Style / October 2017

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?

Marcello Mastroianni wears a classic black single-breasted suit, white shirt and retro sunglasses as Guido Anselmi in the film 8½, 1963.

“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.

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