on hues and not on saturation, as the terms warm and cool are used here.

In menswear, earth tones like brown and olive are warm and city colours like black, grey and blue are cool.

For example, olive green is *always* warmer than forest green. Olive is a shade of yellow on the spectrum, making it a warmer colour forest green, which is a blue-green.

Peter K

Maybe the trend to more black is a reflection of the public mood? Do we wear more black when the mood is subdued and brighter colours are more prevalent when the public mood is confident and forward looking?

This article has me considering a black scarf with my light grey pea coat.

Scott

I’ve always liked black, but agree that it’s hard to wear well and requires thought and attention to detail to pull it off. I have a beautiful herringbone grey cashmere jacket with flecks of white in it that I think would look good with black flannel pants, but am concerned that there may not be enough contrast. I have a pair of lighter grey flannel pants, with black mixed in, that definitely provides more contrast, but it’s an entirely different look. What would you recommend Simon?

jason

Black is the international hairdresser’s go to colour 24/7 52 weeks of the year.
It’s also big with funeral directors !
Approach with caution would be my advice to any self respecting flaneurs.

Evan Everhart

Hi Simon,

When I was younger and more adventurous, or shall we say rebellious against the style of my Father and Grandfather…..I would on occasion wear a black spear point, French cuffed dress shirt with either one of my powder or even sandy warm pale gray suits, or with an olive suit, or particularly often, with a rich chocolatey brown or charcoal brown suit, though I preferred the contrast of the chocolate brown against the black, more.

I have also worn black semi brogues with a chocolate brown suit, an ecru shirt, and a maroon tie with an ecru silk pocket handkerchief, which looked handsome. My hosiery with that was burgundy. There are many ways to play with such combinations.

With the pale sandy warm gray suit, a woolen sharkskin, I wore sometimes a black shirt with a deep maroon tie with cream figures, or a tarnished silver grenadine tie, almost a champagne. I also used to wear tan semi brogues with a pale cool gray suit, and a black shirt and hosiery with various ties. I suppose that I had a “black” garment phase, though I have since, largely left that behind me. I grew tired of so much black, though I did learn how to play with it, which is very useful. I have also worn a black tropical weight stiff wool Brooks Brothers sack suit from the 1960s, with a dark mahogany brown alligator skin belt, and chocolate brown suede wingtips, a white shirt, and a muted brown ancient madder tie with figures in olive and rust and yellow with blue. It looked very eclectic and interesting.

REUVEN L LAX

I’ve been experimenting with black for the past few years, largely because after some years of eschewing all black I started to miss it. I’ve found that with cloth, it’s a bit easier to wear black that has texture (cord, knits, flannel, etc.) – hard black worsted can be tricky.

When picking an outfit, I often think quickly what elements should be the foreground, middleground, and background. For example with shoes: if I wear a striking pair of burgundy G&Gs, those shoes will catch the eye and will become part of the foreground. Dark brown shoes tend to be part of the middleground – not the first thing noticed, but definitely have visual interest. However if I wear black oxfords with charcoal trousers, I feel like the shoes immediately become a background element, allowing other parts of the outfit to stand out more.

For me at least, that’s how I tend to use black: to create background elements, as there is little there to catch the eye, and I don’t personally want every part of my outfit to stand out as a foreground element. You don’t have to use black for this of course – low-contrast elements can also be used to push parts of an outfit to the back of the middleground, Also worth noting that black can be used to the opposite effect, to create contrast. The most obvious example is black tie, the way a black satin bowtie pops against a crisp white shirt.

Richard

Hi Simon
Interesting article, certainly outside of shoes and belts black is a colour I have rarely considered. Good to hear your perspective.
Perhaps a personal question, but I was intrigued about your description of how some clothes make you feel “happy”. Certainly I can relate to feeling confident when dressed a particular way but I have never considered an emotion such as happiness. Perhaps you could expand on what you mean by happy and why is it that drives that feeling.

Richard

Hi Simon
That makes a lot of sense. After a hard day, the comfort and relaxing effect of swapping a suit jacket for a nice cardigan. Yes, happy is a good word.

