The Most Overrated Color in Menswear: Black

The Most Overrated Color in Menswear: Black

Today, we’ll discuss the color black in men’s wear and why it’s so overrated.

We’ll discuss suits, t-shirts, accessories, when you should wear black, when you shouldn’t wear black, why it’s so popular, and anything else you want to know about this omnipresent color.

Why Is Black Popular And Why Many People Wear It?

First of all, black is a very practical color. It’s very resistant to stains in a sense that often times, you can’t see the stain when you stain it.

Sometimes people also claim, black makes you look slimmer although there doesn’t seem to be any scientific purpose for that. Now, if you just think about it, if a dark color makes you look slimmer, let’s say a charcoal color would serve the exact same purpose, yet charcoal is not as popular as black.

Christian Bale once again in monochromatic all black with necktie

Christian Bale in monochromatic all black with necktie

Black is widely available and unlike other colors, it’s a very simple shade that is very consistent. For that reason, people sometimes think they can combine different items in black that are not made from the same fabric. However, the weave is different, the materials are different, and when the light comes onto the black color and reflects into your eye, it’s reflected differently. And so black can look hugely different once they’re worn next to each other even though both look black individually.

For that reason, I find black to be supremely boring because it’s just one simple shade and in my opinion, it’s a color for people who are a bit insecure about their outfit and what they want to express.

Black has its purpose. It has its time and its place but today we just see it a lot, especially in regular day wear and that’s simply historically not quite appropriate.

Sven Raphael Schneider in a Stroller Suit with Contrasting Vest

Sven Raphael Schneider in a Stroller Suit with Contrasting Vest

When Should You Wear Black?

First of all, it’s a fantastic color for evening wear. That means a tuxedo, a black tie event, a dinner jacket maybe in black velvet or even very formal white tie.

It is also great for formal day wear such as a morning coat. I wear it with a stroller suit and peaked lapels as a jacket. Then I also use black in trousers however not as a solid but as a cashmere stripe pair of trousers which means there is gray and black mixed together. Overall, it’s always good to wear black when you mix it with something else so the overall appearance is not black but maybe gray.

For example, look at the tie Silver Black Silk Basketweave Formal Wedding and Business Tie. It incorporates black but since it has another silver thread, it even works well with a navy suit. Normally black and navy clash but not if you mix it in a way that it looks great in black. The same is true for any other tie that combines these colors in any way, shape or form.

So do wear black when it’s mixed. That’s true for accessories, that’s true for a Houndstooth suit or a Glen Check Suit. But black in its own way, when it’s all black is better suited to evening wear, and formal day wear.

Black is also great for priests and for funerals. That being said, you can show up to a funeral in a very dark suit such as a charcoal suit or maybe a navy suit.

If you go back around 20 years, you see lots of black and white pictures and drawings and sometimes it seems that they’re all wearing black but in fact, there were mostly wearing dark shades of charcoal and not the uniform solid black that we’re so accustomed to today.

Luckily, you have plenty of other options today other than black. As I mentioned, charcoal, gray, mid-gray, you can have patterns that incorporate black and white or black and gray and of course, you have brighter colors, you have browns and greens. All of these come in different shades so you have an even greater range of colors that can highlight your uniqueness and your individuality.

Why Is Black Bad If Many People Wear It?

If you go 600 years back, a lot of people thought that the Earth was flat and not round and it was a common assumption. So just because a lot of people wear black today, doesn’t mean it’s the way they look best or it should be.

One of the big drawbacks of black is that it ages extremely poorly. If you have a black t-shirt for example, and you wash it five times, it gets that gray fuzz and it’s washed-out and it looks very aged, very prematurely. Basically, the color fades and you can also see deodorant stains which are lighter in color so a black t-shirt looks old much more quickly than a gray t-shirt or a white t-shirt. Black is also not ideal because it absorbs a lot of energy of light so you easily overheat, especially during the summer.

Black is also not so easily combined with other shades of gray and especially not with navy. If you have a black jacket and navy pants, it just looks terrible. It’s too close in color but not quite the same and therefore it’s just off. The same is true when you wear a black jacket and black pair of pants made of a different material, it just looks wrong.

