Tonal layering with black jeans: Comfy, drapey, easy
This outfit I wore last week really tickled me - I think primarily for its combination of T-shirt and tailoring.
Working the two together in some way (as in this, perhaps Summer equivalent) is often an effective way to achieve the ‘casual chic’ style we’ve talked about in the past.
It’s also a style I think a lot of guys can explore that want to dress up in an office where no one wears tailoring, and it’s one of three styles that I find now define how I dress: tailoring for smarter occasions, casual chic for the middle, jeans/Ivy for the weekend.
The last context is our idea of a ‘cold colour’ or muted, tonal wardrobe. This outfit adds two suggestions: the idea that black jeans can work well - in much the way as white jeans - and the effectiveness of taupe alongside black.
OK, let’s try and put that casual-chic idea a different way - a more emotional one.
The outfit just felt great. It felt relaxed, but elegant. It looks dressed up, but incredibly easy to wear, to live and work in.
You’re basically just wearing a T-shirt and jeans, with easy loafers. There’s a cardigan around the shoulders that’s as comfortable as a dressing gown (well, maybe one of those short smoking-jacket ones), and then an outer layer draped over the top. It’s all soft and flowy.
You could wrap yourself up simply if it gets cold, by buttoning the coat and popping the collar. Or you could fasten the cardigan and flip its collar too, to coddle the neck. There are no scarves, gloves or other accessories. It’s so clean.
Of course, much of the pleasure of menswear is in accessories. I’m not dissing accessories. However, there is something very lovely about carrying the bare minimum - particularly when I have, perhaps, humped two bags of clothes into town the previous day.
Ok, let’s get back to some details. How is it executed?
A reader in our recent Awards recommended a video series by womenswear stylist Alyssa Beltempo. I’ve been watching a few and love how much women analyse clothes. Men often say women look effortlessly stylish, but there’s usually a lot going on below the surface. Like a swan.
Let’s try and break down these details using some of her keywords.
- Our cold, tonal wardrobe hinges on using muted colours alongside the greyscale (black, grey, white). So the white tee and black jeans really benefit from the colour of the taupe coat and of the cordovan loafers.
- The shade of those colours is crucial; a warmer, yellower taupe or a stronger, richer burgundy would kill it.
- Proportion, silhouette
- The fact the T-shirt is tucked in is key: if it was tucked out, the style would be much more slouchy. It also slices the outfit in two - a top and a bottom - and emphasises the waist.
- The belt accentuates that, creating a focal point and some visual interest.
- The proportions are well balanced. The jeans are not skinny, but neither are they vintage big-boy chinos. It matches the coat, which is roomy but not oversized.
- Those womenswear stylists use terms like ‘playful’ and ‘sexy’. Men are usually more comfortable with plainer language: subtle, smart. But often we're trying to describe the same thing: how the outfit feels to the person wearing it and to people seeing it.
- To me, this feels relaxed because the clothes are relaxed and draped. Even when the coat is buttoned, there's volume in the chest and in the back.
- They feel relaxed because they feel comfortable: they’re largely soft, textured fabrics.
- And the textures and the colours are subdued; nothing is hard or bright or shiny.
That was nice. I felt relaxed just writing it.
Other noteworthy things: the collar being down, something we’ve touched in recent articles. Great as a popped collar is, with a scarf or shawl running underneath I also love the clean look of it down.
We all know how flattering shawl-collar cardigans can be, and how much they enhance a T-shirt. Their usual downside is they’re bulky under outerwear - a relatively fine one like this is a nice way to wear it more widely.
And then there are the black jeans: from Bryceland’s, reviewed last week. Although not the dark grey of most washed black denim, I’m finding them surprisingly versatile. Specifically:
- They work with black shoes, brown-suede ones and color-8 cordovan. That’s as versatile as most trousers. Other blacks, such as cord or linen, can struggle with brown suede
- On top they’re great with tonal colours (white, cream, grey), with muted/dark ones (taupe, beige, dark olive, dark brown), with pale pinks and yellows, and OK with navy. Again a wide range
- Despite the popularity of black jeans among women, they remain relatively unusual on men. So they're a nice alternative to indigo or mid-blue, and not as stark as white.
