You know those rules you always learn early in life which you later go on to break, because it’s just so much fun? Yeah, that’s me with using black (and wearing dark fits in general) within classic menswear.
To some, it’s definitely a bit subversive. And that’s cool as hell.
Black has a unique place in menswear. One the one hand it’s absolutely lauded for formal events, being used primarily in dinner attire and black tie, with morning dress/stroller suits being equally appropriate. One the other hand, guys tell you to avoid in any other occasion, more specifically as regular wear in the form of suits and dress shirts (although black knit ties are fine).
This makes sense considering how strong of a color black is. It’s commanding, and clashes with many other colors due to this fact. This is different than how earth tones work together, like browns and blues, playing with color theory. As a result, I think black works best as a suit/tuxedo and less so as separates. The latter can work, but it lends itself to mainly be used with white and grey.
They knew this back in the Golden Era as well, being popular as suits in the 1910s-1920s. As time went on and the concepts of separates and casual wear was introduced, it became more appropriate to keep black for formal wear. Soon navys and greys for business/everyday wear was the way to go, though black shoes remained the beat all shoe, being the most formal choice to wear with business suits.
One thing is for sure though: black is just badass. Yes, I know some of these pictures aren’t colorized, but I think you get the idea.
It’s a bit unfortunate that the elegance of black hasn’t really been translated well into the present day, at least in general menswear. It’s now mainly worn by business guys who simply know that black is formal (and therefore a “good” choice for suits) but it’s also the color of cosplayers trying to be mafioso or gangsters, and a favorite of prom attendees. This sense of old school formality leads it to be used as cheap uniforms and suits, further lessening this color’s draw in classic menswear. It’s common for many menswear writers and bloggers to voice their hatred of it and caution new dressers against it. But like all things, this is changing.
Like I said earlier, black is just cool. It’s commanding. Mysterious. Badass. And while we can mainly agree that black suits in classic menswear may not be as popular as it once was, that doesn’t mean the color is dead. In fact, it’s just as popular as ever, thanks to it’s use in styles other than classic menswear, almost as a rebellion against those oft-said fashion rules.
Black is the go-to leather jacket or jean of choice for punks. It’s used in avant garde fashion like Yohji Yamamoto or Rick Owens. You can find it in techwear, on guys who look like they’re ready to revolt while taking the subway to work. It’s on vintage tee shirts and Hot Topic Star Wars shirts. It’s the color of most engineer boots, worn by workwear enthusiasts and bikers. And it looks cool in every example, exuding a vibe that hasn’t really come across in tailoring in a long time.
Now while black has always been popular, it didn’t really prop up back on my radar until Hedi Slimane created his iconic look when working for YSL. The uniform made of that black double rider, slim black jean, and slick black chelseas/jodphurs took the world by storm, echoing punk and rockstar chic all at once. Hell, it was like a workwear guy (who also wear jeans, leather jackets, and boots) decided to join Snoke on the dark side.
The look was called “Saint Laurent Paris” and I loved it, mainly because of how simple and easy it could be to wear (though I don’t have a swimmers build in the slightest). If you’re a keen follower of my IG, you might recall that I’ve dabbled in my own version of it years back, but never had it quite right.
SLP wasn’t always all-black, but it used the color to great effect. Obviously black went well with things that contained black, like buffalo plaid or leopard print, but I was intrigued to how it went well with brown suede (as you aren’t supposed to wear brown shoes with a black suit). It was really interesting to me and I was falling in love every second, despite not exactly adopting the look for myself since it didn’t feel exactly true to who I was.
Was it possible to exude this same badass rockstar/punk/minimal vibe within classic menswear? Was it possible to look badass in my own context?
In Classic Menswear
You’ll have to hand it to Ethan Newton and Bryceland’s Co. for always putting my ideas into practice (and killing it). It’s no surprise that Ethan and Kenji have been on the fringe of tailoring, using their penchant for workwear/americana and combining it with fine bespoke for a unique look. In short, they’re able to approximate that badass SLP vibe (in my eyes) in their own way without resorting to overly sleek chelseas or extra slim jeans/jackets.
