Men in Black

I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for the support and kind words that you’ve shown and shared for Old Money Style – The Gentleman’s Edition. I really appreciate it.

We’re off to a great start in the effort to continuously educate and enlighten everyone, especially men, on how easy and economical it is to dress well, Old Money Style.

That said, I wanted to address a change in perspective that I’ve experienced since living here in Paris. It is regarding my opinion of The Black Suit for Men. Living in the states, I was never a fan. Perhaps this was because I was a resident of Los Angeles, City of Angles (not a typo), where every wannabe rock star and mogul-in-training wore a black ensemble with (inevitably) black cowboy boots. It was, to me, the default ensemble if you were genetically predisposed to being unimaginative or just plain lazy when it came to getting dressed.

It was so fatiguing. (The French use the words ‘fatigue’ which means tired, and ‘fatiguant’, with means tiresome. I love that combination and use it often if something or someone is both, simultaneously.) And, having been dyed in the proverbial Old Money Style wool, I favored navy suits, blue blazers, blue oxford button downs, and tan or grey slacks with brown loafers or lace ups.

Black was the sartorial smoke filled back room, filled with gangsters and undertakers. So, so cinematic, but not so practical or tasteful in daily life. A little harsh, if I’m candid.

Au contraire, mon frere, here in Paris. To be clear, Parisians basically live in black. They have, as I might have noted, small apartments, limited closet space, sometimes limited budgets, and a long history of black turtlenecks in which to promote an image of being avant garde, slightly dangerous, possibly intellectual, or simply preoccupied with something profound. So having a wardrobe composed of predominantly (and many times exclusively) black, makes sense. It often means nothing, but it can mean a lot of things.

They wear so much black here that grocery stores sell detergent specifically for formulated for black. Not ‘colors’. Black. Noir.

Coco Chanel invented the Little Black Dress, but that’s only part of it. For some reason, these people are really into black. The black suit, it follows, is the de facto uniform for so many Parisian working men. It is worn by the security guards at the high end boutiques on the rue Saint Honore and by the politicians at the Assemblee Nationale. It is universally worn with a white dress shirt, black tie, and black lace up shoes.

Men get married in the black suit. Men get buried in the black suit. Men accept awards in the black suit. Men accept life sentences in the black suit. Sometimes they shave. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there’s a black necktie with the black suit. Sometimes the collar is worn open. But it is invariably a single breasted, two-button black suit with plain front pants. While the quality of the garments vary, the fit–always slim–does not.

If you are an American at a French dinner party, you may be the only person in attendance who is not dressed, head to toe, in black. Imagine the Addams Family, only more elegant, maybe just as pale, and on the crystal meth diet. That’s the cocktail party and dinner party I’ve walked into on more than ten occasions. My first thought was, Who died? Now my response is, Oh, you’re all Parisians.

Bernard Henri Levy, being Parisian.

That said, over the past three years, I have come to appreciate the simplicity and elegance of the Black Suit, well done. I have been told by one Parisian, discreetly and kindly, that I would look good in a black suit, given the color of my hair. (My hair, what’s left of it, is white. Gee, thanks.) I have also been told recently, by a more serious person, that I’m going to need a black suit in 2020.

I initially thought this might be some coded message, the first hint at my pending induction into a French secret society. But no, it was a straightforward communication from an informed source about a simple reality: the black suit is the appropriate ensemble for so many events and occasions here. At a certain point, it is a necessity in order to socialize in certain circles.

So, perhaps 3 years of Parisian life has worn down my aversion to black. Perhaps I am simply being realistic, polite, and, when in Rome, doing as the Romans do.

Whatever the case, I’ll be back in black, sooner rather than later. We’ll see how it goes.

  • BGT


15 thoughts on “Men in Black

  1. I have always adored a well fitted black suit, only in growing a bit and reading your books have I come to gain an appreciation of the Navy Blazer that my husband prefers. It is delightful to read that there is room each on occasion.

    – Kathleen

  2. BHL is new money and has Jewish roots, so black isn’t a surprising choice. Granted, he wears it well, partly because of his permatan. Plus, it’s Charvet.

  3. “Who died?” I love it. This reminds me of my time living in the East Village where everybody wears all black all the time. Now we live South Florida so almost no black for us, but I still stick with the old money colors: navy blue, forest green, burgundy, khaki and lots of white, especially in the summer. Even here, sometimes I’ll see somebody in a black turtleneck and I always think they look so sophisticated and well dressed. I’m also a fan of those blue and white horizontal striped shirts that you see in Paris.
    Black clothes, white pearls, red wine and blue cheese. The French really know how to live.

  4. I’m bringing a bit of black back into my closet – black jeans specifically – based on your old money style book. I’m also looking for a good black turtleneck to wear with a blazer.

  5. Oh Byron….. I would bet my predominately black winter wardrobe that you would look stunning in black now that your hair color has caught up with mine. Lark xoxo

  6. BHL spoke at my university a few months ago and wore the same ensemble as in the picture above. The only thing about his clothing that seems to change is how he wears his shirt – conservatively buttoned to the throat for his lecture but he has been known to wear it unbuttoned almost to the waist when socialising. Daring for a septuagenarian but he carries it off wonderfully.

    Black can be surprisingly draining for pale complexions. A soft as opposed to blinding white shirt would be a prudent choice with a black suit. Would midnight blue be acceptable instead of black? It is darker than navy but lighter than black. However in the right light it can pass for black but the subtle difference in shade can still make all the difference to a paler complexion.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Elle. I recall one royal who said he preferred his tuxedos to be midnight blue because under certain lights it was ‘blacker than black’. One thing that I have noticed here in France: if you’re going to do that white shirt/black suit thing, both the shirt and the suit must be top-shelf. (BHL is a client of Charvet, so, you know, no worries.) Otherwise, you look like an undertaker who’s misplaced his necktie. – BGT

  7. @Elle – agreed – I’m a huge fan of midnight blue as well. Sid Mashburn frequently mentions navy as his favorite color because it’s the color of the midnight sky. Also blue harmonizes better with green, olive, maroon, purple etc.

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