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The black suit


“Black became the predominant color of men’s clothes on the Continent of Europe after the third decade of the nineteenth century. The funereal fashion (which survives in our contemporary evening, morning, and dinner clothes. . .) came from Britain. . .The wearing of the black was neither a foreign imposition nor a sign of mourning. It was a spontaneous homage, a flattering imitation. . .The black suit was merely a symbol, a tacit admission of British supremacy in almost all fields, with the exception of abstract philosophy, music, cuisine, and love-making. . .” (Luigi Barzini, The Europeans).

Writers do get carried away sometimes. The black suit also flattered a man’s vanity by creating a body-slimming silhouette. It was practical because it concealed dirt. It was extremely versatile and could handle business meetings, journeys, dinners, weddings, funerals, even espionage, sometimes even lovemaking.

Despite declining in numbers (the Beatles abandoned the black suit after appearing on the Ed Sullivan show) there are two other things the black suit continues to do today. First it is a dramatic background for the style statement of the tie, so it manages to make the wearer look like a solid performer while supporting his desire to express personality. Second, it is egalitarian. Though men preoccupied with such things will know whether a suit is Savile Row, a man of modest means dressed in a black suit can feel fairly confident of his armour. He would never have had the money to buy the colours, brocades, velvets and brocades of the rich, which fell by the wayside when the black suit took over.

One of the points of Barzini’s essay is that British style reflected substance. Unimpressive men wearing a black suit would never have impressed. Barzini tries to understand the secret of British success, and finally concludes “They all had a few ideas firmly embedded in their heads.” He thinks it may have been seven ideas, but isn’t sure what they are.

We may be way offside, but we think 21 ideas contributed to their success. Anyone who adopts them is likely to be successful. You can find them here.