Martin

Very interesting photos, especially the surprising combination worn by the man standing in front of an iron gate. But in the picture below isn’t he wearing rather warm beige trousers with an otherwise completely cold outfit? And wouldn´t dark brown shoes have softened this clash of temperatures.

Stephen

For me black comes into its own as a roll neck sweater. In my opinion the most versatile item of winter clothing. Cashmere for colder days and merino in milder weather. I find it really ‘centres’ an outfit and in my opinion works with most other colours form tonal (eg dark grey) through oatmeal, and have to say tan in a jacket with texture, to sharper contrasts (although not on me for the latter) and of course indigo jeans. Therefore recommend trying the roll neck as good place to start, or a quarter zip, button neck sweater or a long sleeve merino polo. I. The summer a black short sleeve polo.
But beyond that I tend find black a bit harsh and with hint of ‘uniform’ for other items of clothing, except a traditional overcoat. The Crombie with a red lining and velvet collar (from Crombie) , served me very well as a investment pice through many years in a more formal environment.
Thanks again Simon for another article that provides guidance and ideas.

Yosef777

‘Au contraire mon frere’ : )
I cant help but think you are correct in your initial assessment that black is for johhny cash, parisian women and bikers (and i would add newly transplanted new yorkers trying too hard)!
Call me a traditionalist but again i concur with your thoughts that it is best left for formal wear.
Besides the fact that so many people think that by simply wearing black they are ‘slimming’ their appearance or being ‘hip’ it smacks of laziness due in part to the old adage that says, ‘dont worry everything goes with black’?!? It doesnt and shouldnt.

VSF

Your herringbone tweed coat is magnificent!

Peter O

Visit the cities of German dialect speaking Switzerland and see which colour for clothes predominates. In German Switzerland it is very important NOT to wear a colour which would attract attention. Since everybody is busy wearing that same colour, everybody feels comfortable. Swiss Germans, especially men, do NOT want to attract attention.
See the colour chosen by non-Swiss tens of thousands of lower and lower middle class foreigners employed in Switzerland.
Check which colour shirt, trousers, jacket is worn by any architect in German Switzerland.

Robert Giaimo

Simon

I’ve always enjoyed putting black and brown together, I would think you would have tried that as well. I’m certain you would do a lovely job of it.

Keith Taylor

“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.”

Spot on. Here in Mongolia I often covet the clothes of friends who look great in black and white, even though I’m certain that everything they wear is around H&M level and their entire outfit cost about the same as a pair of your socks. Unfortunately for me those outfits only work because they’re accessorised with jet black hair and Asian skin. Whenever I try to wear black – with my greying brown hair and a skin tone that ranges from pale and pink to sunburned and pink, with the occasional drunk and pink – I look like a rejected extra from The Matrix.

When it comes to shoes, though, I just can’t get on board with black. I have a couple of pairs just to fill out the wardrobe, cap toe Oxfords from Carlos Santos and a semi-brogued Oxford from Church’s, but whenever I wear them I always look down at my feet and just think “Oh. There they are. Shoes. On my feet.” I have almost identical Santos Oxfords in brown with a beautiful rich patina, and if I’m not careful I’ll get distracted by them and wander into traffic. The black shoes only see action when I’m dusting them.

Bamboccio

Black shirts in Italy are are a no no.

H

Not just in Italy.

I’m based in the UK and, for me, a ‘black shirt’ has some fairly unattractive connotations: priests, faschists and untrustworthy slimeballs (covering a wide spectrum of misdemeanours).

Fine in cord or denim though and there is definitely a place for black in a man’s life.

Ian

Hi Simon,
I was interested to see this just after reading a piece ( a few months old) on wearing black on Styleforum. I notice both you and they did not discuss the black odd jacket at all, even though they did mention black suits.. Is this garment truly beyond the pale?

Ian

Thanks for the reply Simon, I had forgotten about the stroller.

I have such a jacket-bought in a sale and on a whim-but it is in a spongy soft cotton, like a more velvet-y moleskin, and too casual to carry off the stroller look completely. It is the jacket my wife likes most, however, so I try to make it work!

