It’s a slow burn.Charcoal doesn’t shout, it doesn’timmediatelycatch your eye. Yet deep grey tones have much to offer the modern man. For a colour named after an ancient fuel, it’s surprisingly contemporary. In the fifties,The Man in the Grey Flannel Suitevoked an establishment man, the diligent but unexciting heart of corporate America.Now that the twin forces of conformity and informality havedrivenbusiness and political leaders intosartorial no man’s land,stuckin identical navy suitsand tieless white shirts,charcoal is no longer a thoughtless default. It’s a sign of quietsophistication.
Despite beingso close to black, charcoal has amazing tonal range.You might think it would result in agloomy appearance,but charcoal issoft without being dull. Just look at the charcoal sketches byHenri Matisseand you’ll see what I mean: the light gleams off those beautiful, rounded, warm bodies. And the same is trueofclothes: in tailoring, charcoal is flattering; in well-fitting knitwear,it’s downright enticing. Here are a few ways tomake the most of it.
Go for texture.Navy might make thebest sleek, professional uniform, but textured fabrics excel in charcoal.The king here iswool in all its seasonal varieties. For warmer months, choose high-twist tropical weavessuch as Fresco, with its honeycombedsurfaceand dryhand. For winter, flannel comes into its own. Brushedwool and cashmere flannels have a richness and depth to them which make ordinary worsteds seem lifeless and thin. If you getthechance, chooseflannelswith wisps of black and mid-grey in the weave for even more surface interest.
Use pattern.Asmuch as the world needs peacocks, there are times when a bold overcheck isn’t the right choice. At the same time, it would be a shame to be confined to nothing but solid colours. Dark greys offer the perfect compromise. Grey-on-grey patterns from windowpanes to Prince of Wales are subtle without being boring. From across the room, they resolve into solid grey; up close they are full of life.
Staywarm.Greys, like other colours, can be divided into warm and cool.There’s nothing wrong with the crisp combination of cool greysuit, white shirt, and icy bluetie. But don’t miss out on charcoal’s special affinity with warm accent colours. It’s something Drake’s has demonstrated brilliantly in recent seasons. Charcoal both balances and accentuates reds, yellows andearthybrowns. A silk knit in gold or rust, a pocket square in burnt sienna or umber.Perhaps these toneswork so well because theyechoanopen fire—shimmeringred and gold, and the carbon left behind.
Be flexible.One of the best qualities of charcoal is its versatility. With a charcoal suit, it’s easy to swap out the jacket for a sweater or bomber after hours. This gives you an extra pair of odd trousers when travelling. Likewise, charcoal is the most useful colour for an all-purpose overcoat. In heavy wool flannel, it will complement and protect any suit, but will also work with denim andcorduroy,sneakers orboots,on the coldest of weekends. At the other end of the formality spectrum, casual pieces become more refined in charcoal. A cardigan gains seriousness. The humble t-shirt excels.
Keep things simple.What’s the problem with excess? Too much is never enough.We have learned the lessons of minimalism in the past few years. A few qualityitems will outlast a huge inventory of forgettable possessions.It’s better for makers, wearers, and the planet. But this doesn’t mean abandoning every small addition and accessory. Instead, choose simple, elegant, neutral pieces. Grey accessories such as ties and pocket squares not only go with everything, they introduceless visualnoise, meaning that you can add an extranote ortwo withoutdrowning in details.