Real People: The Very Useful Black Sweater

November 9, 2020

Real People: The Very Useful Black Sweater

One of our readers, Gerry in Melbourne, took our advice last week and bought a black sweater. As a color, black has traditionally been shunned in classic men’s dress. Black suits are for morticians. Black dress shirts are déclassé. And black leathers don’t acquire the patina that makes a pair of well-polished, well-worn brown leather shoes so handsome. In fact, giving up square-toed black shoes in favor of more anatomically correct brown ones became something of a rite of passage for well-dressed men. And in binning those shoes, many have learned to avoid black entirely.

To be sure, some of those rules are sensible. Suits are typically easier to wear in navy or gray, rather than black, and black dress shirts are questionable at best. But as men have become more comfortable with fashion, black has seen a resurgence. It’s a color that connotes mystery, sophistication, and perhaps even a little edge. And for those reasons, black persists in menswear.

I find I rely on a lot of black clothing nowadays. Black leather jackets are a favorite, particularly Margiela’s five-zip (a slightly fashion-forward jacket, but easy to wear and has been around since the early aughts). I also often wear black shoes, including black Blundstone bootsblack side-zips, and black Brooks Brothers tassel loafers (the ones made by Alden before they discontinued the model). Slim black jeans are also surprisingly versatile, particularly if your wardrobe heavily leans towards the olives and blues found in workwear. Additionally, I like black button-up shirts this time of year, but in more casual materials such as flanneldenim, and chamois, rather than dressy poplins.



If you’re looking to incorporate the color into your wardrobe, however, there’s no better place to start than a simple black sweater. A black knit will go with anything: offbeat Japanese workwear, contemporary labels, and even a health chunky of classic men’s clothing. The great thing about black knitwear is that it forms a visual void, helping your outerwear “pop.” You often see this done in runway shows, where designers and stylists will use black knitwear to help highlight a piece of outerwear coming down the catwalk.

In the photo above, Gerry is wearing an all-black outfit, but in a way that feels classic. The Shetland is from Jamison’s, the moleskin shop coat from JeansDA, the jeans from Orslow, white shirt from Orslow, and unlined suede boots from Christian Kimber x Eidos. “The sweater isn’t pure black when seen up close, but it resolves to black from a distance,” he tells me. “What I’m finding is that, if black is the dominant color in an outfit, then black or white footwear seems to be the way to go. But when black isn’t the main ingredient, you can wear shoes in other colors, such as brown.”

Black Shetlands will probably be your most versatile option, although Shetland yarns are a bit scratchy and will need to be layered over long-sleeved shirts. Our sponsor Proper Cloth has some refined cashmere black knits this season, which can be layered under sport coats or casualwear. If your style leans more casual, a black cotton sweatshirt can be worn with olive bomber jackets, denim truckers, and French chore coats. You can try shopping around at Unrecorded, Blank Expression, Strike Gold, Merz B. Schwanen, 3sixteen, Todd Snyder, and J. Crew for various options. Aime Leon Doré has black waffle knits this season. For something cozy, try the mock-necks and turtlenecks from Drake’s, John Smedley, Anglo Italian, GRP, and Margaret Howell.

One of my favorite black sweater ensembles is this one on 3sixteen co-founder Andrew Chen, who’s wearing a black knit with a Schott B-3 sheepskin bomber and, of course, 3sixteen jeans. Andrew tells me he prefers cotton knits because he finds wool to be too itchy against bare skin. So this season, his company made a half-cardigan stitch cotton sweater in all-black. It strikes just the right balance between plainness, comfort, and texture, and has a bit more body and resilience than cotton Shaker knits. You can layer it under waxed cotton Barbours, vintage Lee denim truckers, or just wear it on its own with jeans, as 3sixteen styled it in their lookbook.