The Other Kind of Black Tie
For reasons good and bad, menswear enthusiasts seem to hate the color black. Black suits, for example, are said to be too severe - making the wearer look like an undertaker, a hitman, or some other very serious person, such as a Model United Nations attendee. Black shoes, as well, are said to be not as good as brown. Whereas brown can build a deep, beautiful patina over time, black can only gleam. Plus, they’re often only kept to very “city” ensembles (navy or charcoal suits, white shirts, etc), making them a bit limited, although Pete gave once some great ideas on how to they can be used much more versatilely.
There are some things style enthusiasts often under appreciate about black. For example, it works really well on a solid-colored tie. Black grenadines, for example, can give some nice color variation to a navy suit and white shirt ensemble, whereas a navy grenadine might be too matching. And while black is indeed sometimes a serious color, you can see how good it looks above with a casual tan suit.
If you’re just building a new tie wardrobe, consider getting a couple of black options. Two is all you really need - the black grenadine and black silk knit. Those can be worn to great effect with dressy and casual ensembles respectively.

The Other Kind of Black Tie

For reasons good and bad, menswear enthusiasts seem to hate the color black. Black suits, for example, are said to be too severe - making the wearer look like an undertaker, a hitman, or some other very serious person, such as a Model United Nations attendee. Black shoes, as well, are said to be not as good as brown. Whereas brown can build a deep, beautiful patina over time, black can only gleam. Plus, they’re often only kept to very “city” ensembles (navy or charcoal suits, white shirts, etc), making them a bit limited, although Pete gave once some great ideas on how to they can be used much more versatilely.

There are some things style enthusiasts often under appreciate about black. For example, it works really well on a solid-colored tie. Black grenadines, for example, can give some nice color variation to a navy suit and white shirt ensemble, whereas a navy grenadine might be too matching. And while black is indeed sometimes a serious color, you can see how good it looks above with a casual tan suit.

If you’re just building a new tie wardrobe, consider getting a couple of black options. Two is all you really need - the black grenadine and black silk knit. Those can be worn to great effect with dressy and casual ensembles respectively.

The Most Versatile Knit Tie

Jake over at Wax Wane already wrote about black silk knit ties this week, but I thought I’d give them another plug anyway. Black is, unexpectedly, one of the most versatile colors for knit ties. Better than the standard go-to colors for neckwear, such as brown, burgundy, and bottle green. Better even than the always wearable navy. The black silk knit was perhaps most famously worn by the literary version of James Bond, who was often described by Ian Fleming as wearing a dark suit, clean white shirt, and a “thin, black silk knitted tie.” It’s also heavily associated with other mid-century icons such as the fellas in The Rat Pack. In fact, one of the first ties I bought as an undergraduate student was a black silk knit, precisely because I thought Sammy Davis Jr. looked so great in them.

You can wear almost anything with a black silk knit tie: brown tweeds, navy jackets, or grey suits paired with white or light blue shirts in solids, stripes, or checks (knit ties are especially nice with checks). Given that many men today want to wear a tie without looking too formal, the black silk knit is about as good as you can get. Versatile in color; casual in form.

There are many places to score one. On the high-end, we have Drake’s, who makes them in a rather unique weave. They’re also commonly found at traditional American haberdasheries, such as Ben SilverBrooks Brothers, and J. Press (the last of which is having a 25% off sale right now). Additionally, Howard YountKent Wang, and Sid Mashburn sell them for between $60 and $75. For more affordable options, consider Land’s End and KJ Beckett. The stock at Land’s End doesn’t include black right now, but they regularly restock their knit tie inventory in wide range of colors and their navy blue’s more like a midnight blue. If you join their mailing list, you’ll be notified of when they do their 30-40% off sales (which happens a few times a season). That will knock down the price of their knit ties to something around $25. Not bad for a tie you can wear with almost anything. 

