Not exactly sophisticated

Apparently the French wear a lot of black suits; I’ve never been there long enough to verify it. Last week, someone commented to me on my blog that a black tie was an essential for every man’s wardrobe; he claimed it went with everything. It appears and the French are rather misguided when it comes to colour.

Black does suit some people. It suits those with black hair, most obviously. But those men would also be said to have high-contrast complexions, and this is the more important point. Black is the darkest and harshest of colours. Whatever it is set against, it creates contrast. White will create the biggest contrast; but even something that softens, like a dull blue, will still contrast with black.

To wear black, therefore, you need a high-contrast complexion. Pale men are likely to be washed out by it, drained of the colour in their hair and cheeks and each struggles to compete with the great absorber, black.

This doesn’t mean that only those with black hair or heavy tans should wear any black at all. It can work well, but it needs to be softened elsewhere. Wear a black tie with a blue shirt, for example – always less contrast than white or pink. Wear both under a grey flannel suit, which will again absorb and soften the black rather than reflect it. Even soften the black tie itself, by using it in a wool or a knit silk. And wear black shoes.

Black suits can be softened similarly, but it makes them far less versatile. As with a bold check, your considerations over shirt and tie will always be dominated by concerns of balancing and softening. That becomes dull after a while.

No, only men with little colour sense say that black is versatile. What they mean is navy. Navy suits almost anyone and can be adapted to almost any situation. It can be dark enough for a funeral, light enough for a party; it’s perfect for evening cocktails. A slightly lighter blue is even better, bringing in blondes and gingers.

All this against black is, of course, to exclude evening wear. With black or white tie, contrast is the name of the game and black is the obvious way to achieve it. Even when men opt for midnight blue rather than black in their evening wear, it is because the former appears darker under artificial lights – it is a concession to the circumstances.

In business or day wear, black is lazy. In your mind it appears smart, but in reality it is dull and cheap. It is worn by men that favour black shoes and black socks for a similar reason – they really don’t want to think about anything else. And I think it’s a fair guess that if you’re reading this column, you want to think about it a little more than that.