Below is the outfit from the jeans review. With both of them, I find it enormously satisfying that they’re simple yet look (to me) elegant and distinctive.
With this non-coat outfit my attention goes to the balance between the fit of the jeans - slim but comfortable, a flattering rise - the fit of the Rubato knit - shorter, bigger, tapered - and the little touches of colour that stop it all being monochrome - the colour 8 loafer, rather than black, the navy bandana.
Here’s hoping my feelings have come across clearly and accurately. I’ve certainly taken enough different swings at it.
- Bryceland’s 933 black jeans, size 32
- Alden full-strap loafers in color-8 cordovan, Aberdeen last
- PS Tapered Tee, large
- Anderson & Sheppard lambswool/cashmere cardigan, large (44)
- Rubato lambswool sweater (old size large)
- Rubato black alligator belt with brass buckle
- JLC Reverso watch in yellow gold, with black alligator strap
- Hermes navy silk bandana
- Sartoria Ciardi bespoke overcoat in Holland & Sherry ‘British Warm’ cloth
Photography: Jamie Ferguson
I wear black jeans regularly -especially for work, and they are the easiest way,I find, to go up that one step in smartness(without too much effort).
Totally agree about the drape of a big coat-contrasts with sleek lines of black.
I add my colour with a dark green cardigan.
In winter ,a grey flannel shirt -small checks- replaces the cardigan.
It’s great to hear you’ve enjoyed Alyssa’s videos!
And, as a person with particularly cool skin tones, capsules like these are helpful to avoid coming across too severe or serious that a cool palate sometimes lends itself to.
OK, nice to hear Caleb
The sum does not equal the parts in this one sorry…. I do sometimes wear black (faded) jeans, white t-shirt and grey cardigan so it’s not the colours…….. I think the jeans look too short and not keen on the shoes with the jeans…cant put a finger on it but also with the overcoat I’m not feeling the love. But again as I do say… strange world if we all liked the same thing.
Indeed Gary, and I got that sense from the last piece on the jeans. We’ll have to agree to differ here
Yes the jeans need a slight break unless they’re worn with boots. Suede shoes would have been more cohesive also
We older men have to be careful when wearing clothes that may loosely be called “beige”, but with the black and the white added in you’re steering well away from the old man cliche.
True, nice point Thorn. It looks more contemporary with those things around it. Would be different with other browns
It’s funny you say these jeans are “more black” than most black jeans, while as pictured they look *less* black to me, and more like very very deep indigo.
I also love the cut, but as everything Bryceland’s, the price is off the charts. Oh well.
Really? Interesting. I assume you saw the previous piece on the jeans, where I talked about the way they’re less black, in not having white in the weave like most black jeans you see?
On the Brycelands prices, obviously is very relative, but actually it’s hard to argue with the value of these at £259, given a lot of premium Japanese brands are closer to or over £300
I don’t know what’s up with regional pricing, Simon, but to me they appear as 373€ instead of the about 300€ equivalent.
It’s hard to know what goes into that – I presume you’re looking at the UK site? (There is a separate Hong Kong one)
Both show the same price. Not sure if they are reserving *ample* margins for problems like the one you mentioned with recovering VAT (they also ship DDP), but making the customer pay about twice the VAT upfront hardly feels like a proper solution of the issue to me.
True. It may also be to do with exchange rates – often when a site does this automatically there can be a big lag when rates change, and an inherent conservatism in terms of what rate is set
here in london, displayed price didn’t include vat. (I did ask when they just opened). kind of makes sense, in London store Google converts prices approximately correct GBP to HKD…
It does include VAT, Martins. That’s what it says on site at checkout and I just phoned them to check too
hmmm…. that’s good to know! thank you! I did have a feeling 320-ish for a lambswool rolleck to be a bit much. 265 sounds a bit better.
now just need to make up my mind do I need a westerner, and see when they came out with 48 size charcoal roll neck!
washed westerner 44 I could barely button chest over thicker polo (if I would mostly wear it over t-shirt I think it won’t make much difference) while unwashed 46 was enormous. they didn’t have washed 46 at the time.
