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The Black Lounge


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#1 Sator

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Posted 01 May 2009 - 10:24 PM

Black lounge suits are universally acknowledged to be ubiquitously worn today as business attire in all parts of the world. However, it is often stated on internet fora that there is a Timeless Rule of Dress stating that the black lounge suit is unsuitable other than for funerals, chauffeurs, and ministers of religion. The most famous of these discussion comes from Style Forum:

http://www.styleforu...read.php?t=8221

However, most of those who proscribe this alleged Rule are American and the possibity that a regional difference between Britain and the Commonwealth, Europe and the US exists has not been explored. Textual references were sought looking for evidence that such a Rule ever existed was sought.

British Texts

Firstly, here are the British texts that are of most relevance.

1. Whife (ed.): The Modern Tailor Outfitter and Clothier. London, 1949

The following section was written by Bridgland and modified by Whife:



While it is mentioned that if the lounge coat is black that the trousers should be a black-and-white stripe or check, no specific mention of a ban on matching black trousers in any circumstance is mentioned.

A whole chapter in volume II is devoted to "Colour in Men's Wear" written by Robert Wilson, FRSA (Art Director, British Colour Council). He mentions no ban on black lounge suits, but states that:

With a black suit white usually looks best, for it provides the strongest contrast.

The type of suit is not specified (eg dress suit, mourning suit, dinner suit, lounge suit), but it is presumed to denote a lounge suit.

2. Devereaux, GRM. Etiquette for Men. London, 1929



Again, when the lounge coat is made up as a suit it is stated that it should be of "dark material", but no specific ban on matching black trousers is mentioned.

3. Barney, Sydney. Clothes and the Man: A Guide to Correct Dress for all Occasions. London , 1951



No mention of black lounge coats or suits in the section on "Business and Day Wear in Town".

American Texts

Next, we will examine American texts of interest.

1. Harcourt, Charles. The Blue Book of Etiquette, Philadelphia, 1905




The absence of any mention of any ban on black "sack suits" is conspicuous.

2. Bacharach, Bert. Right Dress: Success Through Better Grooming. New York, 1955.



It is noticeable that while blue, grey and brown lounge suits are mentioned in the context of business wear, black lounge suits do not even get a mention. No ban is specifically described anywhere in the book.

German Texts

German texts remain silent. Das Schneiderhandwerk, 1958 mentions no specific colours for lounge suits, although it states that for business the suit should be of "dark colour". However, a kleinen Besuchsangzug is mentioned (minor visiting dress - as opposed to great visiting dress, or formal morning dress) consisting of a lounge or reefer jacket worn with striped formal trousers. No ban on black lounge suits for general wear is mentioned.

Widespread Silence

The numerous other texts for cutters and tailors I own (found in the various Bibliography threads) fail to mention any specific ban on black lounge suits for general wear. I have also consulted other etiquette books such as Bolton, Troubridge, Ogden Stewart, and costume history books such as those by the Cunningtons, Byrde, Beard, MacKrell, von Boehm, Laver, and de Marly. They all remain silent on the subject.

Most of the above texts specifically mention black as a suitable colour for formal morning and evening dress.

Conclusions:

Results were inconclusive. A categorical imperative is often issued stating the general wearing of black lounge suits is "Against The Rules", and it is further claimed that this Rule is grounded on longstanding tradition. Unfortunately, little evidence of such a tradition could be found. The closest thing to such a Rule is the recommendation found in Whife/Bridgland stating that if a lounge coat is black, the trousers should be a black-and-white stripe or check. The absence of any mention of a ban in any etiquette book is striking. While it is possible that the stated Rule was so obvious as to not need to be mentioned in any etiquette book, one would have supposed that the raison d'etre of such books is to make explicit what is usually unspoken and implicity understood. Admittedly, the specific stipulation of the colour black only tends to occur with respect to formal dress. The striking absence of the discussion of black lounge suits does imply that they were not usual throughout most of the twentieth century, however, this does not itself constitute definitive evidence of a categorical ban on black lounges suits for general wear. Nor could clear regional differences could be identified. More published texts from the 1920s-1970s should be examined to determine if a clear ban on black lounge suits for general wear was ever put to print.

Discussion:

I would suggest that while it can be said that the wearing of matching black trousers with a lounge suit has not been usual practice through most of the twentieth century, little evidence exists that it was ever categorically considered "Against The Rules" as is often stated on internet fora today. Nonetheless, it has been said that black does not suit every complexion, especially in the stronger light of day. Trinny Woodhall and Susannah Constantine summarise it well:



The modern resurgence of the fashion to defaulting to a Victorian black, a colour that is often said to only suit a small proportion of complexions, tends to result in a dreary uniformity. In Dicken's David Copperfield, the villain Uriah Heep is described as being clad in "decent black", as by the mid Victorian era black had become the uniform of middle class businessmen. The widespread adoption of the informal lounge suit (once reserved for country and beach resorts only) in the twentieth century appears to have brought with it greater colour, variety, freedom, and a rebellion against the oppressive uniformity of Victorian "decent black" - black morning, frock or even lounge coat worn with black silk topper. It remains curious that our present age, that so prides itself in greater social liberties, should also have overseen the return of Victorian conformity and the widespread return of "decent black" business attire.

