In Defence of Black Jackets and Suits

Words by: Andrew Williams

Flick through the bulk of the literature on men’s dress and you’ll find little or nothing said in favour of black jacketing and suit – even with regard to evening wear you have the midnight blue brigade to contend with.

In the world of female clothing black is a necessity. You’d think similar rules would apply to men, but they don’t. The most common complaints against black include:

-the colour is just too overwhelming, too stark and too severe especially for suits;

-the contrast between skin and suit can be too great;

-you’re limited as to what shirts and ties sit with any harmony;

-black cloth can look cheap, unless it’s of the highest quality and inclined to reflect light as in the case of mohair and velvet or absorb it like Barathea.

So it seems that, as a rule, midnight blue is about as dark as a man is recommended to go. This advice I’d been content to follow and hadn’t felt deprived for doing so.

However, my antipathy changed not so long ago when I took a punt on a black, 1960s, unlined Hopsack J. Press blazer from An Affordable Wardrobe. Despite limited expectations and considerable doubts it has proved as versatile and necessary an item as any blue blazer. And it hasn’t proved half as difficult to match as all the advice had led me to assume.

So let’s begin by looking at shirts. While stark in contrast there is a place for white shirts particularly if you keep the collar soft and buttoned down to soften the look. Using this look for dress down Fridays I’ll combine my black jacket with grey wool and grey ground ties as well as black knits. However, I’m quite pale in complexion and my hair is going grey so cream and off-white works much better for me. If I wish to add more warmth and colour then pale pink and violet shirts work well. If anything the black jacketing gives these colours greater vibrancy. More conventionally, pale blue turned out to be a natural fit, and blue with a white collar and cuff adds a preppy note. As a rule if you have tanned skin you’ll find the process of combining colours just that little bit easier but I’ve managed perfectly well so don’t let the short comings of your tan put you off.

With regards to trousers, if we’re talking off-duty dressing then khaki in the form of chinos combined with white shirts and dark brown suede loafers has become my favourite combination – again, ideal for dress down Fridays. Related to that, I’ve always found black and brown an effective colour combination, particularly if it comes in the form of brown trousers or footwear. For those who want colour try burnt orange and cornflower yellow. These overripe versions of orange and yellow help avoid too stark a contrast between the black jacket and trousers. Last but by no means least, you shouldn’t overlook indigo denim.

For semi-formal partnering we have a classic pairing in the form of grey trousers, and black jacketing will take almost any shade bar the darkest. I have found that the more texture to the cloth of the trousers the better the combination works with the jacket. This is because it breaks up the blocks of colour by adding depth and contrast which makes the black jacket and the overall look far less austere and imposing. Flannel or worsted woollens in light to mid grey have proved my favourite combination.

Turning to the issues of accessories, and I’m counting shoes as well as ties here, I’ve said much already. But stick to muted and overripe colours with dark grounds and depending on your shirt choice you might want to give brown a try. I suspect like me, however, you’ll more often than not use black knitted silk or ties with black grounds. If you want splashes of bright colour then pocket squares are sufficient to add a dash without dominating your look.

On the matter of footwear black is the obvious choice, although my favourite by a country mile has been dark brown suede, particularly when combined with khaki chinos.

This is far from the definitive list of what does and doesn’t work with regards to black jacketing and suits, but the point is black has greater potential than the accepted wisdom would lead you to presume.

Photos: Exquisite Trimmings, Down East and Out , Guerreisms, Pure Evil, Bespokenn, This Fits.