Black is the verboten color of Tradsville. It is castigated in “The Official Preppy Handbook,” even though Lisa Birnbach at the time wore black Lacoste polos while working at The Village Voice, just to show that she could be preppy and Downtown, too.
In “Try For Elegance,” the 1957 novel centered around a men’s shop based on Brooks Brothers, a customer requesting a sweater is asked what color, and when he replies black, is given a supercilious glare by the protagonist. It’s a wonder the store even had the color in stock.
And stop in a J. Press store today and you’ll scarcely find the color beyond shoes and belts.
On Tradsville’s blogs and forums black is routinely despised, and there’s a strong correlation between the fervor of condemnation and the number of duck decoys in the decrier’s home. The lone exception is a black knit tie for Ivy purists, and black bit loafers for the prep set. But beyond that, the color is generally regarded as suitable only for a dinner jacket.
When I was in my twenties I wore black often, especially turtlenecks. I was reading a lot of French literature and smoking cigarettes at the time, so you can kind of see why.
Then for many years I too banished it from my closet, but over the past year or so it has gradually crept back in. A lot of it had to do with my interview with Alan Flusser for The Rake, in which the former advocate of a ’30s Apparel Arts approach to dressing revealed his new modern sensibility. Black has a strong element of chic to it, Flusser stated, “and guys who are into tradition… are generally not into chic.”
The above photo shows an array of items I have in black, including tassel and penny loafers, cotton v-neck and cashmere cable sweaters, neckties in silk knit and grenadine, nailhead socks, polka-dot and houndstooth pocket squares, alligator watch strap and belt, and a black and white rep-striped tie bar.
There’s no need to embrace the color black the way I have, but it’s a good idea to forge your own style free from fixed genre parameters. Only then can you be — to use a contradicting metaphor — a parrot among the crows. — CC