I usually wear it with grey trousers or jeans and keep it for night-time socialising mostly, which is why it is interesting to read your thoughts on wearing black casually. I find it hard to pick any shirt colour other than white with this though, but a happy wife is more valuable than an impeccable fit.

Ian

I will try the pink shirt and brown shoes; to be honest I didn’t even consider using non-black shoes with them! Pale pink, given how good pink shirts look with grey suits, should be ideal.

I have tried it with the blue shirt/grey trousers combo but an alarm goes off in my head telling me to wear a navy jacket instead.

Anonymous

Depends where you work/mix, Simon.

A black odd jacket will find a natural fit with a black T shirt and white jeans.

Daniel Ippolito

Simon, I have debated for days whether to engage this particular point, but I have decided to take the plunge: I am a little miffed (for want of a better word) by your statement “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. ” In the first place I fail to see what is wrong with tradition, and furthermore, most well-dressed men tend to be middle-aged or older because it takes time to learn how to dress well, just like it takes time to learn how to do anything well. Finally, as has been discussed before on this and other blogs, one of the secrets to elegance is being confident in one’s own skin. I fail to see how constantly worrying about appearing old-fashioned (again, what’s wrong with that?) could possibly be conducive to dressing with confidence. Granted that fewer and fewer men understand and appreciate classic menswear, still those of us who do should wear our herringbone sport coats with elbow patches, our DB blazers with brass buttons, and our Chesterfield overcoats with confidence and panache, or not wear them at all.

zo

obviously there is a spectrum here, and a balance to be struck. where do you draw the line? I am sure you don’t still wear a ruff out and about do you! 😛

EZEQUIEL

nice article simon. what do you think about black socks?

EZEQUIEL

thank you. i received some black socks as a present last year but never wore them as i find them too harsh to combine with anything not black

Nick

Simon,

I am reminded of a nice post that you did some years ago on the virtues of a solid black necktie, especially with some texture (i.e., grenadine).

Cheers,

Nick

Shay

Thanks Simon for the interesting article. Before I started reading your blog black was my go to colour for dressing up (never owned a black suit) I feel that I since evolved but have a long way to go. The one thing I still like is a velvet smoking jacket and a black turtle neck – I guess its as you say ‘ a look’…

Black and Proud

It cracks me up to see the classic menswear crowd “discovering” black. I’ve been completely flummoxed by all the articles in the last several years prescribing Byzantine rules for how to wear it, or more often, banishing it altogether.

Here in New York City, over the last 60 years or so, black has practically been the uniform among whole cadres of artists, designers, architects, composers, rock & rollers, and other who look effortlessly good while being cooler than any #menswear pundits who’d glare at them.

These groups fall back on black for all kinds of reasons, but high on the list are 1: it looks good, 2: it’s cool, and 3: it’s easy.

I mean, come on. Black literally goes with everything. I concede that not all black clothes look good in all contexts. A black suit is hard to pull off and probably not worth it, and black overcoats are mostly good for displaying cat hair. And yes, you need dark shoes with black pants, and people with low-contrast complexions should avoid black and white. But beyond that … relax. Get down with your bad self, put on some black, flip off a pundit, go downtown, and look good.

Peter K

“…black overcoats are mostly good for displaying cat hair…”

Thanks for supplying my morning chuckle!

In my youth everyone who thought of themselves as cool and rebellious wore black. So I came up with this slogan – Black, the official colour of non conformity.

Karol

Perhaps because it was so restricted to evening wear before sixties? I don’t know, I’m not that old. The fun thing is, it might genuinely have been the colour of nonconformism. But since everybody is wearing it, everything is in reverse now. So is NOT wearing black the new black?

Scott

Last week I wore my black mid calf length cashmere overcoat purchased 15 years ago and people, mainly women, loved it. All kinds of comments, mostly very complimentary, were made about the coat and how more men should wear overcoats etc. Of course there’s always one or two, always men, who say something inane like “ you look like Neo in the Matrix”, but I just ignore them. Guys, a long black overcoat will get you noticed in a positive way. Black still works extremely well when worn correctly.

