The Black Lounge
Posted 01 May 2009 - 10:24 PM
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.
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".
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted 01 May 2009 - 11:45 PM
The Journal of Style
Posted 02 May 2009 - 12:15 AM
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:
Australian Labour MPs in 1901:
Not all of them are in black lounges, one is even dressed in a silk faced frock coat.
Posted 02 May 2009 - 06:13 AM
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).
fashpl08.jpg 21.91KB 62 downloads
On this second one, showing fashionable suits, there are clearly some gentlemen in black.
fashpl10.jpg 24.32KB 72 downloads
Just to compare colors, here is the plate for evening wear in the same series.
fashpl05.jpg 26.39KB 68 downloads
I forgot to add that in Japan, a black lounge is called a "director". If _that_ does not mean business, I wonder what does
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
Posted 02 May 2009 - 09:06 AM
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.
Posted 02 May 2009 - 09:13 AM
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.
Posted 02 May 2009 - 07:08 PM
Posted 02 June 2009 - 12:43 PM
It advertises lounge suits of black cheviot, serge and thibet.
Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:33 AM
Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:17 PM
"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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