46 rollneck also fit more like normal 44, if not even as a 42, considering it’s supposed to have a blousy chest.
wearable because it stretches, but waist and collar seams stretched to the limit.
And, bear in mind also that when you import them into the EU, you’ll pay customs on top of taxes (as they’re not a UK/EU product).
Ah, that’s the catch. I’m used to no duties from UK goods but these aren’t made there either.
Aha, interesting. That might be the reason why my sawtooth westerner was so expensive (around + 20%). I have to say though that with a company like Bryceland’s I am still happy that I sponsored their business. Even if in the EU that sponsoring is apparently punished severely. Luckily for my savings, most of their offering is not exactly something I would wear myself, but at the same time (maybe even in part because of their sometimes challenging and different style) their output is so stimulating and authentic and the quality so high that I consider this a good occasional investment even at EU-prices.
I wouldn’t say black jeans aren’t popular with men. Among menswear folks who were taught that black is evil and should be only worn as black tie, perhaps. But I’d say that they are the most commonly worn pants after blue jeans and sweatpants.
Perhaps it’s location-dependent Karol. You certainly do see them around me, but not as much as on women, and nowhere near as much as blue. I wasn’t referring to menswear folks
Perhaps. I can also say that I know many people (that have no interest in classic menswear whatsoever) that will wear black jeans as their idea of dressier trouser for some occasion, which feels very weird to me.
Yes sometimes there’s a slightly simplistic way of looking at them, that they must be much smarter because they’re dark and have fewer fades
It’s most undoubtedly location-dependent. Here in Stockholm, it feels at times that everybody is wearing black from head to heels (and then white trainers or black boots) for much of the year (summer is an exception). I’m in London every six weeks or so and just as you say Simon, there black clothes (not just for jeans) seem far less common.
Same in the Netherlands. Black is much more common than in the uk
Hi Simon, I too recently acquired the Brycelands black jeans- this being my first ever black pair so have been struggling pairing outfits
does the above AI suede coat go well with the black jeans- they describe this as a dusty in tone so I guess this is the muted dark olive you said in the colour list that goes well with black jeans?
I would have thought so, yes, it’s not too strong or warm a colour. If you’re unsure, perhaps try it with other more muted things, eg a grey sweatshirt/sweater
Loving those jeans .
What I find interesting is how you got the length exactly right .
I know with jeans often the leg ‘break’ rules (one break , no break) can apply differently .
Even the bunching around the ankle can have its appeal with jeans.
True. As with many things, when it comes to casual clothing there is a much (much) greater range of styles that are all coherent and great in their own way.
Baggy jeans that bunched at the ankles would not work with this outfit, but they could look good with something else.
The ramen just makes this article (and the outfit) feel all the more homey.
First impression: Danny Zuko with cardigan & overcoat.
I’ll take that as a compliment! Certainly if you wanted to look like Danny, this is a much softer and easier way to do it (if indeed anyone else sees that similarity. I don’t myself)
I like the format used here for analysing an outfit Simon.
Regarding the outfit itself, I’m not entirely convinced by the t-shirt. It feels like it clashes somewhat with the rest, particularly the coat. I think an OCBD or polo shirt would work better with the level of formality and provide that extra collar (even if the shawl cardigan somewhat mitigates this problem). There’s also the (personal?) strong association between a white t-shirt and blue jeans (instead of black) which might make it seem out of place.
Having said that, as a whole I think it’s a nice way of dressing that is casual yet elegant. It’s more dressy without it being obvious why at first sight.
I wouldn’t wear a collar necessarily as that would rather change the look. It could be done with a knitted T-shirt though, or indeed with any fine knitwear, and get a similar look and cosiness. I have a short-sleeve knitted tee from Thom Sweeny that could do that well
I see what Noel means–the tee featured prominently against the overcoat seems a little off-balance. But I wouldn’t substitute the tee for a shirt because the tee is a distinct look, and I wouldn’t want to undermine this outfit’s uniqueness. I think the best way to reconcile those two concerns would be to fasten one or two of the shawl cardigan buttons. That way, the tee features less prominently against the overcoat, and becomes more of an under-layer beneath the shawl cardigan. But I still think this looks great as is–it just takes a minute to get used to the tee against the coat. Perhaps it helps that the tee is made from a heavy, sturdy cotton, which makes it less discordant.
