How To Wear Black

“The new black” snowclone speaks volumes about the enduring style credentials of the colour that absorbs all sunrays: so how should the modern gentleman wear black with ninja-like swagger, rather than funereal dolour?
How To Wear Black
“Whatever is difficult, heavy or expensive,” Michael Chow told The Rake some years back, “is usually good.” Black clothing once fell firmly into the first category: the colour’s almost complete absence from nature – which forms the basis of Alexandre Dumas’s historical novel The Black Tulip – meant it was traditionally harder to convert into a serviceable dye than any other colour. Which was quite a pisser for early societies, given how black’s nod towards a primordial void has invariably seen it associated with power, change and wisdom as well as mourning. Now that the colour - favoured by everyone from Puritans to goths via artists, poets, metallists, Hamlet, Queen Victoria and Coco Chanel - is freely available, what is its place in contemporary menswear? “There’s a reason why women have their favourite go-to little black dress,” says Jason Basmajian, Chief Creative Officer at Cerruti. “Black staples in the wardrobe are always elegant, simple and easy to wear. A black suit can go from urban cool worn with a polo neck and boots to understated chic with a white shirt and knit tie. It's one of the most versatile pieces a man can own, and it's all about how you style and accessorise with it that will keep it looking fresh rather than funereal.” The elegant simplicity to which Basmajian refers – and to which no one who has even seen the Reservoir Dogs poster, let alone the film, is oblivious - is probably why the colour has never been out of mode since jazz era New York, whose clubs (Carnegie Hall and the Cotton Club, most famously) had a subdued sartorial moxie mixed in with all the polyrhythmic bacchanalia thanks to the suiting brought over by Sicilian immigrants. Hedi Slimane’s tenures at Dior Homme and Saint Laurent saw slick additions to the canon, while Dolce & Gabbana and Tom Ford are also prolific and highly worthy contributors, whose black suiting has consistently lived up to the truism that the colour has a slimming effect.
A suave Clark Gable wears a black pinstripe suit and black cotton shirt contrasted with a white silk tie as Harry Van in Idiot’s Delight, 1939. 
James Deans looks effortlessly cool in an all-black ensemble; a double-breasted overcoat, polo neck sweater, turn ups and leather Chelsea boots are the perfect antidote to winter in New York, 1955. 
Alain Delon is the epitome of understated sophistication in a black single-breasted suit, woven black tie, white shirt and black-rimmed sunglasses as he reclines in the Piazza della Minerva, Rome while filming Le Clan des Siciliens, 1969. 
Arguably the main criterion when it comes to choosing a black suit is whether or not the silhouette is razor-sharp enough, a soupcon of rock ’n’ roll being essential here, to cut it with shirt and tie as well as separated and worn in a more casual context. “I have a single-breasted black Chesterfield and a blazer I ordered on a whim about a decade ago in a semi-structured style with Vitale Barberis Canonico’s mesh hopsack, and it’s been surprisingly useful,” Urbane Outfitter Chris Modoo tells The Rake. “It has tonal taped edges on the collar and cuffs, and I’ve worn it as a cocktail jacket in the evening, as ‘half morning dress’ in the day and as a casual jacket.” Modoo, in fact, has plenty of advice for those wishing to step into the inky void – and it starts with the swatch book. “Choose your cloth carefully, avoiding the limp and shiny ‘supers’ fabrics that you find so often in ready-to-wear,” he says. “Pick a cloth with character - and this will probably mean ordering bespoke or at least made-to-measure. Tonik* or Fresco** are good choices and are available in nice, rich black shades.” It’s worth noting, here, too, that wool fabrics hold darker dyes better than pretty much any other material. Mixing and matching blacks, adds Modoo, has its own complications due to the very concept of ‘blackness’ being anything but an absolute: onyx, black olive, charcoal and jet can all fall under the umbrella, while Vitale Barberis Canonico offers over 20 different shades of black, created using many different casts, when it comes to their range of fine fabric offerings. “There are many shades of black, and this can be an issue when you put a black tie with a black suit,” he says. ”The richer shade will always make the other one look ‘off’. This is also true for shoes, so keep your black shoes immaculate. Red shoes in shades of oxblood and burgundy can also be worn with black tailoring, and will combine particularly well if they’ve been antiqued.”
Robertas Aukstuolis wears black wool and velvet military coat, cotton shirt and wool military pants, all Dolce & Gabbana; black leather and navy suede boots, Christian Louboutin. Originally published in Issue 53 of The Rake. 
Luc Van Geffen wears black wool and silk military coat, DSquared2; military green wool jumper, Orlebar Brown; indigo blue waxed denim jeans, Ermanno Scervino. Originally published in Issue 47 of The Rake.
It would be remiss to tackle this subject without alluding to the Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto. A master of not just combining black garments, but going total black, Yamamoto once said: “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy - but mysterious. But above all black says this: ‘I don’t bother you - don’t bother me.’” Yamamoto achieves this aloof poise by being highly experimental (and even asymmetrical) with layering, cuts, drape and textures. Large, robe-ish overcoats, suede jackets, dark cords and thick wool jumpers will all help ordinary mortals achieve this effect - pairing a heavily textured jumper with smoother textured trousers, for example. Modoo, meanwhile, offers a specific example of how the multi-form, monochrome approach can be executed with gravitas: “One of the best suits I have seen in black was one I made for a customer in a lightweight whipcord,” he says. “It had a slight equestrian feel to the styling, with a hacking-style coat and slim trousers with cross-pockets and lapped seams. We styled it with a charcoal roll-neck and black Chelsea boots.” Meanwhile, while those brighter hued garments that drew admiring gazes at Pitti are best left in the wardrobe, flashes of lighter monochrome - socks, scarves, hats and, of course, jewellery – can work if used sparingly. All in all though, as with all that polychromatic exuberance hiding in the suitcases on the carousels at Florence’s Amerigo Vespucci Airport twice yearly, wearing black is – like dancing, heckling or expecting to be taken seriously in skin-tight cycling gear – all about chutzpah, gusto, measured nonchalance. And if you need help with that, here’s a tip: frame a copy of the Abbey Road cover, and mount it somewhere at home where you’ll see it on a regular basis. Because mark our words, that was the one time Ringo was the coolest. * A mostly mohair cloth made by Dormeuil ** A high twisted wool fabric which deserves to take its name from the Italian word for ‘cool’.

Ways to Wear...

The Rake, How To Wear Black Street Style
Left: A black T-shirt is worn with wide-legged turn-up trousers and well-polished Derby shoes, striking a balance between casualwear and tailoring. Photo by Jamie Ferguson. Centre: Charlie Casely-Hayford wears a slim cut single-breasted suit, with a contrasting white scarf and work boots. Right: A white pocket square and shirt elevates a black suit from funereal to professional, worn here with tortoiseshell sunglasses. Photo by Jamie Ferguson.