Black and Proud

Regarding black jeans: almost all of them have black warp and black weft, so they read as true black. When worn in, they turn gray and have a completely different feel.

Black jeans are one of the easiest things in the world to wear. You can wear them to work, then to a punk rock show or to the opera. To be versatile they have to be newish and have to fit very well, and you have to choose your shoes and top well. They go with chelsea boots, chunky derbies, pretty much any kind of boot, dressed-up-or-down sneakers. On top, if you wear anything tailored, some fabrics work much better than others.

Black jeans used to be part of my uniform, but these days I only wear them occasionally, partly because I’ve discovered raw indigo denim and find it more interesting.

Emerging Genius

Interesting discussion. You’re quite influential, so your views may likely have some impact on a higher acceptance of black menswear. I must confess, it can look very sleek in some seasons and/or weather and occasions as long as it’s not overdone.

Karol

I’m not quite on board with Simon on this one. And no for ideological reasons – hearing the iGent purists claim that black is for formal evening events is hilarious. I actually have a few black things, mostly from my metalhead years. But the thing is, the more I learn about clothing, the less use I get from them. Compared to navy, charcoal and charred dark brown, black is much less versatile in mixing with other colors. So the question remains – with what can you even wear it? It seems that it’s mostly more black, charcoal, then other greys, pale browns, sometimes navy. Maybe olive greens and burgundys, but it’s a case-by-case scenario. Here’s my input, mostly from experimenting with what I have:
– Black shoes and boots – those are easy and obvious… black, navy, grey pants and suits. Black chelsea boots are underrated, they can work well with jeans as well. Brown does not seem to work here, but maybe pale charred brown or cream…
– Trousers – black chinos look cheap, in my opinion at least. Jeans are somewhat better, but still not great – pale brown and gray sweaters, white shirts, maybe a grey cotton or flannel jacket?
– Knitwear – turtleneck seems to be the best choice, since the other ones contrast with shirt either too much (white) or in an ugly way (blue and so on). Works under gray/charcoal jackets, suits and coats, camel coat is ok as well. I had some success pairing it with navy jacket and peacoat.
– Blazer – I’d say no. Only works with grey trousers, and makes pretty much all neckties look cheap. I have no idea how men could look good in Victorian full dress.
– Outerwear – the classic black leather jacket seems to only work with grey trousers and jeans, white/grey shirts/tshirts knitwear…. Coats aren’t much better. I know, it looks great with gray 3-piece and a black necktie…. But with what else?
Of course everything here is completely subjective and based on my own sense of aesthetics. I’m not a radical dandy by any means. But why would I go with the black turtleneck, when I could go with dark brown, which works with so many thins, over a black one, which works with three, tops? Same thing with black and indigo jeans, brown and black leather jacket… All in all, it seems okay when you already have a large wardrobe and can afford some pieces that are so limited in versatility. Otherwise, I would skip it. Unless it’s for evening wear…. but how do you approach evening wear with casual and smart casual outfits? I’d love a post about that 🙂

Black and Proud

@ PETER K … “In my youth everyone who thought of themselves as cool and rebellious wore black. So I came up with this slogan – Black, the official colour of non conformity.”

This is funny; I used to think the same kind of thing whenever I saw a rebel group with a strict dress code (Harley riders, 1970s punks, goths, Deadheads, etc.). But I’ve since realized what should have been obvious, which is that non-conformity isn’t a declaration of uniqueness—it’s a declaration of allegiance to some or other subculture. It’s “I’m not one of you corporate wankers, I’m one of us death metal wankers!”

The declarations of individuality are more subtle … they happen in the little ways you differentiate yourself from other tribe members. You wear a different shade of black laces in your oxfords; I put a subtle fringe of crimson in my mohawk.

Gus Walbolt

I recommend starting with a black roll-neck sweater. It pairs equally well with jeans or grey flannels.

