The Black Suit
The Black Suit (yes, it deserves capitals) is a point of contention between those who have studied style. Some see it as just another suit, and others refuse to even consider owning one; some praise it for its versatility, while others would only ever consider wearing one in the most formal or dressy occasions. I have listed below some of the main arguments that I have found, both for, and against, wearing a black suit, and my thoughts on each.
Against: Black is for Formal Wear
The argument here is that the Black Suit is derived from the Dinner Suit, and is therefore too formal for everyday business wear. This is what I was taught, and while I would prefer for it to be true, this is somewhat of an old-fashioned view. If you were to take a look into most office buildings (those where a suit is required), you will find that the Black Suit is actually rather common; and if being worn for business doesn’t make it business wear, what does? Should it be? Probably not. Are there better options? Definately. Are you going to be able to convince everyone to stop wearing Black Suits to work? It doesn’t seem likely.
Fun Fact: Abercrombie & Fitch doesn’t sell clothing that is black because “we are a casual lifestyle brand and feel black clothing is formal”, and while the sentiment is true, it’s ridiculous to think that anyone would consider anything from A&F to be ‘formal’.
Argument: Somewhat outdated, but technically true.
For: Black Suits are Versatile
This argument would have you believe that a Black Suit is incredibly versatile, and can be dressed up and down, and works for almost all occasions. If you accept that a Black Suit can be worn to work, then this argument is at least somewhat true. While I wouldn’t wear a Black Suit to any daytime event, I often wear one out to dinner, or to evening parties, and even occasionally just to the movies (without a tie). A Black Suit is the best option to a Black Tie Optional event (assuming that you don’t own a dinner suit), just don’t believe anyone who says that it is an option for Black Tie Only events (A Black Suit is not the same as a Dinner Suit); and yes, if you have to go straight from work to a (reasonably)formal wedding (or a funeral), then a Black Suit is an option.
If, however, you take versatile to mean that they can be worn in many ways by a variety of people, then they really aren’t. You can pair a charcoal suit with black or burgundy shoes; or a navy suit with black, brown, red, or burgundy shoes; or a brown suit with brown, red, or burgundy shoes; but you can really only pair a Black Suit with black shoes, which, while easy to remember, is boring. And while charcoal, navy, brown, and medium grey suits can be worn well be those with a variety of complexions, a Black Suit really only works well on someone with a high-contrast between their hair and skin (Dark hair and light skin), or by someone with dark skin (see below).
I look fantastic in a Black Suit and white shirt; my brother, with his light skin and blonde hair looks washed out.
Argument: Technically true, but not compared to the alternatives
Against: They are Common
If I were to walk into any menswear store within 100km (~60 Miles) of my home (what few there are), at least 70% of the suits (if the stock any) will be black. Black Suits, as much as I wish they weren’t, are disgustingly common; if I see a man wearing a suit, the odds are pretty good that it’s black. So many men wear Black Suits that I often recommend not wearing one for no other reason than because they are so overused.
Argument: Completely True
For: They are Common
Because Black Suits are so common, they are the easiest for a man to find, and are often cheaper because of it; they are turning into the modern equivalent of the grey flannel suit. Every man and his dog owns a black suit; and, personal feelings aside, anything that gets a man wearing a suit is a good thing in my opinion (obviously not including a funeral). So if being drowned in Black Suits gets more people wearing suits, I can live with it.
Argument: It’s sad, but it’s true.
For: Black is Slimming
Although there are some who say otherwise, it is a widely held belief that black is the most slimming colour; it is dark enough that all the bumps and rolls don’t cast a noticeable shadow. However, if your suit is cut properly, this shouldn’t be an issue at all, as any properly tailored garment is automatically slimming. Some also argue that because black is such a powerful and noticeable colour, it will draw attention to the any extra weight; and because it is so well-known that black is supposed to be slimming, if you do have a few extra kilos, wearing excessive amounts of black will just draw unwanted attention.
Argument: Kinda, but not really.
So where does this leave us?
Well, the Black Suit gets a lot of hate from purists, and while it is very rare that I would actually recommend one over almost any other suit, it certainly isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. It’s not as versatile as a charcoal or navy suit, or as traditionally appropriate for work; and it is incredibly overused to the point of boring; and you can only wear it with black shoes; and some (judgemental) people may look down on you for wearing one; and they only really work for certain complexions and at night; and it can easily be replaced by a charcoal grey suit; and isn’t especially slimming; and… actually, I think I’ve made my point.
Fun Fact: My first real suit was black. The dress code for Myer is black and white, so if I wanted to wear a suit, it had to be black; regardless of the fact that I would rather have worn navy, wearing that Black Suit is probably the reason that my sales were so high compared to the other junior staff (junior in terms of not having been there for long), who didn’t wear suits.
By all means, buy and wear a Black Suit (I’d be a hypocrite if I said otherwise), just know that for most situations, there are far better alternatives. Save the Black Suit for your 4th or 5th purchase, and don’t trust anyone who says that you actually need one. My advice is to save the Black Suit for formal occasions (weddings and funerals), and evenings; and wear something else to work and during the day.