By Andrew Yamato
Thou shalt not wear a black suit. Except to funerals. Or if you’re a waiter.
This is a fundamental commandment of received menswear wisdom, and one I’ve lived by for over two decades of deliberate dressing. It never seemed arbitrary to me, but rather a logical corollary to a traditional aesthetic of patterned worsteds, melanged flannels, and colorful tweeds. Black was flat, harsh, dull, and draining — vociferously condemned by sartorial smartypants like myself as a mass-produced uniform of indifferent labor and fashionable consumption.
As is so often the case with inflexible dictates, however, dogma belies insecurity, suggests doubt. After all, black is almost universally embraced by women as flattering, and since at least the 1950s has dispelled any lingering Victorian gloominess with a crisp air of minimalist sophistication. It has long been the favored attire of fashionistas around the runway, Hollywood on the red carpet, Beautiful People at the velvet rope. It is, in a word, chic.
It’s a richly nuanced term. Perhaps best defined as “fashionably refined with a soupçon of Francophone attitude,” chic is a somewhat suspect virtue for many male dressers precisely because we tend to eschew fashion. This aversion usually takes the benevolent form of avoiding designer trends, fetishizing what we hope is timelessness, and methodically assembling fine classic wardrobes like so many blue chip stock portfolios. Sometimes, however, this anti-fashion attitude can carry a sharper edge, becoming a curmudgeonly, even reactionary rejection of stylishness itself. Who are you trying to impress in that black suit?
Alan himself acknowledged this tension in a 2011 profile for The Rake focusing on the ways in which the Custom Shop had recently been updated in accordance with his own evolving aesthetic. “If you’re in the fashion world,” he observed, “and I have one foot in it, at some point you have to come to terms with black. Black can be very chic, and guys who are into tradition or ‘sartorial’ style are generally not into chic.”
I picked up my black suit a few years ago. A secondhand wool and mohair three-button with a svelte cut so flattering that I suspended my no-black policy, rather morbidly justifying it as a funeral suit that would inevitably come in handy. It hung unworn in my closet for years (thankfully!), but I found myself flirting with it more and more after coming aboard at the Custom Shop, where I noted the frequency and aplomb with which Alan himself pulls off inky black attire. I'm too deeply ingrained with the aesthetic rationale of anti-blackers for it to ever become a regular look for me, but as I’ve come to appreciate the positive virtues of the shade — its liquid sleekness, its streetwise modernity, its sexiness — my black suit has entered rotation.
Alan approves. So does my wife. A little chic can shake things up for the better, like a dash of Audrey for the most Astaire among us.