True. It’s almost like some knits in that body which certainly helps
I can definitely see myself in the knitted tee combination, but simple t-shirt + tailoring is a bit too much of a contrast for my taste as well.
Perhaps the worst issue of the combination imo is that the jacket/coat worn over a tee visually feels empty, while a knit or shirt is more voluminous and fills it up better. Buttoning the cardigan would probably solve this, but then again at that point it would be more like knitwear under tailoring in the first place, which I am onboard with already.
And finally, just bad association. Personally, whenever I see a tailored jacket or coat worn with plain t-shirts and jeans, to me it just screams “american film industry celebrity that can’t dress without their personal stylist” (or, indeed, even when with their personal stylist, but that’s another mater entirely…).
I know, very specific, but they really overuse the look.
They do, it’s true, though I think in person when done well that association does fade very quickly.
I like that feeling you mention about an emptiness in the middle. It’s what makes it so simple and clean to me.
Menswear’s own “negative space”? I know it’s a real thing in art, but somehow I don’t like it in clothes. It’s as if you’re wearing an oversized coat, which you actually aren’t, you are just not wearing the typical layers under it (or not buttoning them).
An additional reason it looks off to me is that it seems incongruous that you wear a coat as 3rd layer but don’t even button the 2nd layer. As if you can’t make up your mind whether it’s cold or it’s warm, or maybe it’s hot enough that there is no actual need of a coat but you’re wearing it anyway because…fashion? Or you just got surprised by wildly different weather than what you were expecting, I suppose.
I think that focuses rather too much on practicality And, to be honest. It doesn’t feel or look unnatural in that way, though I certainly know what you mean from a practical point of view. I think it’s a lot closer to being a style rather than anything that would be called fashion
Totally agree about the effectiveness of taupe alongside the black. Taupe, beige and similar, are colours that I find suit me for a number of reasons, but I equally find them a little bland, perhaps a little ‘fuddy’.
Some new black jeans, after a very long period of not wearing them, have really helped here, compared to even a deep indigo, they add a little weight & depth to the taupe or beige while still remaining cool & muted. Subtle drama, if there can be such a thing, and a nice opportunity to consider texture without sacrificing the harmonious simplicity.
I do struggle with a whole set of associations I have with loafers. I think it part it’s from my early professional career in the US where I saw them paired with ill-fitting suits worn by senior people whom I didn’t have a lot of time for. And now in my head, along with boat shoes, a set of slightly entitled, overly slick professionals who end up as co-respondents in divorce cases. All nonsense but nonetheless a sufficient barrier that, while I can see they look nice intellectually, I can never imagine buying or wearing them. All just a bit too smooth. But chinos and sports coats – absolutely fine. They’re a powerful force and mysterious force those associations.
It’s interesting how an inanimate object (not necessarily clothes) can be associated with a particular type of person. I agree (whilst arguably a little irrational) that happens perhaps more than we might realise. For me it’s waxed jackets and Range Rovers, and I can never take a rugby shirt under a blazer seriously after seeing Harry Enfield’s ‘dim but nice’ character – on ‘You Tube is any readers haven’t seen him.
Simon sorry to detract from your interesting article with my stream of association. Not a look that I would personally wear or could pull off, but one which you have nailed, as is generally the case.
Interesting indeed. I strongly associate black jeans with rock music. I know that the menswear scene is full of rock lovers so may be this is intentional?….that being said, one of the things that can be fun with dressing is trying to overturn those associations or riff on them. It doesn’t always work, but I think fashion and style tends to move forwards in moments when it does!!
I can’t take jeans and navy jackets for the same reason: I always associate them with pseudo-managers or salesbros.