 

On the other hand, if you had a charcoal suit, you can easily combine it with a navy tie because it works together much better. It gives you a greater range of combination and it’s similarly dark. So charcoal is the better black. Whenever you think about getting a black suit or a black jacket, go with charcoal and you’ll be much happier.

Now, that being said, if you have a black tie or a white tie outfit, the stark contrast between the black and white is very pleasing, at the same time it’s very formal and not very casual. In a very casual world today, wearing black and white during the day is just too strong of a statement and it’s much better reserved for evening wear.

A younger Raphael in a black short sleeve dress shirt and Panama hat

A younger Raphael in a black short sleeve dress shirt and Panama hat

Black Don’ts That Looks Disadvantageous

1. Do Not Wear Black Dress Shirts

If you care about your clothes, don’t wear black dress shirts. I see men do it all of the time, even at the Oscars. They have a black dress shirt with a black tie and a black jacket. It’s a monochromic look, you can’t see any contrast. It just looks horrible.

Also, black shirts look really bad with ties because generally, a combination looks much better when the tie is slightly darker than your shirt, not lighter. There are a few exceptions when you have a like a white tie and it can work with a light blue shirt for example. But overall, it’s much easier to put together an outfit if a tie or your bow tie is darker than your shirt. Now if you have black, there’s no way your tie is lighter in color.

Okay, I admit it, when I started getting interested in clothing, I had a black shirt as well. It was a hand-me-down, I got it from someone. It had two chest pockets and honestly, it looked terrible. It even had short sleeves but I liked it. I wore it with a white pair of pants and a Panama hat and black rubber soled shoes.

Never wear a black sport coat or jacket as a combination because black as a color is too formal for that

Never wear a black sport coat or jacket as a combination because black as a color is too formal for that

2. Wearing Black Day Wear Suits, Pants Or Jackets

As I said, great for evening wear, great for tuxedos. You can even wear your pants with a separate dinner jacket in a different color, it’s all great. But for day wear, most men assume that a black suit is the first thing they should buy because it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Department stores are full of black suits. They are cheap, the fabrics are often times less expensive to produce and re-manufacture. And so, it is so much easier for them to just produce a black suit because there a lot of people who are ignorant who end up buying them.

The only thing worse than a black suit is having just a singular black jacket because that has a sports coat character and a sports coat is always less formal and more casual. So wearing a black jacket with let’s say a denim pair of pants is probably one of the biggest style mistakes out there you can make.

If you live in a casual environment, throw all the black stuff, donate it and get something in different colors especially a sport coat with a slight pattern maybe in brown, maybe in green, maybe in blue, maybe even in gray.

Black undershirt - not recommended

Black undershirt – not recommended

3. Do Not Wear Black T-shirts

For most people, if they wear it underneath the dress shirt, they just look bad because you can see the contours of the shirt and the color and it just looks odd. If you work out, you can see sweat stains more easily, also deodorant stains. They quickly turn gray and get that fuzz that is ugly and overall, you should always get an undershirt that’s much closer to your color and skin tone. So if you’re really black or really dark, try to go with something that is either dark gray or dark brown, they just look better and you won’t see the lines even if you have a white dress shirt on top of it.

Chamois yellow & gray gloves with morning coat & top hat

Chamois yellow & gray gloves with morning coat & top hat

Black Dress Shoes And Black Accessories

I give it to you, they’re the most popular items around because they’re easy to produce and there is such a huge demand.

If you go back in history, an elegant man would never wear black dress gloves because it would show that they lack style and taste. Instead, they would wear gray gloves or chamois yellow gloves or red gloves or brown gloves but never black.

Classic Patent Leather Oxford without captoe and wide evening shoelaces by Fort Belvedere

Classic Patent Leather Oxford without captoe and wide evening shoelaces by Fort Belvedere

For shoes, black is a great option if you work in a white-collar office environment and it’s formal. I have a few pairs of black shoes I wear them for evening wear, I wear them to funerals, I wear them to business events or any other event where a certain degree of formality is required. Otherwise, I stick to brown because there are lots more shades.

Black is always more formal and sneakers are informal

Black is always more formal and sneakers are informal

What About Black Sneakers?

