Menswear

The Black Suit Mistake

No man should wear a black suit, really. There are very few occasions and occupations where a black suit can actually be exquisite. Doing time as a chauffeur, a Secret Service agent, a security guard, a pallbearer, or a gangster in a Tarantino film come to mind. Other exceptions might be men who travel in music, fashion, or art world circles. But for everybody else? Black is whack.

And yet black is the color that occurs to many men who are in the market for a suit. I recently got a note from a reader looking for a black suit. He noted that he understood navy or charcoal would be better, but the occasion was his brother’s wedding. The groom wanted his party in black, and, on his big day, what the groom says goes. (Or maybe it was the bride who dictated the unfortunate color mandate.) Regardless, my reader needed to buy a new suit that he might only have occasion to wear this once and, perhaps, for a future job interview at the Department of Homeland Security.

Even these guys appear to be wearing something other than pure black. It looks more like a deep charcoal.

Aside from the Tarantino influence, I can only guess why black has become such a go-to for the pursuit of suit. One possibility might be that many men perceive dark navy or midnight blue as black. At a less than careful glance, dark navy or deep charcoal suits can look black, particularly at night or in dark lighting, giving the uninitiated observer the impression that black is the way to go.

With the exception of formalwear, black is tricky. It’s a severe color, the most extreme on the spectrum. It just doesn’t look good on many men, particularly those with a pale palour of light hair and skin. Black just washes them out, often creating an effect that ranges from sick or weak to evil or villainous.

At a quick glance, Daniel Craig’s suit looks black. It’s actually navy, giving a subtle pop of color where pure black would be a total absence of it.

Tom Ford has made a personal uniform out of the black suit. But Tom has a darker palette with higher contrast to his dark hair, dark eyebrows and dark beard growth and medium skin tone. If Tom had pale blond coloring, it wouldn’t work at all. And there’s the other thing: He’s Tom Ford; we’re not.

As I’ve written before, if you’re shopping for your first suit or your only suit, go with navy. Charcoal is okay, but navy, unlike charcoal, has a pop of actual color. If you already have an arsenal of different suits and you’re looking for something specifically for funerals or art shows, then treat yourself to a black one. Otherwise, leave the black to the likes of Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield.

4 Comments

  1. John Skibbe Reply

    George,
    I really enjoy all your observations and they are correct. With the passing of Mr. Lagerfeld our traditions will be even harder to uphold and defend – maybe they are lost already. As our social and personal connections become less capable of differentiating between formal and informal; business and casual; family, friends and those outside these these definitions where do we go. What is the occasion; who am I with; and how should respectively respond. Maybe nobody cares anymore. But we can’t all view the world through the lens of what is comfortable, convenient and has no appreciation for the moment. Dressing should get back to the notion that you respect the person you are with or the situation you are within by how you dress. I hope that isn’t irrevocably lost. Continue to be the standard bearer. I will support you.

  2. I once bought a black suit, when I was in my early thirties. It was a big mistake for all the reasons you write. It looked awful and awkward. I wore it fewer than a handful of times and then it languished in my closet unworn until I relegated it to my “what was I thinking” pile and donated it to a local thrift store. I wear suits to the office most days, still, and agree that a navy suit is the most versatile and appropriate for anyone looking for a “go to” suit to buy.

  3. I enjoy reading your blog. Just FYI, Secret Service Agents do not wear black suits, especially not on the President’s Detail.

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