The ideas are similar: blousy rayon shirts and heavy use of black (and other dark colors). The badass vibe is there, but its executed differently. Instead of slim jeans, you have wide leg pleated trousers, hemmed to little break, contrasting against the stacks you find on skinny denim. You trade the short, slim-fit blazer jacket for something Italian, with wide lapels, extended droopy shoulders, and a longer length. And even though you have the classic details, the execution really is different than most other formal or casual outfits within classic menswear. In a certain sense it’s almost like a fuck you to those guys, which is pretty punk to me.
You could even argue that that it’s a natural extension of the vibes of formalwear/black tie. Simon noted it in his article about dark shirts, commenting that its use is best to signify an outfit as evening wear without resorting to a tuxedo. I definitely agree, as the use of black and other dark colors in a classic menswear outfit capture that cohesive/elegant vibe of formal wear, though doing it dressed down gives it that edgy/SLP spin that I’ve always found fascinating. Bryceland’s definitely does it well.
What I like most about Newton and Bryceland’s is that it doesn’t rely too heavily on all-black outfits, similar to how you can do SLP with a bold shirt, brown chelseas, and only black jeans. A black suit may not be versatile, as I’ve stated earlier (it’s hard to break apart), but a grey suit can get the dark vibes down; all you need is to accent it with a black shirt or perhaps a black fedora, and you’ve achieved that dark/edgy menswear look. You can see that in action above, with the grey microcheck suit and black shirt or even below, where Ethan does a charcoal suit with a black Grateful Dead tee (!!) and black fedora.
Grey tailoring may just be the best choice if you’re interested in the look, as it’s a great match when black pieces tends to fade (as in your felt fedoras, tees, and shoes).
I can’t get over how easy Ethan makes it look. In most cases, an edgy tee shirt and suit looks too fashion blogger or just flat out neck-beardy. I’ve also seen the idea come back recently within streetwear (think of those Thrasher/Nirvana/band tees), but it’s clear that you don’t need to do streetwear to get the look across. I’d argue that with classic tailoring, the easy-going effect is done better, thanks to the draped suits and wide legged trousers; it even echoes the flowy approach by designers like Rick Owens. It’s equal parts louche and edgy.
It all makes sense when you learn that Newton (and many other menswear guys who do similar looks, like Tony Sylvester and Natty Adams) used to be punks and metalheads. This fact is detailed in an article by Natty himself. He even notes that at rock shows, he’s even more rebellious, as he’s probably the only one in tailoring (yet in all-black, in keeping with the theme). Aren’t punks supposed to be rebellious anyway?
It’s no wonder why it looks natural on these gentlemen, as they’re simply taking their past and putting it into a new context. It’s like the replacement/alternative approach I have to general casual wear, just with the intent in being badass and edgy. As a result, I don’t necessarily think of doing these looks as “formal”, but simply just another way to wear tailored clothing. It almost has the opposite effect of it’s past, removing its elegant connotations in exchange for being slightly irreverent.
It’s definitely a stretch on my part, but for example, I think that Ethan Newton in a 3PC with a black beret and overcoat isn’t as “appropriate” as a navy suit, repp tie, and black captoes despite utilizing more black. But it’s that irreverence, using a a traditionally formal color, in a “fuck you” way that makes it so edgy, yet completely easy to wear.
I’m going to note again that going all-black (or even using black at all) isn’t always necessary. A black suit will probably be the edgiest thing you can try to do (and can be done, even in classic menswear), but dark/deep navy blue’s are still excellent, providing greater depth than black in certain cases. If you’re in a grey suit and white shirt, a black fedora or beret will attach that sense of dark/edgy badassery to a regular outfit. It’s all about using that commanding color for great effect, whether it’s in coordination with other colors (like a black knit tie with a brown suit) or as a general outfit theme.
Overall, using a black and dark colors in menswear might simply look like a regular minimal outfit to most, but to me, I think the way these guys do it is slightly different. It’s party due to the context (as I know Newton and the rest like hardcore music), but could also be the replacement/alternative theory in action. Yes, shell cordovan shoes or a deep navy jacket is “correct”, but going with black is an intentional choice that just seems badass to me.
And again, even dark navy will get the job done, if black is too edgy for you.
