Want to wear all-black but not sure how to make it work? Read this guide!
Black is one of the most contentious colors in menswear.
You’ll often hear conflicting sentiments when it comes to the color black in a man’s wardrobe.
Some style aficionados claim that black “goes with everything” and is the most versatile color a man could wear. Others argue that black is too stark for everyday clothing and should be reserved only for formal wear.
As with most polarized opinions, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
While it’s true that black isn’t as versatile as navy or charcol grey, it still deserves a place in your closet.
Here’s how to wear black well.
Tips for Wearing All-Black
When I say “all-black” I don’t necessarily mean “all-black”. What I’m really referring to are outfits consisting of “black with variations of grey” or even “very dark monochromatic” looks.
This leads me to my first tip:
Tip #1: Wear Different Shades of Black / Grey
Wearing jet black everything, especially without much change in texture between pieces is rarely, if ever a good idea.
The problem is that the eyes of onlookers will have nothing to grasp onto besides your exposed skin — often just your face and hands.
While Steve Jobs famously used this optical trick to his advantage when presenting new gadgets by blending into the background, it’s almost never an optimal sartorial move.
Instead, you can opt for dark monochromatic ensembles that use black as a base but incorporate other shades or colors.
Black tie, for instance, doesn’t call for an all-black uniform — a tux must be worn with a white shirt.
Grey jeans with charcoal-grey suede chukkas and a black suede bomber is a more interesting fit than a jet-black leather jacket with solid black jeans, a nearly-black shirt, and black boots.
See the difference?
Tip #2: Choose Quality Materials
For whatever reason, cheap black fabrics are easy to spot.
They often look lifeless somehow (often because cheap dyes can fade significantly after just one or two washes). Better quality clothing will often be able to last longer without noticeable color loss.
Inevitably, however, all colors fade over time. Unfortunately, black doesn’t fade as gracefully as most others.
When black fades it most often looks like — well — dull, faded black, instead of a chic shade of grey.
A cotton/acrylic sweater, for instance, is probably going to look dull and faded faster than will a Merino wool one.
Similarly, while even inexpensive deep indigo blue jeans fade gracefully over time, poor-quality jet-black jeans will soon look shabby and worn out.
Black suits or tuxedos made out of polyester can look cheap and even “costumeish,” but when made out of fine wool they can look stunning.
Tip #3: Don’t Wash Too Much
Speaking of fading, to prevent it don’t wash your black clothing too frequently!
I’ve found the best way to prevent fading of casual black clothing is to wash it in cold water with like colors and hang dry.
Suits and tuxedos should be dry cleaned only when noticeably soiled. Most people that I know that have higher-end suits only dry clean them when absolutely necessary.
Tip #4: Add Texture
Wearing black, all-black can look rather plain. It can help to incorporate fabrics with more texture. When thinking about texture, think about how a fabric feels. You could say that the more distinct it feels in your hands, the more texture it has.
For example, a suede leather jacket has more texture than a cotton bomber and a thick, chunky shawl-neck sweater has more texture than a regular pullover sweater.
Tip #5: Wear Accessories
Often, I like the simplicity an all-black look provides. Sometimes, however, I want to add some visual intrigue.
Wearing a watch, bracelet, or necklace can help you look more put-together and polished.
Personally, I prefer silver-toned metal accessories.
Tip #6: Ask Yourself, “Is It Appropriate for the Occasion?”
As I alluded to in the introduction, an all-black outfit isn’t the right choice for every occasion.
While all-black might work for slick urban concerts or walks on dark winter nights, it’s probably not the best color palate for a summer picnic or a job interview.
Instead of black, consider light neutral colors for picnics, and a conservative navy or grey business suit with a dark-colored tie for an interview.
Whether it be a date, a work function, or a significant milestone in your life, before dressing for an important event ask yourself, “Is my clothing appropriate for the occasion?”
Tip #7: Avoid Black Dress Shirts
Black dress shirts are something that celebrities wear all the time that doesn’t really work in real life.
Having black as your inner layer is bold because, as a general rule, your outermost layer should be the darkest. However, when you’re starting with a black dress shirt as a base, there’s no leeway in what to layer on top — if you’re following the rules, everything would have to be black.
The problem is, a black suit isn’t a classic color for a business suit, and wearing a true dress shirt with a more casual jacket looks “off” most of the time.
The traditional “black suit” is a tuxedo, and a tux must be worn with a white shirt.
For these reasons and more, avoid black dress shirts.
The Dark, Minimalist Wardrobe
If you love the dark, monochromatic aesthetic, you can create an entire minimalist wardrobe that’s almost completely devoid of color (here’s an example of how to curate a monochromatic pants collection).
For some, dressing without incorporating lots of colors may seem dull, to others it is freeing.
Last winter I was traveling for several months. I brought along a small, dark monochromatic wardrobe. I liked how interchangeable everything was and how I didn’t stand amid somber Northern European crowds.
For one thing, utilizing grey man tactics to blend into the crowd, particularly in unfamiliar places, can help you to stay safe by avoiding drawing attention to yourself as an “outsider.”
However, sticking solely to a black and grey color palate would look out of place in many places in the world. For the vast majority of men, a wardrobe consisting of primarily neutral colors over solely dark monochromatics will be the best option.
For more info on how to build a minimalist wardrobe, check out our complete guide.
18 All-Black Outfit Ideas
Here are 18 examples of how to wear all-black. Notice that many outfits aren’t really “all-black,” but rather “mostly black” or “dark monochromatic.”
