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Wearing black is a risk for midlife men – here’s how to nail it

Be more Goldblum and less Gervais and Hamill - Getty
Be more Goldblum and less Gervais and Hamill - Getty

There are countless examples of the pin-sharp preciseness that comes with wearing black. Cary Grant leaving Claridge’s in a black coat in the 1950s looked every inch the matinee idol and, of course, James Bond cuts a devastating dash in a noir tuxedo. But be warned, for most men over 40, wearing this shade is trickier than you think.

Unless you’re forever tanned – like the Hollywood actor George Clooney in black suit and shirt combinations – paler skin looks pallid and crepey next to black. Likewise if your hair is a mousey grey rather than bright white, wearing anything black is in danger of draining you. There’s a reason that women, such as Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour at 72, are advised to go lighter in their colours as they age. Dark shades make everything else look stark by comparison. Here are the rules for wearing it.

If you can’t let go of your rocker jacket

Jeff Goldblum - Adrian Edwards/GC Images
Jeff Goldblum - Adrian Edwards/GC Images

Do: Keep things streamlined. Witness Jeff Goldblum with his neat single-breasted style that is neither baggy or tight. A great black leather jacket can be a thing of renegade beauty and speaks to a kind of Mick Jagger-esque two fingers up at a non-conformist approach. But be honest about your shape; a sharp and narrow silhouette is best so only wear it if you’ve kept that whippet-hipped frame.

Don’t: Wear a weathered, faded version if you’re a man of a certain age. A vintage version looks great on a teenager, but runs the risk of looking rather brow beaten on anyone over a millennial threshold. Example: Jeremy Clarkson.

If you’re always in black jeans

Paul Bettany - Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Paul Bettany - Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Do: A dark wash in a straight leg is always classic, or consider a similar shape in white – minimalist but with a certain French insouciance.

Don’t: Go too skinny. While 51-year old actor Paul Bettany looks great in his, they’re a tricky path to tread because of their unforgiving cuts. Narrow black denim is the stuff of Left Bank cool; on anyone other than willowy teenagers they show up every bulge.

If you can’t get through winter without a black overcoat

Bill Nighy - Miles Willis/Getty Images for British Airways
Bill Nighy - Miles Willis/Getty Images for British Airways

Do: Make sure the proportions are correct, as shown by Bill Nighy. Get it right and there’s nothing as elegant as a beautifully-cut black coat. Look for a coat in mohair or dark wool for a touch of formality.

Don’t: Opt for anything that’s oversized or faded; black coats can show up any flakes of white and baggier shapes can look unkempt as they fade.

If you have a penchant for polo necks

Steve Jobs - Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Steve Jobs - Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Do: Look for softer colours such as beige or tan, rather than black. They’re a little more forgiving against older skin tones and grey hair, and a classic crew neck won’t gather at the neck so harshly.

Don’t: Forget the chin issue. Steve Jobs’ Issey Miyake black polo necks have gone down in style history, but they can pinch at the neck, meaning that any double chins or loose skin is all the more visible.

If you’re not going to let go of your trusty black suit

Ian Mckellen - D Dipasupil/FilmMagic
Ian Mckellen - D Dipasupil/FilmMagic

Do: Remember to add colour. While there’s nothing wrong with a well-cut black suit, as you age it’s important to break up the black. Less corporate than navy, a black suit is a palette cleanser in tailoring form. But it’s worth negating its uniformity with something like a jaunty scarf – a trick employed by Sir Ian McKellen.

Don’t: Wear a black suit in its sparest form, unless it’s in a setting such as a funeral. Even the most discreet of accessories – a pocket square, a pair of bright socks – will switch things up. Looking discreet is a good thing, in some situations, but looking invisible is not.