Black Suits Are For Glamour, Not Business

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black-white-mcconaugheyI 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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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. Danny Wong says:

    great points on how black isn’t the most fashion-savvy color.

    but business is not about fashion. part of business is creating an image that is agreeable with clients and customers. businessmen, especially those in Finance, have to look conservative. Black, by nature, is the most conservative color for a suit, and wearing a black suit in a portly cut will allow the wearer to seem naturally conservative because the wearer does not spend money on expensive suits, nor does he spend too much time thinking about his appearance or keeping up with fashion trends.

    the image of being conservative is valuable for business people because the business world is not entirely ready for the fashionable guy because, admittedly, a stylish navy suit, especially a nice herringbone suit can be distracting because of the patterns in the fabric.

    black is an extremely neutral color that really drowns out a lot of style from the fabric of suits.

    i personally hate the corporate looks of the Finance world, but the situation is what it is and changing the status quo will take a few more decades at the least.

  2. Simon Crompton says:

    Dear Danny,

    You may have misunderstood me. I believe black is a far more fashion-driven colour than blue or grey. It is worn by fashion designers, fashionistas and by few other people well. Plain blue and grey are far more conservative colours and more business-like colours. A well-cut navy suit, white shirt and grey tie is the least conspicuous thing a man can wear.

    Simon

  3. Terry says:

    Simon,

    I generally tend to agree with your points, a great article really. I believe the reason black has taken off for suits, in particular in the world of finance, is the star quality attached to it. In the big bonus driven world of finance you need to be a star to get paid very well. Thus, it is critical to cultivate the image of being a star in everything associated to you; be that job performance, image (clothes), personality, etc. When big bonuses are to be had the last thing one wants to do is blend in.

  4. Danny Wong says:

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the response. Black certainly is more popular option, but I would argue that a navy suit, white shirt and grey tie in many offices (especially Finance) is a conspicuous outfit because most others will be wearing black suits.

    Terry,

    Great observation on the star quality of black. Simon’s comment that white shirt on black suit is “cool because of their associations” is certainly true.

  5. Paul Hardy says:

    Simon,

    Excellent. Every word.

    Paul

  6. Tim says:

    I’ve always thought the black/white combination made one look like a waiter. Best not to wear when going out lest someone ask you for a glass of water.

  7. rk says:

    well , Wear anything which you can carry with confidence ..
    men has only three colour black ,blue or gray..

  8. I agree black can look cheap, but I find the look of a nicely done black suit and white shirt classic.