If you think about it, black is always more formal. Sneakers by definition are informal. So having a black sneaker is kind of a clash of formality levels and hence, I don’t advise to do that. There are so many other colors in sneakers gray, blue, yellow, green, red, and even pink. So you’ll find something that you like but try to stay clear of black.

CONCLUSION

Basically the only time you’ll see me wearing black during the day is when it’s mixed up with other colors so the overall impression is not black. Wearing black less or less often is definitely one of those things that you’ll notice will change about you once you get more interested in dressing up and other people will notice it too.

If you know our channel, you’ll probably realize that I don’t promise a lot of things but I’ll promise you if you wear less black, you’ll be happier with your wardrobe altogether and you’ll get more interested and you’ll get more compliments as a result.

 

Summary
The Most Overrated Color in Menswear: Black
Article Name
The Most Overrated Color in Menswear: Black
Description
Learn why black in men's wear is overrated; why it's popular, when to wear it and what to avoid.
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Publisher
Gentleman's Gazette LLC
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43 replies
    • Walter says:

      Yes, one of the great contributions of the latter 20th century, the black turtleneck, especially in a ribbed weave, is a classic. It is tough to pair with most jackets, but it is quite handsome on its own.

      Reply
  1. Hal Medrano says:

    I’ve learned a lot from you, Sven, so I hate to push back, but I really do believe there’s a place in a man’s wardrobe for a black dress shirt.

    Consider situations such as someone who works as an art director or creative attending a company party, or someone going to a trendy urban night club.

    I also think African American and Latino men, with different complexions than yours, can use the black dress shirt to express a look that is modern, hip, but still (in keeping with the tone of your wonderful site) elegant.

    Good learning point for me: consider charcoal as a replacement for black. I like this! But why not pair a charcoal blazer with a nice black dress shirt and hit the town? 🙂

    Reply
    • Owen says:

      I have to disagree.

      Not trying to be disrespectful, but this site/blog is not about being “hip and trendy”-it is about a certain adherence to a classic wardrobe of men’s clothing that, when applied properly, transcends whatever is hip and trendy at the time.

      Black dress shirts have never ever been part of a classic man’s wardrobe and as such, they should not be worn by men wishing to adhere to a classic wardrobe.

      Why shouldn’t you wear a charcoal blazer and a black dress shirt? That isn’t classic!

      Reply
      • Hal Medrano says:

        Fair enough, gentlemen. While I still think the black dress shirt has a certain elegance, it definitely doesn’t match the historically-grounded, timeless style that is the focus of this blog. Appropriate for a different venue, then.

        All the best to you both!

        Reply
        • Robert Cervantes says:

          Well stated, Hal Medrano. I finally purchased my first black dress shirt, reluctantly, last month. It was for a specific purpose, a salsa dance performance, but don’t regret it now. At age 69, I have no intentions of becoming a star in the ballroom, I just want to keep dementia at bay through dance (brain synapse & cognitive acuity). Accordingly, I wear the shirt for such occasions. Oh yes, as a Latino with am olive complexion, the color black works well. I appreciate and agree with your comments.

          Reply
          • Darnell Terry says:

            Being African-American I agree gentleman (Hal & Robert)! Pastel colors really pop on a black (shirt) canvas. I have them also; silk and matte finish and a turtleneck. I usually do not comment. I just look, listen and learn new or different lessons on style. Though an all black ensemble is boring to some, it gives sort of a mystic to the wearer who can don it with confidence. I agree that a black shirt it is trendy, not traditional (classic) and I definitely wouldn’t wear all black with a four-in-hand to a formal black tie function. That is what a black peak or shawl lapel tuxedo is for. But this is a tough audience to sell to, so to each his own. Thanks gentlemen!

            Reply
  2. Alexander_F says:

    As someone who wore black almost exclusively for some years, I can fully confirm black is not that practical as it seems to be. I might add to it’s disadvantages in summer (beside the overheating) that it has the weird tendency to attract insects. Strange but true. Not the best on a barbeque in a moscito-ridden place. Also, people will see even better the slightest blush. Not the best for someone prown to it.
    Best regards and thanks for the article

    Reply
  3. Gregory Edwin Yim says:

    What are your thoughts regarding dress for dancing Argentine Tango? A lot of men I observe tend to wear black shirt, pants, and shoes.