Of course, I have more influences in my life than just Ethan, Kenji, and Tony Sylvester. In fact, almost all my friends are incredibly stylish, and upon a look through my photography archive, it’s clear that they share the love of black, using it effectively for badass outfits. Sometimes its more minimal like using a black jacket with white trousers (a la Golden Era) or it’s more inclusive, utilizing as much black as possible.
Obviously, I wasn’t keen on wearing black for a long time, simply because the rules said not to. And yet, we’ve seen it work countless times above, all in different ways. Black shirts, black ties (sometimes worn with black shirts), black suits, black shoes, and black headwear. Grey and white are obvious choices for pairings, but that didn’t stop my style inspirations. You can see black with navy blue, brown, and even red!
So, like in every other article, let’s synthesize all this inspiration and apply it to myself. Obviously this is not business wear. This edgy take on menswear is for guys who enjoy tailoring for tailoring’s sake. Perhaps thats why it looks so great on Ethan, Bryceland’s, and so many others. And that’s why it has such an appeal to me.
I’m not really a punk, but definitely went through a Hot Topic Phase. By that I meant that I was an edgy nerd (still am). Before wanting to dress “up”, I wore a lot of graphic tees that were more fandom (or Ed Hardy like above) related but they were black. I wore black studded belts with my favorite pair of Rude Fit skinny jeans and wore them nearly everyday I wasn’t in my school uniform. This all went away when I got to college and dressed very “J. Crew”/influencer, so I’m glad that I’m able to bring it back “edgy Ethan” in a new context, one that I feel much more confident in and applies to my current life in a natural way.
I knew that the effect had come full circle when I fell in love with a black 1940’s gabardine westerner during my trip to Japan. It’s so much more different than say the black dress shirts I used to wear when I went to banquet. The westerner perfectly slouchy in a great shade of slightly faded black that I knew I could wear with everything, from my trusty selvedge denim to my favorite suits. The effect is edgy, but perfectly rooted in vintage-menswear, similar to how a black knit tie replaces the black shiny silk ties of my youth.
Even though a fully black shirt is probably the most recent (and most noticble) step for me to get into this punky-edgy take on menswear/vintage, it’s definitely not the first time I’ve done so. Looking back in to the archive, it’s clear that I have done other attempts in different ways, utilizing black as an intentional, more badass choice. Like I said before, using black instead of other colors is what makes the use more effective.
One big example is the use of a black double rider, seen above. It may be more versatile to go with brown (in most classic menswear circles), but black is powerful, taking its connotations with punk/greaser style, requiring a different take. With a red checked sportshirt, it echoes the love of buffalo plaid as seen on SLP, but my classic menswear roots come through with the pleated grey flannels. However, I do use my black penny loafers (which are “cleaner” than tassels) as a nod to the typical slick black chelseas.
Black sportshirts and polos are probably the best way to get this vibe, for days when you can’t wear a leather jacket. Contrary to the “rules” these black shirts tend to go with everything in classic menswear and don’t need a slim fit suit to look edgy or minimal. Even if you don’t want to do that, a black beret, tie, or loafers (as they are sleeker than oxfords IMO) are ways that I get the look across.
This use of replacement/alternatives to exude that SLP vibe by way of menswear guides my casual style and definitely comes into practice when I do these badass/edgy looks. If only I had the badass face to go with it; perhaps that’s why I’ve decided to keep the beard.
I’m going to close up this section by talking about a few of my recent favorite fits that I think do the edgy/badass effect in the best way, that is also natural to me.
Above, we have what would definitely be my more legitimate take on the SLP aesthetic, sans leather jacket because it’s fucking hot. It’s all-black, utilizing my beloved black gabardine westerner, black jeans, and chelsea boots. The thing that makes it a bit more “Ethan” in my eyes, is the denim. It’s not skinny or stacked like what you saw during Slimane’s tenure, in fact, quite the opposite.
The jeans are a pair of vintage 501s that I found while perusing Wasteland. It has a rather straight fit, being almost similar to my LVC 1945’s I wear when painting with just a slightly lower rise and slimmer thigh. I didn’t want to cuff them and instead went with a frayed hem, done by simply cutting them with shears and popping them in the drier. It’s definitely inspired by the Akira fit from earlier and is plenty versatile, working best with chelsea boots but is also fine with my trusty loafers (as you saw with the noragi). It’s like the silhouette of classic Americana with just a more rockstar (edgy) aesthetic.
