Black suits get a bad rep. For many they’re an introduction to tailoring, a set of sartorial training wheels which got you through graduation, early job interviews and distant cousins’ second weddings.
Almost every man has this type of suit but familiarity needn’t equal boring, an adjective often wrongly used to describe the black suit. Just ask Rami Malek – who’s topped countless best-dressed lists with his Bond villain-worthy all-black palette, or Harry Styles – who occasionally takes a break from millennial Jagger cosplay to break out a seriously dapper monochrome look.
Both will tell you: black suits are back, alright.
The Black Suit: What To Look For
There are two key reasons why certain red-carpet regulars get it right every time. Not a hefty bank balance and an on-call personal trainer – although they certainly help – but an understanding of cut and cloth.
In terms of the former, a classic, single-breasted style will get you maximum wear (and therefore value). “One button with a notch lapel is the most versatile, says John Harrison, creative director of Savile Row stalwart Gieves & Hawkes. “The single button gives a nod to formal, but the more regular collar allows for smart-casual wear.”
With fabric, keep things simple with a medium-weight wool with a matte finish. “Steer clear of shiny-looking cloths and avoid contrast stitching or anything novelty, as this can cheapen your look,” says personal stylist Sarah Gilfillan of Sartoria Lab.
“If you’re of a fairer skin tone, opt for a textured fabric to soften the overarching darkness. Anything too heavy can appear harsh on lighter skin tones, but most guys should be able to carry off a black suit with ease.”
How To Wear A Black Suit
When Should You Wear A Black Suit?
Away from the office, most guys will reserve their best suits for weddings, office Christmas parties and, on a more depressing note, funerals. In any case (especially for weddings), the invitation will usually offer the biggest clue as to whether a black suit is appropriate.
If you’re asked to don formal or cocktail attire, then black is ideal – particularly if it’s a winter do (a full penguin look for a beach wedding is, for obvious reasons, a no-go). In the warmer months, lighter colours such as grey or beige are more appropriate and will keep you cool, even if you’re the type to blub through the vows.
What Colour Shirt Do You Wear With A Black Suit?
A white shirt is the obvious choice when it comes to wearing a black suit – it’s simple, it’s classic, it’s Tarantino-approved – but that doesn’t make it the only option.
“Lighter colours make a great background for a black suit – a cream or pale grey shirt with a darker tie can give a softer look than a bright white,” says Stephen Quin, retail director of Turnbull & Asser, shirtmaker to Prince Charles.
The style of shirt you choose will depend on your face shape and on the dress code. As a rule of thumb, Quin suggests a medium spread collar. “It works for most people and looks good with a tie or open necked.”
What Colour Tie Do You Wear With A Black Suit?
A white shirt and black tie is one of the most reliable menswear combos of all time, but even the most minimally-minded of us like to switch things up now and again.
“A burgundy tie with a spot or a micro pattern tends to work well for formal occasions,” suggests Quin. “For smart-casual dress, you could go for an aubergine or grey knitted tie.”
Dress code permitting, an air tie (as in, no tie at all) is a major style move if done right. Stick to a classic forward point collar or, if you’re feeling experimental, try a collarless grandad shirt.
What Colour Shoes Do You Wear With A Black Suit?
Oxblood, bottle green or navy shoes will all work with a black suit. But for Tim Little, creative director and CEO of heritage shoemaker Grenson, there’s really only one answer to this question: “Black, black or black.”
There’s no going wrong with a well-polished black Oxford or Derby, which can also be worn with grey, brown or navy suits. If you’re aiming for a more laid-back vibe, a pair of monkstrap shoes or Chelsea boots walk that smart-casual line with aplomb.
“Sneakers look great with a suit but they have to be well kept, very clean and simple looking, usually in a single colour,” adds Little. “Loud, muti-coloured sneakers can look like you’ve been jogged to wherever it is you’re going and have forgotten to change shoes.”
6 Ways To Wear A Black Suit
If new is bold and old is gold, consider black and white tailoring platinum. “Nothing commands attention quite like a simple, slim-fit suit as part of an expertly tailored silhouette,” says Olie Arnold, style director at Mr Porter.
“Black and white is as simple as you can get. So, focus on the fit: you want to ensure your look – and specifically your trousers – are the perfect balance between slim and tight.” (I.e. closer to slim.)