#2 Gruto

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Posted 01 May 2009 - 11:45 PM

Diana De Marly's Fashion for Men: An Illustrated History states that English socialists / Labour Party members once favored a black lounge suit. If this is true, it could explain why the black suit is considered to be such a dubious thing smile.gif
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#3 Sator

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 12:15 AM

Yes, I was going to mention that but it slipped me.

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Dianna de Marly also mentions Bernard Shaw in this context. Shaw decried evening clothes as "class livery", and would get involved in rows at the opera or theatre for turning up in his day clothes. The Socialists apparently wore double breasted suits with black reefer jackets and a tweed cap. Keir Hardie was the first to appear so attired in parliament. Gentlemen in the country sent Hardie top hats and orders on their tailors to get him a frock coat, but Hardie refused to wear such clothes. The black suit became the uniform of the Labour MP. However, Australia elected a Labour government before the Motherland, and Prime Minister Chris Watson visited Hardie dressed in his black lounge suit in 1907:

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Australian Labour MPs in 1901:

Posted Image

Not all of them are in black lounges, one is even dressed in a silk faced frock coat.

#4 le.gentleman

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 04:18 AM

In an issue of the Herrenjournal, a German magazine, of the 50s I found a short article about being "dressed". There, wearing a single breasted day-suit / coat is considered to be properly dressed.



#5 Nishijin

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 06:13 AM

I favor myself black for evening wear or special occasions, but I do not understand this ban on black for business cloth. Once upon a time, adequate business attire was the frock coat, which was black. A few decades later, I dare think that what Americans call the stroller, now considered as an extinct equivalent of the tuxedo for day wear, was called in the City the black lounge, which was much more a clerck's attire than a formal dress. This is indeed what Whife describes saying that a black lounge or reefer are informal, and should be worn with striped or checked trousers (and not trousers from the same cloth as the coat).
Sator published some very good articles on that point, I remember.

The reason why I despise black for business (and in general for day wear) is that it recently became quite a uniform in business district, and I like wearing colors, especially from spring to autumn. But I see nothing wrong to black for business, and do not understand the rationals based on "Tradition".

Here are two plates dated 1915-1916. The first one shows business suits : he gentleman on the right seems to be wearing black (there is water damage on the plate, it could be charcoal grey).
Attached File  fashpl08.jpg   21.91KB   62 downloads

On this second one, showing fashionable suits, there are clearly some gentlemen in black.
Attached File  fashpl10.jpg   24.32KB   72 downloads

Just to compare colors, here is the plate for evening wear in the same series.
Attached File  fashpl05.jpg   26.39KB   68 downloads


EDIT :
I forgot to add that in Japan, a black lounge is called a "director". If _that_ does not mean business, I wonder what does happy.gif
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#6 Sator

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 09:06 AM

The expression "director's suit" is American English, although rarely used these days.

The English traditionally regarded a black lounge (always a lounge and never a reefer) worn with striped or checked black-and-white trousers to be another equally informal way of wearing a lounge coat. Note that Devereaux recommends it for "young men".

It is only in American English that it is given a special name, as though it were somehow set apart from a lounge suit (with matching trousers). This same trend is seen in German (I don't know about French), when it is called a "kleinen Besuchsanzug" or "Stresemann". This may reflect the fact that a lot of American tailors were Central European immigrants. American and German texts also imply that it was acceptable to wear a black reefer jacket (DB Sakko/sack coat) in this way.

#7 Sator

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 09:13 AM

http://img8.imageshack.us/img8/9342/blacksuit.jpg


Once again, there is nothing in there about black lounge suits, only of the "kleinen Besuchsanzug". This is fairly typical of what I find. No Verbot on the black lounge suit is mentioned.

#8 Frog in Suit

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Posted 02 May 2009 - 07:08 PM

My own, completely unscientific unsure.gif , impression is that a black lounge suit, including black trousers, would indicate that the wearer is a clergyman (with the proper collar and shirt) or possibly a chauffeur (with a cap). My observation would apply only to the current period, post WWII, until the time (when?) when a black lounge became a fashion item. But then, I know nothing about fashion....
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#9 Sator

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 12:43 PM

Here is an interesting American ad from New York, 1915:



It advertises lounge suits of black cheviot, serge and thibet.

#10 yachtie

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:33 AM

Solid black as business wear has really taken off here in the States. It is most prevalent amongst women who, for whatever reason, see it as a "power" color. I think menswear has followed the women in this one, especially among the younger set. IMHO, I still think that absent a colored stripe or overcheck, black is not really a suitable business color (although some charcoals are pretty close to black).

#11 Sator

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Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:17 PM

From Minister's Gazette, August, 1914 (London). A black vicuna lounge cut "shorter and closer fitting":



"There is no striking novelty in the matter of style, but many people are taking to the double-breasted vest as a relief from the single-breasted no-collar style which has had such a long run. The style shown on tis plate comes to a point at the lapel seam, and is finished with a deep step roll."

Personally, I am beginning to wonder if the ban on the black "sack suit" is an American thing. For a long time Brooks Brothers avoided black for its "sack suits" (American English for lounge suit) as a sign of respect for the assassination of President Lincoln.






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