Q and Answer: What Can I Wear With A Black Blazer?
Sam writes: So I recently made a cardinal sin and bought an item, rather than an outfit. I saw on eBay a beautiful Ralph Lauren Purple Label Black Cashmere double breasted jacket, for a steal, which I grabbed. (It was from your eBay round up from last week.)
It was my first eBay purchase and after trying it on, it fits me perfectly. But - I have no idea what kind of clothes to match it with. Can you give me any suggestions?
You’re in a tough spot. Black is a deceptively difficult color to match. One’s inclination is to believe that it matches anything, but the truth is that in practical menswear terms, it matches very little. As you can see on the gentleman above, it tends to wash out the faces of most men whose coloration isn’t very high contrast (meaning very dark hair and very fair skin), and it tends to look less than classy under natural light. It’s a nice color for the evening, but in blazer form, it’s still tough to fit into the wardrobe.
Before I get into specific advice, though, I’d urge you to reconsider the idea that you should buy outfits rather than pieces. Instead, focus on building a library of versatile basics. If you have gray flannel trousers, a blue blazer, black and brown shoes, solid white and blue shirts, simple navy ties and so on, you’ll be able to incorporate more unusual pieces into your wardrobe easily. If you don’t, you’ll be forced to have a much larger (and more expensive) wardrobe, as the pieces won’t play well with each other.
In the case of this particular jacket, I’d start by changing the buttons to something a little more contrasting. Smoky gray mother-of-pearl would be perfect if you don’t like the metal-buttons look. If you don’t live somewhere with a great sewing and fabric store, you can try ordering them online from a source like Hwa Seng Textiles, which I’ve used in the past. You can also get super crafty and cut them off of a thrifted or eBayed high-end coat that’s selling for cheap because of damage. The blazer buttons’ contrast will clarify that this is an odd jacket and not half of a suit.
Then, you’ve really got two choices for pants: gray dress trousers or dark denim. For this particular piece, I think dark denim might be an odd fit, since the styling is so formal, but if you can pull off that part, you’ll be OK. With jeans, a white shirt and black Chelsea boots, you’d be suited for a casual-ish evening out.
Gray pants, and particularly gray flannels, will probably suit this coat best, though. Again, because the coat’s black, you’ll probably be wearing it mostly at night, and a pairing with gray flannels and simple black dress shoes will get you through a nice dinner out or an evening at the theater - the sorts of things that call for an outfit that’s considered and has some elements of formality but isn’t strictly formal.

Q and Answer: What Can I Wear With A Black Blazer?

Sam writes: So I recently made a cardinal sin and bought an item, rather than an outfit. I saw on eBay a beautiful Ralph Lauren Purple Label Black Cashmere double breasted jacket, for a steal, which I grabbed. (It was from your eBay round up from last week.)

It was my first eBay purchase and after trying it on, it fits me perfectly. But - I have no idea what kind of clothes to match it with. Can you give me any suggestions?

You’re in a tough spot. Black is a deceptively difficult color to match. One’s inclination is to believe that it matches anything, but the truth is that in practical menswear terms, it matches very little. As you can see on the gentleman above, it tends to wash out the faces of most men whose coloration isn’t very high contrast (meaning very dark hair and very fair skin), and it tends to look less than classy under natural light. It’s a nice color for the evening, but in blazer form, it’s still tough to fit into the wardrobe.

Before I get into specific advice, though, I’d urge you to reconsider the idea that you should buy outfits rather than pieces. Instead, focus on building a library of versatile basics. If you have gray flannel trousers, a blue blazer, black and brown shoes, solid white and blue shirts, simple navy ties and so on, you’ll be able to incorporate more unusual pieces into your wardrobe easily. If you don’t, you’ll be forced to have a much larger (and more expensive) wardrobe, as the pieces won’t play well with each other.

In the case of this particular jacket, I’d start by changing the buttons to something a little more contrasting. Smoky gray mother-of-pearl would be perfect if you don’t like the metal-buttons look. If you don’t live somewhere with a great sewing and fabric store, you can try ordering them online from a source like Hwa Seng Textiles, which I’ve used in the past. You can also get super crafty and cut them off of a thrifted or eBayed high-end coat that’s selling for cheap because of damage. The blazer buttons’ contrast will clarify that this is an odd jacket and not half of a suit.

Then, you’ve really got two choices for pants: gray dress trousers or dark denim. For this particular piece, I think dark denim might be an odd fit, since the styling is so formal, but if you can pull off that part, you’ll be OK. With jeans, a white shirt and black Chelsea boots, you’d be suited for a casual-ish evening out.

Gray pants, and particularly gray flannels, will probably suit this coat best, though. Again, because the coat’s black, you’ll probably be wearing it mostly at night, and a pairing with gray flannels and simple black dress shoes will get you through a nice dinner out or an evening at the theater - the sorts of things that call for an outfit that’s considered and has some elements of formality but isn’t strictly formal.