For a timeless finish, stick to classic accessories – a thin presidential fold pocket square and a simple silver tie bar. “If you opt for a half-spread collar, team it with a traditional wider knot – it’s a foolproof look, and works well thanks to the shirt’s slim fit.”
If the occasion calls for it, swap your shoes out for a pair of minimalist black sneakers.
There’s a reason why Jay Z is obsessed with all black everything. Not only does it look slick and expensive, but by hiding any potential shadows on your torso, it also has an in-built slimming effect. Without any pesky colours, it’s almost fool-proof… almost.
“Make sure there’s a clear distinction between the different elements of your outfit,” says Rosie Doran, men’s tailoring buyer at John Lewis. If wearing a black jacket and black shirt, this means ensuring that there’s a good contrast in texture. “It usually works better without a tie, but if you are wearing one, stick to black.”
Better yet, forgo the shirt and tie entirely, wearing a simple roll-neck or black tee instead. “Tactile fabrics – cashmere or merino – add depth and are a little less formal,” adds Doran.
Stick to the same dark hue for shoes and belts, and if you’re going all black, just make sure that every element is exactly that. Anything that’s been through the dry-cleaners too many will feel less billionaire rapper, more part-time waiter.
Suit separates might sound like an oxymoron, but they’re actually a killer way to make tailoring feel a little more exciting. A black jacket with a pair of lighter trousers isn’t a million miles away from an all-black suit but feels much less formal, especially if worn with an open-necked shirt and loafers or suede boots.
“Stick to neutral-coloured trousers like blue, grey or navy,” says Doran. “Choose a pair not too close in colour to your jacket, but at the same time not too contrasting style-wise.” In other words: avoid red trousers like the plague and everything will be alright.
While a jacket and jeans is generally a recipe for sartorial disaster, the sole exception is a black jacket with black or dark grey denim. To avoid any trite Pete Doherty comparisons, keep your denim straight or slim, not skinny, and wear with a slim roll-neck jumper.
Black Patterned Suit
Before you baulk – we’re not talking about anything floral, Hawaiian or, god forbid, Christmassy here – but rather suits with checks, stripes and other subtle patterns that can add depth and make your monochrome look more memorable.
“A patterned black suit offers a contemporary spin on a classic, and can flatter your physique by adding bulk up-top,” says Arnold. “As it’s a step away from the norm, opt for a more relaxed cut when trying to replicate this look. An unstructured, half-lined two-piece will add to the laid-back nature of your outfit, and make it less formal as a result.”
Don’t be afraid to amp up the volume elsewhere, either. “A pop of colour from a roll neck or T-shirt below is another way to play with your look, but only stick to shades you feel comfortable with,” says Arnold.
A different beast entirely to the sort of high-impact Cuban-collared styles that have become a summer-time staple, a formal printed shirt can be the perfect foil for a relatively muted black suit.
“A printed shirt works with a black suit if you marry up the colours,” says Phill Tarling, a stylist who has dressed the likes of Tom Hardy and John Hurt. “Ensure the print itself – be it a stripe, graphic or geometric – has some flecks of black within. That way, the combination will be seamless.”
The cardinal rule of wearing a loud, graphic shirt with tailoring is to let the print do the talking. Always go sans tie, leaving your shirt untucked and a few buttons open to lean into the casualness of it all. If you’re hoping to make a smarter impression, wear a black merino jumper underneath your blazer and button the shirt all the way to the top.
Casual Black Suit
Even today, there’s a time and a place for tailoring worn with a T-shirt and sneakers. Unless you’re feeling particularly indifferent about your annual review, it’s not a look we’d advise for a black tie work do. But for other, less formal occasions, it is a solid way of loosening things up and proving who’s the boss, style-wise.
“This look has become an unspoken essential in the modern workplace, where trainers are no longer perceived as juvenile,” says Alex Field, head of menswear design at Reiss. “Take it to eleven and opt for cropped, slim-fit trousers to give your trainers the spotlight, and keep your T-shirt crisp and minimal.”
If wearing separates, you could switch your usual trousers for a pair with a drawstring waist, upping the sporting vibe and increasing the comfort. Avoid anything with a side stripe, keeping other embellishments throughout your outfit – logos or prints – monochrome.