Colour is hard to master. Your complexion, the weather, the tube line you ride; all conspire to shift aesthetic harmony in your bedroom mirror to discord in the street. But evict pigments from your looks and suddenly every piece in your wardrobe matches.
Monochrome (in this instance, we mean black and white) is styling sorcery that also sheds pounds – hence its status as fashion week’s unofficial uniform. Make the most of this magic by bringing the penguin aesthetic to every day.
Even if you’re lucky enough to earn your keep in an office with little in the way of a dress code, that’s not exactly carte blanche to lead meetings in gymwear.
Joggers and band tees might not cut it, but a well-fitting white crew neck T-shirt, polo or Oxford button-down paired with cropped black trousers and white trainers (you take care to keep white) will do, says Ryan Lee, stylist at menswear label Harry Stedman.
While your tee and trainers can sit comfortably at the core of this laid-back look year-round, be sure to switch up your slacks as the seasons shift. “In winter, try a wool pair. And in summer, lightweight cotton – although a good pair of chinos will suit most types of weather,” says Lee.
Wearing a black suit may be a potentially bankrupting mistake in business. But that’s not to say your only viable option is navy. Charcoal, particularly darker, almost-black shades, can balance the books between boring and business-appropriate.
You’ll want yours in a slim, not skinny, cut, with a subtle notch lapel – because as much as we’re into wider trouser legs, the boardroom isn’t for birthing (style) trends.
As important as getting your suit’s hex code right is what you combine it with. For an on-point partnership, style your charcoal suit two-piece a classic white formal shirt and either a black or black and white micro-patterned tie to make your pared-back base really pop.
If there’s one thing black does well, it’s make you look smart AF for evening engagements. And while a black suit or tux with a white shirt is the pairing most men lean on, moving to something murdered-out puts you well ahead of the rest.
“My overarching tip for a monochrome look would be black-on-black-on-black,” says Nasif Choudhury, Formalwear Buyer for John Lewis Menswear. “For example, a black suit styled with a black roll neck and worn with black shoes.”
Further tweak your look with texture: a velvet or jacquard blazer adds another layer of luxe, while a standard single-breasted two-piece suit steers minimally classic.
And, finally, use accessories to either keep it all on an even keel, or, as Choudhury suggests, introduce a point of contrast: “I would add a black handkerchief with a white polka dot for some extra flair and style.”
A Night Out
Frustratingly, bar and club dress codes are often anything but black and white. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that one man’s ‘smart’ is another man’s “sorry mate, not tonight”.
Swerve the confusion by steering classic: black and white pieces that toe the line between smart and casual – like a black leather biker or unpadded bomber, slim black denim and a white crew neck tee or button-down – show you’re dressed up to get down.
Still getting grief from the bouncer? Swap the biker for a blazer and your trainers for Derbies. Although, if your chosen watering hole is still enforcing an anti-kicks policy, it could be time to take your custom somewhere less constipated.
Speaking of dress codes, even the seemingly straightforward smart-casual can become complex when colour’s added into the mix: is coral pink dressy or off-duty? And which shades of blue are more business than pleasure?
Save yourself the migraine with a monochrome ensemble instead. A black wool blazer and pair of chalk white chinos (or vice versa) is a clear favourite for when you’re straddling levels of formality.
Wear a tee or shirt underneath, depending on the frequency you want to dial your look to, and punctuate with a pair of minimal leather trainers or Chelsea boots.
As style portmanteaus go, ‘athleisure’ is easily one of the most awkward. The look it refers to, however, is anything but. Slick and simple, athleisure’s signature blend of sporty silhouettes and smarter fabrications is a natural fit for the sleek austerity of monochrome.
Roll out of bed and look money with easy pieces like loopback cotton sweatshirts and hoodies, tapered joggers, lightweight bombers, and trainers – mixing and matching block-colour black and white until you hit your ideal look. Or, step up your game by mixing in asymmetric stripes and graphic patterns.
When The Weather Picks Up
At the core of monochrome’s appeal is that gold dust trait: timelessness. Siphon your look’s colour and you won’t need to bin it entirely once the bad weather abates.
You will, however, need to make some subtle changes, like switching heavier materials for breathable cottons and linens, longer sleeves for shorter sleeves (or expertly rolled sleeves), trousers for shorts, and stowing your socks in preparation for soaring temperatures.
Inspired to make more minimal moves in 2016? Or maybe you know of some failsafe monochrome formulas we haven’t fit in here?
Have your say on black and white below.