The Solid Black Suit: What is it Good For?

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Diamonds-Are-Forever-Black-Suit

Though solid black may currently be the most popular suit colour in the world, it has never been a staple of James Bond’s wardrobe. Like most of the world’s best-dressed men, James Bond rarely wears solid black suits. Black is a serious colour, a formal colour and a dull, flat colour. In recent years the solid black suit has become acceptable for a business suit in all but the most conservative environments, but traditionally only blue and grey (and sometimes brown) are the suit colours worn for business. Because black is such a formal colour, it is generally saved for dinner jackets, evening tailcoats, morning coats and black lounge. So what is the black suit good for?

James Bond wears black suits on two occasions for their traditional use: mourning. Bond limits solid black suits to this purpose. The first time that Bond wears a black suit for mourning is when he is pretending to be Peter Franks in Diamonds Are Forever. “Peter Franks” is mourning his “brother”, who is actually the deceased diamond smuggler Peter Franks. Bond wears this black suit to travel with Franks’ body from Amsterdam to Las Vegas, where he visits Morton Slumber’s funeral parlour. A funeral parlour is an entirely appropriate place to wear a black suit.

A black herringbone suit for a funeral in Spectre
A black herringbone suit for a funeral in Spectre

The second time Bond wears a black suit for mourning is to Marco Sciarra’s funeral in Rome in Spectre. Like in Diamonds Are Forever, Bond again demonstrates the traditionally appropriate use of a black suit. Bond’s black suit in Spectre not only helps him fit in with the other mourners dressed in black at the funeral, but it also helps him fit in with the criminals who classically dress in black.

Though the black suit is indeed good for mourning, it’s far from necessary for mourning. Sean Connery shows at the beginning of Thunderball that a dark grey suit can also be appropriate and somber enough for funerals. The black suit is by no means necessary for mourning when a dark grey business suit can show just as much respect. A man does not need to wear all black to express his feelings.

The dark grey suit is just as good for funerals as black is.
Sean Connery shows in Thunderball that a dark grey suit is just as good for funerals as a black suit is.

James Bond wears a solid black suit on a third occasion when he dons the black mohair suit from the Bond dummy in Scaramanga’s funhouse in The Man with the Golden Gun. Scaramanga possibly dresses the Bond dummy in a black suit to show that Bond is a symbol of death. The Bond dummy is meant to look frightening to funhouse visitors, and the black suit contributes to Bond’s fearful image in this setting. This use of the black suit does not demonstrate any real-world example of wearing a black suit a sit is merely costume for a wax figure.

man-with-the-golden-gun-black-suit
A black suit on Scaramanga’s James Bond dummy in The Man with the Golden Gun

The black suit is what bad guys wear. Putting a character in a black suit is an easy way to label him as a bad guy because a black suit often implies questionable taste. This only applies to male characters; black suits are more widely accepted on women just as black dresses are. Though Bond villains often have exceptional taste and thus don’t dress in black lounge suits, many of them wear a lot of black. Kananga wears a black leisure suit in Live and Let Die, Karl Stromberg dresses in an all-black outfit in The Spy Who Loved Me, Hugo Drax wears a black nehru suit in Moonraker, Max Zorin wears a black riding suit and a black blazer in A View to a Kill, and Elliot Carver wears a black Mao suit in Tomorrow Never Dies. Le Chiffre wears a black shirt with his black velvet dinner jacket in Casino Royale (2006) to add more black to an outfit that tradionally includes a lot of black already.

Le-Chiffre-Velvet-Dinner-Jacket

The average black suiting is a worsted wool woven in a plain weave, which accentuates how dull and flat black can be. Bond’s black suit in Diamonds Are Forever is likely woven in a twill weave to give it more depth. A twill worsted has more sheen than a plain weave worsted, but worsted wool will never have a particularly bold sheen. Bond’s black worsted suit in Spectre has more interest than a standard black suit due to its large herringbone weave, which gives it a subtle self-stripe effect by causing the light to reflect from it in different directions. Dinner suits, morning coats and evening tailcoats are often made from black worsted wools that are woven in a barathea weave, which is a hopsack twill weave. This fancy weave has more depth than standard plain weave and twill worsteds, but it is usually saved for these more formal garments because it is too formal of a cloth for a standard lounge suit.

The black suit from the James Bond dummy in The Man with the Golden Gun breaks away from the standard black worsted by instead being made in a mohair blend. A black mohair and wool blend in a plain weave gives the suit a lot of sheen, which adds life to the ordinarily dull black suit. The black mohair suit is too flashy for a funeral, but it’s makes a decent suit for nights out. Even though the black suit may not be traditional for business, it can be appropriately worn for such as to a fancy dinner, the theatre or the opera. The sheen of mohair is almost necessary for a suit worn for this purpose because it gives black a more luxurious and less funereal look. James Bond, however, prefers suits in more sophisticated dark colours that black in the evening, such as marine blue, charcoal and midnight blue. Midnight blue is a blue so dark that it looks black under artificial lighting, but it has more depth than black. It’s the depth makes midnight blue a more sophisticated choice than black.

Though the black suit can be good for funerals and evenings out, Bond shows that the black suit is never a necessity and that other colours are better choice for most suit-wearing occasions. Grey and blue suits are infinitely more useful and stylish, not to mention more flattering on those with lighter complexions.

34 COMMENTS

  1. I have a very dark blue suit that almost looks black, but black is just too dark. A dark charcoal suit is the best for serious occasions. Matt will we see any more posts of Max Zorin’s clothes from AVTAK ?