BespokeNYC

Love this kind of article and heartily agree with the other commenter that I’d love to see more like it! It’s also very timely as I’ve just been in Copenhagen for a week and noticed how many men there wear black really well. Albeit in slightly more casual ensembles than you’d normally find on PS.

However, some of my favorite outfits were those that paired mostly black background with one item in what I would consider a very saturated color such as a tan overcoat, a burgundy sweater, or a moss green shirt (I think this is the point Ben is making too). I guess this sounds kind of at odds with your idea that black works best with colder colors (or less-saturated, as some have pointed out is more correct) so was wondering what your perspective is on strong, darker colors with black. Best with more casual outfits, or could it work with smarter combinations too?

I really found your article interesting , however there was no mention on the color of the socks .
I seem to recall the rule that the socks should always match the color of pants . How has that changed? Or was there ever such a “ rule “?

Karol

On related topic, which socks would you choose for cream, olive and dark brown trousers? Especially dark brown is puzzling for me – it has the added problem of shoe color

Adam

If you’ve got the b*lls to wear them, there is one colour for socks which will match anything you will ever wear.

Cardinal Red

Karol

Thanks! But how do you avoid dark brown trousers, socks and shoes blending together?

Adam

I should have mentioned that I get my Cardinal Red socks from Gammarelli (suppliers to the Vatican), through MCR.

Sebastian

It’s funny how wearing black for us “sartorialists” appears to be a bold move, while the average person on the street would consider a higher amount of black in an outfit a return to normality. I chuckled when Hugo Jacomet told the story of Lorenzo Cifonelli almost fainting when he came up with the idea of commissioning a black suit.

Coming from a subcultural background, where the only differences in my outfits used to be different metal album covers on an otherwise black canvas, I personally don’t see myself incorporating too much black into my outfits any time soon, but your thoughts on this topic are highly refreshing, Simon. Greetings from Germany.

George

Very intersting article simon,bravo.
My opinion is the black colour in formal dress is restrict white,grey,cream.I find very interesting the combination black ,navy can i wear black suede jasket with navy trouser or the same jacket with brown chino trouser and brown suede shoes ? Thank you

Abdur Rehman

Nice Article Buddy

Guy Graff

Not related to this post but perhaps you can help.

I’m ordering trousers and one of the fabrics I have in mind is one you suggest is very versatile. It’s the putty color cavalry twill by E Thomas…articolo 1311/164 in your post.. I’d like to get a swatch, the distributor in NY does not have it. Sent a Email today to E Thomas requesting a swatch stating I know it has to be ordered by the tailor.

Any further help you can offer to obtain a swatch of this fabric?

Carl

I am thinking of buying my first pair of black loafers. I think that i will mostly wear it with a monochrome outfit (think mid-grey trousers and charcoal sport coat). But I am thinking of having the loafers in grain to add some interest. (Plain black loafers is unfortunately associated with midwestern congressmen with oversized blazers). Do you have an opinion on black grain loafers vs plain calf or suede?

Guy Graff

Got it, and thanks for your response. FYI, if Fox Brothers has any of the ecrue cavalry twill available, I instructed my tailor for trousers to order and move forward. H&S have a location in midtown NYC and knowing they do not sell retail they welcomed me to visit and review their fabrics in the recent past. I found this VERY helpful in my choices which I had my tailor acquire for my commissions. Several crispair and flannel. BTW, they both gave and sent me swatches.

Again, thanks for your response.

Alan

Hi Simon,

Great post and love your EG boots. I have been wanting to add a pair of balmoral boots and would love to hear your insight to assist with my decision.

I have a natural preference for black over brown shoes. For some reason, brown does not quite feel “me” (however I am willing to try); thus have struggled to add this to my wardrobe so far. Working in an office environment meant my first was a pair of black leather cap toe oxfords. More recently, I added a pair of black leather Chelsea boots (JFitzPatrick) and black leather C&J Cavendish. These are always worn with navy suits and white shirt for work, or in the case of the chelsea boots and tassel loafer, with dressy black slim denim jeans.