I can relate. In my mind, I often associate (black) loafers with a certain type of Austrian/German tourist, sporting a moustache, beige shorts, a gaudy short sleeved shirt, a gold necklace, a solarium tan and white socks, being part of a tourist group roaming through Vienna. I stepped out of my box by buying two (brown, one suede) pairs in the last 2 years, but feel not as comfortable wearing them as other shoes, canvas sneakers or even espadrilles.
Wow. Always interesting to hear how much these associations vary! Surely a brown suede loafer would look rather different to a black leather one though? And shape and design too
I like the cut of this black denim and the loafers, but much less the T-shirt with the long overcoat, something does not work for me. I would probably go with a shorter coat here, a peacoat for example. Or your Chapal jacket…
Yes, that would be more expected and classic. This is a little more fashion in that sense, more of a look
That is a fantastic look, Simon. Very Scandinavian. Really enjoyed this post and the breakdown
would you say, that the A&S cardigan could be replaced by Rubato’s? Or would this kill the proportions?
The proportions would be fine, but the lack of a shawl collar would make a big difference – most of the time just a T-shirt with a cardigan that isn’t a shawl isn’t a very flattering look
Thank you Simon, I get the point. With the shawl „lapel“ it looks more grounded
I like the outfit, but what is the tailoring part in here? Just the coat?
Yes, though of course that’s a pretty dominant part
One’s tastes can become niche when he develops sufficient expertise in his aesthetic field. While the play between formalities here is interesting, it’s unlikely to be attractive to most. In the very least, more people would find a more “conventional” pairing of a collared shirt and, e.g., flannel trousers more appealing.
In general, I find my taste quite different from this blog’s when it comes to casual clothing and have become less interested in its recent coverage.
Thanks Phil. More casual outfits are always likely to split people more
Have you noticed any changes in relation to reader numbers etc. The site is certainly much more casual in its content and I wonder if this has had any noticeable impact?
The site is actually bigger than it’s ever been – up to over 700,000 pageviews a month, over 1.6 million unique users a year.
Although interestingly, that’s completely in line with the gradual, slow growth that’s been going on for years. Nothing has changed
I love the tonal colour combination, Simon, and thank you for showing how black jeans are not just something to be worn in the evenings. I am interested to know whether you think the outfit would have looked better with high rise jeans (similar to your Levis ones). For me, that would really take it to another level of elegance, but still keep the casual chicness. I’d also be tempted to go for some black suede Oxfords.
No worries Ravi.
Higher waisted jeans would increase that elegance, yes, though personally I don’t like them higher than this – they look too unusual/period when not worn with something over the top, as with jackets and trousers in the same way.
On black suede, that could have been nice, though as I say I really think the outfit benefits from not becoming too tonal, and having some dark colour in there. Black suede would be a little more striking, but perhaps a little less elegant than the n8 cordovan
No roll on the jeans? For a cleaner look?
I wanted to like this look when I saw the post. Expected it to be one I would want to draw inspiration from. Then, on actually looking at it properly, immediately felt that it didn’t work which I found interesting.
I found the coat and the t-shirt didn’t work together and I’m usually all for subverting modes of formality in clothing. This however doesn’t work for me. The lines of the lapels and shoulders seemed to clash with the soft, casual hoop of the neckline on the t-shirt. It looked to me like you hadn’t finished getting dressed. However, I wondered if potentially the trousers being taupe or beige would have pulled it all together, giving it an overall tonal, if admittedly more extreme look. I think the trousers make it look unbalanced, weirdly drawing attention to the clash of styles on the top half, whereas a more extreme look might have created more harmony between styles.
Don’t get me wrong, I like black jeans and they look great with the rubato jumper, but I wonder if you’ll come to see this look as one of your failed experiments eventually.
Could a simple look good of just a white t shirt, dark jeans and some white sneakers look good or do you find it too lazy or maybe childish?
That can certainly look good, though as ever with a simple look it depends a lot on the execution – the fit, the materials, the silhouette
Looks great Simon, I enjoy wearing my Colhays shawl under a roomy coat and having the collar peep out, almost like a scarf, or even turned up against the cold at the back. What colour is the A&S cardigan? Sometimes difficult to tell with the lighting, looks taupe-ish but I don’t see that colour on their site.
