In certain fashion circles, mention of the slim black suits of Hedi Slimane and Yves Saint Laurent are held up as the height of style. In tailoring circles, however, the black suit has long been considered a dirty concept. “The first tuxedo was cut in ‘celestial blue’ barathea—not black,” says Simon Cundey, managing director of Savile Row bespoke tailor (and dinner-suit inventor) Henry Poole & Co. “Midnight blue is more elegant and more flattering to most skin tones—it even looks blacker than black in low lighting.”
This downer on black tailoring is echoed by menswear gurus ranging from Brunello Cucinelli to Jeremy Hackett and Edward Sexton, who makes them bespoke. It doesn’t help that “black suit/white shirt” is the go-to uniform of nightclub bouncers and casino security staff. And yet quietly, it seems, the ban on black suits has gone out the window, even according to standard-bearers of style who you might think would run from such a thing.
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The secret is the new black suit is actually… very dark gray. Ralph Lauren is firmly behind the idea. Fall’s standout designs include a Purple Label three-piece with a hacking collar (which buttons across your throat in poor weather) and pleated trousers. The suit’s dark wool cloth features the faintest charcoal check. On the runway it was dressed with a yellow turtleneck sweater, but we think that’s a bit much. More preferable would be to pair it with a mid-gray or cream merino turtleneck, or with a pale dress shirt and knitted tie.
Same story with (some of ) the Italians: Canali has cut several softly structured two-piece suits in textured fabrics, dressed with lightweight flannel shirts or block-color knitwear; Corneliani has layered deep, dark-gray double-breasted suits beneath long tailored overcoats. Kiton completes the picture with a collection that features charcoal and jet-black Neapolitan suits styled with jersey crewnecks and sneakers for a look that’s sporty and unstuffy.
The common thread among all these is texture: dark charcoal cloths with muted patterns. Don’t fall into the trap of wearing matte black, because you’ll look like a pallbearer. Instead, choose something in a shadowy gray color, and accent your suit with warmer shades beneath: a cream shirt and chocolate-brown tie, or a camel polo shirt. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to wear a black watch strap or shoes with a charcoal suit; dark brown works just as well, so long as it’s similarly muted in tone.
Go a little darker than you might normally this fall. Just don’t pair your suit with that bright yellow sweater.