I would be grateful to hear from you if you think a pair of black leather balmoral oxford boots (like the Shannon of EG) can be suited for both business and smart casual attires (e.g. black slim denim, other dark denim, navy chinos)? Should black leather balmoral boots (with cap toe) even be worn with black denim or navy chinos at all? Would the same boot in dark brown make it suitable for more occasions (perhaps it’s finally time for me to try dark brown)?

Thank you in advance for your help.

Alan

Hi Simon,

Appreciate your taking time out to respond.

Aside from black jeans and navy chinos, I also wear navy jeans, beige chinos and grey trousers although much less frequently.

You mentioned that black leather balmoral and black leather Chelsea boots might not be best paired with navy suit for work. It would be really grateful if you could provide me some guidance or examples on:
1. How to wear these black boots best (noting your char-brown outfit covered in this article); and
2. One or two outfits that would coordinate well with brown balmoral boots. That will help me visualise and give me the required encouragement to try the dark brown finally.

Thanks

Alan

Thanks Simon.

In reference to one of your earlier articles “a sliding scale of formality” which broadly aligns the “right” shoes to the “right” trousers, where would you place an all leather balmoral boot on that scale (assuming it is of the dressier type, plain oxford cap toe, slim silhouette, leather sole, minimal or no brogue)?

*I am new to PS and am enjoying going through the archives.

Alan

Simon,

“Wearing black” , “a sliding scale of formality”, “If you only had five business suits” were the first articles i read including all your readers’ comments (in the event someone else have already asked the same questions). These articles were the perfect guide for my early journey in building a basic wardrobe for which I aim to find the most use out of the items I purchase or will purchase (under a reasonable budget). To that extent, whilst I like the look of flannel trousers I am not sure if I will get as much wear out of it in the warmer climate in Australia? As you can tell in my questions to you in this post, I was trying to understand versatility in the balmoral boots so they are not restricted to one occasion. This brings an interesting comparison and contrast to Gentlemen’s Gazette who thinks balmoral boots are ideal formal and business occasions. Another example would be your lookbook and “introducing: the indulgent shawl-collar cardigan” in which you wore black cordovan tassel loafers with light-grey flannel trouser. Helps me get more use out of my black tassel loafer (assuming they can still go with black denim jeans?).

Final point, I find it very interesting that you started your career as a financial journalist and transitioned into classic menswear and acquired and published all these technical knowledge. So no doubt, I will be back asking more basic questions as I go through your contents (starting from shoes).

Thanks
Alan

Paddy

Hi Simon,

What are your thoughts on a black linen suit, strictly for knockabouts- mostly worn with t shirt underneath and sneakers?

In regards to this look- what colour sneakers should I go for?

Max

Dear Simon,
how do your suede shoes age and does it differ from brown to black suede? My oldest pair (goodyear/ resoled once) is 5y and they are still okay, but I guess you have a little more experience. Assuming that calf is easier to maintain long term, right?
Many thanks!

Peter O

Please do not overlook that witches prefer black and the genuine ones know why. You can be sure the reason is connected to their work.

shem

Hi simon, I’m wondering if one is wearing a black top (eg. bryceland black sawtooth or their black rayon shirts) and say jeans or khaki chinos below, how does wearing brown shoes (calf or suede) look? I do not own any black shirts and most pictures I see online with such combination often feature black shoes (e.g. loafers). Im wondering if brown looks ok?

Jonathan Jong

Avoiding black is rather tricky for the clergy among your readership. 🙂

James

Hi Simon, do you think black loafers are appropriate with a suit at work? I find it confusing given the black is a formal colour, but loafers are a smart casual shoe!

Thanks!

Dash Riprock

Black is for shoes of course, and possibly an evening suit ,but really not much else.

Karol

I wonder if you would give black tailoring a shot. Jackets, perhaps suits, in cotton, cord, linen… Maybe a black tweed sport coat or a black suede blouson? Seems like a logical next step.

Ian A

I think you’re Green/Black suit is the nearest I’ve seen to you incorporating black into tailoring. I wouldn’t mind seeing how that suit looked in different lighting! Outside in sunshine strong studio lighting against a white background etc.