23 November 2012

Reader Questions : Dark Shirts

Reader Stefano writes:

Can a dark shirt be worn with a tie? Long sleeved, that's obvious.

For instance: I own a burgundy OCBD and an olive green, tone-on tone french-cuffed one, both from reputable albeit less-known Italian craftsmen.

I've often read that when a shirt is dark, it can't be worn with a tie, but I've sometimes matched those with a brighter tie and a really dark suit, and they seem to work.

As with most such quandaries in the realm of menswear, there is a short, rule-bound answer and a much longer one involving vague concepts of personal taste and attitude. In this case the short answer is "no". When wearing a coat and tie, it is best to have a light colored shirt. That answer will keep the pedantic rule followers happy.

The long answer is not so simple, and has more to do with a function of personal choice and the situation in which you'll wearing the clothes. In the above photo, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., regarded by many as one of the best dressed men of all time, is seen in a double breasted suit with a black shirt and a tie. I think he pulls it off, but there is a slim possibility that my opinion is being influenced by the fact that its Douglas Fairbanks. I couldn't do this, but maybe you can. In the past I used to try this look occasionally, but remember that my style was a little more garish in my youth then I realized at the time.

I think for serious business or somber occasions, a light shirt with a dark suit and tie is best. It's a tried and true combination that will always be correct. Dark shirts show a greater consciousness of fashion, and as such they are less appropriate for situations where the attention should not be on a mans clothes. However, this is not to reject them out of hand. A dark shirt can give a certain casual air to a suit, if done properly. And a darker shirt with a tweed and corduroys can have it's moments too. If you are going to try this look, my advice would be to avoid sheen at all costs. Stick with matte fabrics that have some texture in the weave so as to invoke a country, weekend vibe. But tread lightly, here. There are a lot of negative connotations that can easily be brought into the mix. Black shirts with suits scream "Mafia" to many people. Guys my age and older still cringe at reminders of the sartorial disaster that was "tone on tone" shirt and tie combinations back in the 1990s.  And there's always the very real risk of looking like a sleazy lawyer.
There is no real right answer to a question like this. There was once, but not anymore. These days, the very fact that you're even asking these kinds of questions and thinking about what you're wearing and how it is perceived puts you far ahead of the pack. Let your own taste, style and level confidence be your guide. Just be careful.

p.s. bet you never would have believed me of I told you I'd tie Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Saul Goodman together on a sartorial matter.


Anonymous said...

I SO agree! It can be done, but its dangerous. And, unfortunately, you won't realize your mistake until you're too far away from home to have enough time to go home and change it.

Young Fogey said...

Wow. Excellent answer, G.

There are those who hold that even French blue is too dark a shade to be worn with a suit & tie. Having said that, I think French blue can work with casual clothes, especially with light-colored pants.

Stefano, I think your shirts are in that odd realm known as "business casual." Tread lightly, and be aware that your shirts, though nice, will be challenging to wear.

Anonymous said...

wrong. I love dark shirts----black, burgundy, dark blue' green. I wear these with dark suits and light suits and sports coats all thw time. If you can't make it work then you havw no business wearing them.
I lovw to mix it up. ;)

Anonymous said...

A dark shirt should only be worn with a shiny white polyester tie.

WDM said...

Oosh, Fairbanks looks pretty poorly in that photo. I think the look has been so poisoned by bad decisions in the 90s as to be largely unworkable.

There's an extremely well-dressed man I see around the courthouse who does wear darker shirts on occasion, but with white collars and cuffs. That seems more doable, though it helps to be a skinny old European man with swagger coming out your ears.

Anonymous said...

The only way I can see wearing a dark shirt with a tie is casually.

Example: Wide wale cords, tweed jacket, dark shirt with a knit or tartan tie.

Roger v.d. Velde said...

I can't imagine that dark shirts ever really work with a tie. Either the tie is too bright and creates the 'gangster' look you mentioned, or the tie is too dark and disappears into a sort of dark, ruffled mess in the vee of your jacket.

On the other hand I find a dark shirt - mainly dark grey to black or dark blue - does work with a mid-grey suit at a party or out on the town. It can look a bit playboy-ish if you're not careful, but a good pochet adds a bit of colour to replace the tie.

That's about all I can do with them. I consider the dark shirt surprise item. Like a dress hat.

Curmudgeon said...

The best accompaniment for a dark shirt:


Rubbish said...

Black shirts, brown shirts; you fellows are probably all too young to remember, but I think best not these days.

Anonymous said...

I've read a number of articles explaining how to mix different patterns and colors. Those made sense and were helpful because they explained HOW patterns/colors clash or complement one another.

This seems more like an opinion than an explanation (e.g., dark shirts don't work because I say so). The exception being the warning not to dress like a ganster--which evokes the image of a dark shirt with a light suit.

So why exactly doesn't a dark shirt work with a tie? Why is it a "disaster" or "dangerous" to wear one?