    Reply
  4. Simon says:

    Very interesting and enjoyable article but I can’t agree 100% with it.

    I think black can look great in suits and shirts. Wear a black suit and you can go a bit crazy with your shirt and tie colours. Wear a black shirt and you can go a bit crazy with your sports jacket colour and pattern.

    I find black (and super dark blue) a very useful colour to wear.

    Reply
    • Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Then let’s agree to disagree. Black and sports coat should never be combined. Historically a black dress shirt has at no point been part of a well-dressed gentleman’s wardrobe – for a good reason: it looks terrible. But each to his own 😉

      Reply
          • Simon says:

            “Terrible” is a bit strong. What he is wearing is a too young for me, but I thought he had a good “Elvis/Johnny Cash” look going here.

            No, he’s not dressed like Cary Grant, Fred Astiare or the Duke Of Windsor but he
            certainly he looks 100% better than most guys you see at the mall – you’d have to agree on that.

            It kind of worries me that there is amost a fascist element to the “you must dress like this and adhere totally to the old rules” attidude that you read on many fashion blogs. It is a very limited, narrow minded description of how a man should dress.

            The Duke broke the rules, Mary Quant broke the rules. Flusser broke the rules. If they didn’t we’d all still be wearing top hats, morning coats and spats.

            Reply
  5. Walter says:

    I agree with the tenor of the article, black is tough to get right in many instances. As with many general rules however, one can occasionally break them if one has knowledge and style. As noted above, I love a ribbed weave black turtleneck, and I do like a black velvet jacket – with a snow white shirt and grey trousers, or even with jeans, perhaps because they are emblematic of the 60’s era I grew up in.

    Historically, wearing black was a sign of great wealth and luxury, and oddly, as a sign of personal probity. Before the modern era, a true black was very labor-intensive to achieve in fabric, the very wealthy levels of the nobility and royalty wore it. Spain, at the height of its power in the 16th-17th centuries, required black for court dress for men on the most formal occasions. One should note that the costumes were often adorned with diamonds, pearls and lace, all of which stood out to sumptuous effect on the black background. The fabrics too were richly lush, a black velvet doublet has it all over a black tee shirt for opulence…

    Conversely, the rising middle-classes in countries like France, England and Holland , especially, but not limited to, the Protestant members, wore black, relieved with white, as a sign of rejection of courtly excess and frivolity and as an outward sign of their piety and fiscal probity. Fascinating how, in the same period, black was the height of fashionable elegance and wealth in one country, while being the uniform of the sober and somber middle class of others.

    Reply
    • Alexander_F says:

      @Walter

      You definitely made a good point here.
      One might add to the list the symbolism of black in the 20th century, which ranges from the most unfortunate association with fascism to revolutionary movements like Existentialism and the Black Panthers in the 60’s and 70’s.

      I think this ambiguity has never faded completely. After all, black is, on the one hand, the color of most elegant evening wear, and on the other that of many trashy teenage subcultures.

      But fair nough, I guess none of us will mind your guilty pleasure here.

      Reply
  6. Brian Lee says:

    Ralph, I enjoy your site. Since I retired a few years ago I have smartened my image by digging out clothes I have not worn for years. I have picked up lots of tips from your site. I have an excellent boating jacket from the sixties. What are your thoughts and ideas about the boating jacket? Brian Lee

    Reply
  7. Priscilla P says:

    Fantastic article, Raphael! I was wondering about those who have very dark black hair. I think black Chelseas or jodhpurs might look very advantageous for those who have black hair. Those with brownish hair will do well with tan, but in some cases, I think black shoes will look very good. What do you think?

    Reply
  8. Julian says:

    Hmm, on the fence about this; on one hand I do believe that black is overrated or portrayed as too “cool” especially by the media – but it works and it works great almost every time. Although, I agree with your part above that black dress shirts are awful. I think the color is fine, it’s just mixed around everywhere now to seem elegant and sleek by designers.

    Reply
  9. Benjamin D says:

    The reason, behind the thought, that black makes you look slimmer is that the shadows cast from the contours of your body are less visible. The reduced contrast on the back makes the depth of your form less distict but this does not affect your silhouette.

    Reply

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