It is a taupe, yes, but I don’t see it on their site anymore either
Hi Simon, would you also consider wearing black jeans with a fairly casual tailoring jacket? Such as, brown or grey.
Also, do you think slightly narrower leg lines would have changed the look?
Yes I would, and I wouldn’t go narrower myself, but it is a more personal point
Simon, truly great outfit. But 99.99999998% of the people you would encounter wearing that would not even look twice.
Slightly off topic question. I am in the market for a shawl collar cardigan, but at the moment can only afford to invest in one. From your last few posts it looks like you own a few! What are the main style differences you would say between the shawl collar cardigans from Colhays, Begg and Anderson and Shepherd? For context I plan to wear mine on a weekend (I have two small children and need something I can throw on) and in the office. I am a lawyer, but tend to only wear a suit to meet clients these days. The rest of the time it is a shirt with trousers/chinos or jeans with polo shirt/tee and knitwear. Thanks, Ben
I’d say the Begg is the nicest cashmere of this mid-weight range of shawls, but not sure if you’re looking at that on wool. Colhays ones are a bit thicker I find than the average one, and A&S has some different ones/styles so depends which you are comparing to
Thanks Simon. I meant the 12-ply cashmere A&S cardigan, which is the style I assumed you are wearing in the article and the cashmere from Colhays. I am probably overthinking it, but I also wondered whether having pockets and ribbing on cuffs (A&S and Colhays) or not (Begg) affected the formality or “look” of the cardigan and whether one or the other would look best in a semi-formal office environment?
Aha. Well I wouldn’t recommend our shawl if you are only going to have one, and want versatility. It is deliberately not the normal shawl, but something very indulgent and different. And for clarity, A&S don’t sell that one anymore – they have their own version which is different.
I don’t think those details would make a different to formality, no.
Great, thanks Simon
Not sure about the comment about black jeans being rare for men. I’d say they’re third only to dark and mid blue and very common compared to white, cream or light blue. At least, if you’re talking about men generally (any age/demographic).
Enjoyed the article, is that some Kaneda-Ya ramen? Looks tasty.
I’m a big fan of tonal combinations and slouchy dressing, to me it exhibits a casual elegance with the drape of items such as a the cardigan and coat.
My question for you is I’m in the market for a black trouser and I’m weighing up either a pair of black jeans (BH Lane) or some black chinos. Initially I’ve been leaning towards the chinos with the logic of the twill staying black for a longer period of time but then I wondered if I’d actually prefer the cut of the jeans and the effect of denim overall.
One final consideration was using a nice black twill to be cut as jeans, in a sense combining the stronger black fabric and the cut of the jean. Though then it’s not either.
On my experience, I’d say definitely go with jeans. A black on black twill will be black for a long time, and chinos sound like they could be a little hard to wear. I also wouldn’t do the five-pocket-trouser thing of using a jean design on chinos
At what temperature did you wash the jeans Simon? Are there any recommendations there from Brycelands? Because how I understood it all different scenarios below will give different levels of shrink. Its the first wash that matters the most. Do you agree? Otherwise I guess safest would be with colder wash, try them, want them a bit smaller? Next wash a little warmer etc.
1) You wash it first at 30 degrees, then 40 degrees second wash.
2) You was it first at 40 degrees, then at 30 degress.
3) You was it cold, and then 40 degress.
I think that’s right Daniel, but also don’t worry about it too much and just err on the safe side. So start with 30 if you’re concerned about it at all (you might be less so if you wore unsanforised more for example)
These, the black from Brycelands are unsanforized right?
Yes – you saw the previous in-depth article on them here, right?
What do people here think of grey jeans?
Do you mean grey Matthew, or do you mean black jeans that are heavily washed (as most black jeans are on the market these days)?
If the latter, they’re great, if the former, I’d avoid them myself – at least in the more conservative way I like to dress – as they belong more in the category of coloured jeans. And black ones that have been faded/washed are as useful as dark grey anyway