These examples are arranged roughly from the most casual to the most formal.
Dark Gym Outfit
When you’re headed to the gym, consider wearing dark clothes without any graphics or logos.
Then again, if there’s one place to wear a good graphic tee, the gym is it.
Grey Button-Down With Shades
A medium-dark button-down is a great alternative to a long sleeve tee. It’s still super casual, but the collar adds helps to frame your face and make you look a little more put together.
Rolling up your sleeves makes you look even more relaxed.
While I prefer wearing a wool overcoat during the winter, I think it’s essential to have a warm parka if you live somewhere truly cold.
I really like this N-3B parka from Alpha Industries.
Grey Tee, Black Jeans
Black jeans and a grey tee are an underrated combo.
The grey shirt breaks up the otherwise uniformly black outfit.
Dark Green Polo With Black Jeans and Chukkas
This dark green polo almost looks black.
When paired with black jeans, it makes for an interesting monochromatic look.
Dark Green Polo With Faded Black Jeans and
This fit is similar, but here the jeans are faded black and the Chelsea boots have been swapped out for some German Army Trainers.
Here’s a great example of how to dress in dark colors on a casual day off.
Suede Jacket, Suede Boots
Here I’m wearing a thrifted black goat-skin suede bomber from All Saints, a pair of grey/black 511 Levi jeans, and charcoal grey Scout chukkas from Thursday Boots.
This dark, sporty look reminds me of something Tom Cruise would wear in Mission Impossible.
As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, we’re wearing almost exactly the same thing.
Dark Brown Leather Jacket, Blue Jeans, and Brown Chukkas
Now let’s turn to something with a bit more color variation but that still keeps things subdued and understated.
Look how well deep indigo blue jeans, grey suede Chelseas, a grey tee, and a dark brown leather jacket go together.
This is an alternative to the grey-scale black leather jacket look in the previous example.
Dark Autumn Flannel
Despite what you may have heard, black and navy can work together.
Here a navy field jacket and navy suede boots go perfectly with the dark patterned flannel shirt and middle-layer vest.
Dark Business Casual (No Jacket)
No need to eschew your dark monochromatic preferences at your business casual workplace.
In this setting, consider choosing dark neutrals over pure black.
All-Black Under A Light-Colored Overcoat
As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to have your inner layers lighter-colored than your outer layers. This is an example of breaking the rules done right.
It’s a bold look, but it definitely works. The contrasting coat buttons are a nice detail.
Black Overcoat, Grey Casual Button Down, and Black Jeans
Now for a more subdued overcoat pairing. This is my go-to get-up for winter travel.
The overcoat, jeans, and combat boots are all rugged but presentable enough to get by in most any situation I find myself in.
Black Dress Shirt Executed Well
As I mentioned before, black dress shirts are hard to pull off well.
Here Tom Cruise makes it work by pairing it with a dark, notched-lapel suit. (Being a movie star doesn’t hurt either).
Dark Monochromatic: A Suit Paired With a Turtleneck
Consider trying an all-navy outfit instead of all-black.
A navy suit, navy turtleneck, and black dress shoes all work together to create a sleek outfit perfect for a night on the town.
Black Everything With a Turtleneck and Coat
Or, if you must, go all-black.
This is a textbook example of how to look the part of an intellectual, especially when combined with bold glasses.
Dressed Up Black Leather Jacket
Now from “chic architect” we move on to “Bond villain.” Honestly, though, this is a killer outfit.
I think the burgundy brogues are an unusual choice here, but they work somehow.
The quintessential all-black ensemble is the classic tuxedo.
Black tie, black suit, black shoes, and, traditionally, black shirt studs and cufflinks. The only non-black components are a crisp white dress shirt and a pocket square.
Midnight Blue Tuxedo
According to tradition, a midnight blue tux is meant to look “darker than black” under artificial light.
It’s a great alternative to a classic black tuxedo, just make sure that it’s a very dark blue as fashion-forward lighter-colored navy tuxedos are to be avoided.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wearing All-Black
Here are answers to some common questions people have about wearing black:
How to wear all-black?
Consider wearing shades of grey with black to create a more interesting outfit than having each piece of clothing be jet black. Be conscious of the fit of your clothes, incorporate texture, and add a few (1-3) accessories to your look.
How to wear all-black in the summer?
You can wear black in the summer but you’ll feel cooler wearing lighter-colored clothing because black absorbs heat.
How to wear a black suit?
I’d generally recommend avoiding black suits as they are more difficult to match than charcoal grey or navy suits and don’t work well with many men’s skin tones. Black suits are also seen as too somber for many occasions.
However, black suits are more accepted in certain circles, such as among clergymen and those working in the funeral industry.
While black business suits aren’t the best, tuxedos are typically black in color.
Should I wear a black suit to an interview?
Probably not. You’d be better off wearing a navy or charcoal suit instead.
How to wear a black dress shirt?
Black dress shirts, while popular on the red carpet, aren’t a good choice for the vast majority of guys. Opt for a white or light blue dress shirt instead.
There you have it — how to wear all-black. As for how to avoid looking like a vampire, get some sun and lay off the fake blood 😄!
While all-black taken literally can indeed look pretty intense, the sometimes bold choice to wear dark monochromatic clothing can be tempered by incorporating dark colors and/or shades of grey.
When it comes to menswear, black isn’t as versatile as you might think. Although navy, olive, grey, and brown are better equipped to clothe the modern man, black still deserves a place in every man’s wardrobe.
Do you like dressing in all-black? If so, how do you pull it off? Let me know in the comment section.