For the past year now, I’ve been suffering from a bit of conversational deja vu. Every few days or so I keep getting caught in these identical discussions wherein I’ll tell someone that I don’t own a single item of black clothing and they’ll proceed to tell me in so many words that I’m insane. For the first few months that I had these sorts of conversations I felt some form of superiority over whoever I was talking to, as if my choice to abstain from wearing black somehow made me better than them. There were even times where I’d go as far as to say that wearing black was lazy, a shortcut to looking well-dressed.
I suppose you could blame this all on the blogosphere, as the whole no black rule has become one of the quickest ways to prove you “know what you’re talking about.” And yet I can’t help but wonder why? I feel as if I, like so many others, am simply snubbing black for the sake of it. But, much the same way that I’ve recently become fascinated by Birkenstocks (before you jump down my throat, I don’t plan on pulling the trigger on those any time soon) lately I’ve been wondering how black could actually work into my own wardrobe, because after all it’s only natural to be drawn to things you once spurned.
The answer came to me in a series of three. First, it was the above photo of the Beatles, particularly George Harrison in one of my favorite color combinations. It’s Harrison’s black knit tie that pulls everything together reflecting the darkness of his odd trousers, while contrasting the neutrality of his jacket and club-collared shirt. From there I looked to another fixture of the sixties, James Bond. During my time in Maryland, I took a trip down to the District and stopped into the Spy Museum to take a look at an exhibit on the villains of the James Bond movies (which, to deviate here for a moment, is an incredible exhibit and well worth going to if you’re in DC.) While walking through that exhibit I couldn’t help but notice how Sean Connery, during his days as Bond, also heavily favored the dark knit tie. In early Bond films such as Dr. No, From Russia with Love and other early films, Connery would often wear a medium grey suit, with a white shirt, and a black knit tie. In contrast to a solid navy suit and tie, Bond’s outfit was intended to draw attention to him on the screen, using the black knit, grey flannel combination as a way to instantly show the complexity of his character.
That final step in my acceptance of black, came while I was killing time at my parent’s house, and found this photo of Beppe Modenese, the founder of Milan Fashion Week in the Sartorialist’s archives. Modenese is well known for his penchant for knit ties, but it’s this photo from five years ago, showing Modenese in a gauzy black knit with his signature pin through the middle that shows the strength of black working against the navy of his suit and his red socks. As I scanned through more photos of the black knit ties, I began to understand black as a counterbalance. It all alludes back to the mid-century look that was embraced by the Beatles, Jazz musicians, and James Bond alike. They were taking from trad and Savile Row alike, but the black tie was their way to add that hard edge, capturing the intensity of the era and making themselves stand out. Particularly for those of us that don’t wear a lot (if any) black to begin with, a black knit tie works against expectations to show how the absence of color can add more character than loud tones ever could.