  2. From a Trad viewpoint, black suits are to be avoided, however reality proves to be quite contrary. Black business suits are very common in Asia, particularly in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Walk into any boutique or department store in Manhattan, and you’ll see racks of tailoring in black: black suits, black jackets, black trousers, black dress shirts.

    Why is this? It’s because of demand: guys will always buy this. I’ve noticed it’s prevalent with editorial jobs, art-related jobs, and guys who want a suit that can segue into after-hours pursuits. Personally, I’ve purchased and worn a black suit for this reason in my twenties. In recent years, when I started to order tailored clothing from a tailor, I’ve avoided ordering in black because there are so many different colors and cloths to explore and enjoy (not to mention it’s not part of my Bondian ethos of style). As an enthusiast of tailored clothing and James Bond, I’ve moved past black suits, but I acknowledge the black suit’s enduring longevity in cosmopolitan cities.

  3. The ubiquity of this colour for men’s suiting in the last decade or so is only matched by the sheer paucity of imagination which lead to this situation. Many men wear a suit as a chore to their workplace with little interest in its colour or cut. This is the main reason why choices like earth shades for suits have almost disappeared; a suit is worn because they have to and not because, with previous generations, it was how men dressed and dark shades and greys were for business suits and browns like blazers, sports coats were a step down in formality but still part of polite dress.

    As you point out, black during the day was always reserved for funeral wear. However, as protocol of any type has fallen out the window in recent years and black is worn, not alone as the most boring choice imaginable for a lounge suit, but black tie appears during daylight hours as wedding wear!! This is really the pits. These clothes are deemed “evening wear” or a “dinner suit” for obvious reasons.

    • David, I absolutely agree with your comments on wearing Dinner Suits for daytime wedding wear-it shows a total lack of taste!

    • A lot of young men go to the black suit as there first suit. This is generally out of a lack of knowledge and good advice. It always seems to me that a good tailor or even a salesmen in a high end store would steer there customer to a navy or charcoal grey suit for there first suit. My first proper suit was a three button navy two piece with a very fine, hardly noticeable pinstripe. I could wear it for business or even a night out as the pinstripe was hardly there. A knowledgeable sales person at Peter Jackson Menswear in Melbourne said it would be a good first suit.

  4. I suspect that some of the current popularity of black suits may be influenced by John Woo, Quentin Tarantino and especially the aggressive advertising and sponsorship deals of Hugo Boss – the black Boss suit seems to have become the acceptable choice of young men terrified of wearing a suit as they might be viewed as “poncey” or an old man.

  5. Also films like “Men in Black” and “The Blues Brothers” feature guys in black suits.

    I don’t mind them that much – they can work well as a frame for brighter shirts and ties.

    • Good post. At one time I had two black suits and wore them quite often for nights out. They served as a ‘backdrop’ for a lighter coloured shirt but all the above criticisms are legit. I still have one black suit but due to perhaps improvements in my sartorial knowledge and application along with gradual changes in my lifestyle, it doesn’t get much wear these days. I also have a very dark blue suit which if I’m travelling would probably get prioritized over black in the suitcase as it has a bit more versatility.
      I have a hard time distinguishing very dark colours, especially on screen. Daniel Craig’s suit on the train in CR, plus his suits in the taxi and at Greene’s party in QoS all look black or near black to me. Many of Bond’s dinner suits that Matt has discussed and noted as midnight blue look black to me.

      • Differentiating the colours can indeed be difficult on screen, but thankfully there are many better photos of these suits from outside of the films to help distinguish the colours. Within the films, suits that are near black can be compared to suits in the films that actually are black.

  6. Vader looks cool in black. I’ve lived in Japan for 10 years. Cool biz, polyester, matching ties and pocket squares, short sleeves and ties, ankle high socks, and black suits. Uncritical conformity.

  7. Solid black is a horrible color for a lounge suit.
    Is only a sad and cheap uniform.
    In name of God…if one want a dark suit why not charcoal,steel gray,navy or blue midnight??
    And why solid;unless is a flannel,tiny strips,or tiny herringbones are much more elegants!
    Black suits are the plague of modern wardrobe,together the skinny,skimpy and short look.

  8. I agree with David and Carmelo; I would also add that a loud tie looks even more garish with a black suit, while the opposite extreme (black suit/black tie) makes one look like an undertaker.

  9. Today, I find that black suits are most commonly sold by cheap department stores and fashion designers like Hugo Boss and Dolce & Gabanna. It’s a miserable, minimalist look that has (thankfully) fallen out of favor in recent years. In fact, I’m starting to see more and more style-conscious men wearing patterned sports coats. This is a welcome development, and hopefully one that translates in Bond’s next outing.

  10. Matt,

    When you say that black never was worn to the office etc, what time period are you referring to? From the 60s onwards I would agree, but before that the black stroller, grey striped trouser and black bowler hat was de rigeour for bankers and lawyers etc in the city of London was it not (think Mr Banks and colleagues from Mary Poppins)

    S

    • Black mohair is okay, but not ideal. Navy is a much better choice. Black pinstripes are better than solid black since the black is broken up. The stripes on a black suit should be grey since white stripes will be too bold.

  11. I heard that Frank Sinatra said, in an interview, that it was in poor taste to wear suits in anything but black or charcoal at night.

  12. What do you think of a black suit that is a mohair wool blrnd? Because I have a black suit that is mohair and wool blend similar to Roger Moore”s black suit in the end of TMWTGG, and I’m wondering, what ocassions can I wear it? Also what color of shirts and ties can work with that suit?

  13. Can light blue shirts be worn and work with a black mohair suit for evenings out as an alternative besides just plain white or off white shirts? Or are white and off-white ok?

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