Q and Answer: What’s Wrong with a Black Suit?
Aliotsy writes to ask: I was wondering: what’s wrong with black suits?
There are times and places for black suits, but they aren’t what some men think they are: an all-purpose basic.  In fact, they’re one of the less-useful suits.  A few reasons:
They look bad on almost anyone.  Better on people with high-contrast coloring (black hair, light skin), but even then they tend to make the skin look sallow.
Black is a color for evening.  That’s why tuxedos are black.  Most men are buying basic suits for daytime wear.
Black is the color of mourning.  Unless you have a black suit-specific job, you would only wear black during the day if you were going to a funeral.
You will look like A) a waiter, B) a priest, C) an undertaker, D) a dork trying to look like a Quentin Tarantino character or E) some mix of the above (undertaker dork?).
Black is not complimentary to almost any other color and is thus quite difficult to wear.
The real key: almost anything that you can do in a black suit, you can do in a dark gray suit, and that suit will have none of the problems listed above. 
Our friend Trey Kirby wrote that he’s in a wedding party where the dress code is “black suit,” and wondered what he can do with a black suit, now that he’ll have to buy one.
Black suits are perfectly suitable for going out in the evening.  The high-contrast looks (usually black/white/gray) that they lead to are suitable for dimmer lighting.  Feel free to wear a black suit to a club or an art opening.  In the evening, black is just fine.
Also, from what I understand: business in Asia.  I’m no expert on that, though.

Q and Answer: What’s Wrong with a Black Suit?

Aliotsy writes to ask: I was wondering: what’s wrong with black suits?

There are times and places for black suits, but they aren’t what some men think they are: an all-purpose basic.  In fact, they’re one of the less-useful suits.  A few reasons:

  • They look bad on almost anyone.  Better on people with high-contrast coloring (black hair, light skin), but even then they tend to make the skin look sallow.
  • Black is a color for evening.  That’s why tuxedos are black.  Most men are buying basic suits for daytime wear.
  • Black is the color of mourning.  Unless you have a black suit-specific job, you would only wear black during the day if you were going to a funeral.
  • You will look like A) a waiter, B) a priest, C) an undertaker, D) a dork trying to look like a Quentin Tarantino character or E) some mix of the above (undertaker dork?).
  • Black is not complimentary to almost any other color and is thus quite difficult to wear.

The real key: almost anything that you can do in a black suit, you can do in a dark gray suit, and that suit will have none of the problems listed above. 

Our friend Trey Kirby wrote that he’s in a wedding party where the dress code is “black suit,” and wondered what he can do with a black suit, now that he’ll have to buy one.

Black suits are perfectly suitable for going out in the evening.  The high-contrast looks (usually black/white/gray) that they lead to are suitable for dimmer lighting.  Feel free to wear a black suit to a club or an art opening.  In the evening, black is just fine.

Also, from what I understand: business in Asia.  I’m no expert on that, though.

Q and Answer
Eric writes:
My problem seems almost too basic. I am having a problem finding a good pair of shoes for my new black jeans & pants. I generally wear casual clothing and generally in fall shades. I don’t have the money to buy shoes in every color that might match shirts I wear. The navy blue topsiders and brown Clarks that I own look awful with black pants. The most common shoe that I see with black jeans is black Adidas (Sambas, I think) and black Chuck Taylors. I find Chuck Taylors way too uncomfortable and I would do Sambas, but I am hoping you might know of a shoe that is casual, but not sneakers like my other shoes that goes well with black jeans. All the shoes I am finding that I like are a more natural fit for blue jeans or are white and might quickly get too dirty.
Something you learn quickly about black clothes is how difficult they are to match to anything.  You buy them thinking they’re neutral, but they’re not.  You can wear grays and whites and vary texture, but all of a sudden, you realize you have a black, grey and white outfit, and you’re desperately looking for a red scarf or something so you don’t look like an undertaker.
That said, black is the traditional color of going out at night, and of artsiness, so it isn’t without value.  One shoe you can pair both with black jeans and trousers is a Chelsea boot.  It’s not the kind of thing you would wear in a business context, but it could certainly be paired in the evening with your good jeans or with a pair of black or gray trousers.

Q and Answer

Eric writes:

My problem seems almost too basic. I am having a problem finding a good pair of shoes for my new black jeans & pants. I generally wear casual clothing and generally in fall shades. I don’t have the money to buy shoes in every color that might match shirts I wear. The navy blue topsiders and brown Clarks that I own look awful with black pants. The most common shoe that I see with black jeans is black Adidas (Sambas, I think) and black Chuck Taylors. I find Chuck Taylors way too uncomfortable and I would do Sambas, but I am hoping you might know of a shoe that is casual, but not sneakers like my other shoes that goes well with black jeans. All the shoes I am finding that I like are a more natural fit for blue jeans or are white and might quickly get too dirty.

Something you learn quickly about black clothes is how difficult they are to match to anything.  You buy them thinking they’re neutral, but they’re not.  You can wear grays and whites and vary texture, but all of a sudden, you realize you have a black, grey and white outfit, and you’re desperately looking for a red scarf or something so you don’t look like an undertaker.

That said, black is the traditional color of going out at night, and of artsiness, so it isn’t without value.  One shoe you can pair both with black jeans and trousers is a Chelsea boot.  It’s not the kind of thing you would wear in a business context, but it could certainly be paired in the evening with your good jeans or with a pair of black or gray trousers.