This last one is probably one of my favorite fits in recent memory. It has a bit of different inspirations, but most notably with ideas from Milad and Robert Spangle. Note here that the only black thing is the chelsea boots, but it ties in well with the dark navy of the abstract print aloha shirt. Sure, blue is the main color of the outfit, but the boots are what make it more badass; a tassel loafer wouldn’t have had the same effect.
I think another reason I like it is the juxtaposition of sharp and soft, the former in the boots and the latter in the relaxed overall fit. This is what I mean by edgy. Most times when guys wear the same pieces (chelsea boots, blazers, alohas, and jeans) it’s all slim fit and a bit structured, but not here. The aloha is loose, the jacket has soft shoulders, and the denim has room. The fit is my interpretation of the ideas in SLP (and by extension other genres as well).
Personally, I don’t think it would’ve worked as well with a plain sportshirt, as the abstract white print against the dark, shimmering rayon gives more of an edgy vibe.
We finish off with something that combines this edgy approach to classic menswear with “Casual Ethan“. I wanted to wear something slouchy that would still fit in with being all black, without resorting to something too punk and it resulted in this, which is actually one of my favorite outfits I’ve worn recently.
The top is a black spearpoint polo from SJC, which means that it has 30’s details like a deep loop placket and a lovely collar. It’s one of the few black things I own, but is rapidly becoming a favorite. It’s worn with wide leg Uniqlo U trousers, but instead of using penny loafers, I opted for chelsea boots. Not only does it create a cool contrast (the slim shoe against the leg opening), but adds in those punk/SLP vibes that come with wearing boots. Like TLJ, it’s subversive and interesting, more so than if I simply wore black penny loafers.
It’s an entirely new look that doesn’t go too far in either extreme. I brought back the tie-belt (this time, a ratty black/white 50’s tie) to give it the louche appeal.
Black is such a fun color. I can’t believe it’s taken me all this time to get reacquainted with it, though I blame all the “rules” and my discarded past for that reason. The truth is, you can definitely wear black in menswear, it just takes a new POV and a different context. With it’s commanding color, it takes a bit of careful thought to use in this niche part of fashion. Black isn’t meant just for formal wear or business wear; it can simply be an exercise in dressing edgy, using (surprisingly) what you would typically find in classic menswear instead of going to SLP or avant garde. There’s nothing wrong with those styles, but since I’m mainly a classic menswear enthusiast, this is how I (and my friends and colleagues in the industry) get the vibe across.
Obviously all-black is hard to pull off in menswear (as black suits aren’t too common or versatile), but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Black suits in casual fabrics (like linen or seersucker) are a great way to put a spin on those age old rules, becoming edgy and almost punk like. Grey (and white) is probably the best way to ground your outfit in traditional menswear, which frees up your black to be used in other places like in a sportshirt or polo, though as we can see, it goes just as well with navy and brown.
Above all, think of my concept of replacement/alternatives. In menswear and most general forms of fashion, there will always be pieces that are “more appropriate”, say like a grey fedora or a brown loafer. However, intentionally choosing a black fedora or a sleek chelsea boot provides a different, almost edgy vibe, which is entirely the point. Even if the outfit isn’t entirely all-black, the use of black accents like a beret or a shoe is still enough to make it badass IMO. In the end, it feels less like a formal suit but rather a way to exude punk vibes while using classic menswear. And that’s what all my inspirations do!
Almost every single one of those guys above in the blog post have a history with punk and hardcore, with plenty of stories of black jeans and pins among them. It’s only natural that they let that side come out in their attire. And while I never was too much of a punk (I was an edgy nerd who shopped at Hot Topic), I definitely found a few things in common with that alternative, rebellious lifestyle. Like those guys, I have a deep connection to black and dark outfits. It’s not something I do all the time, but I like that I have an idea and inspiration behind crafting outfits that show homage to that side of me using my love of classic menswear.
And let’s face it, it feels badass to wear black. Why not try it with classic menswear?
Always a pleasure,