How the Black Dress Shirt Became a Celebrity Favorite
ILLUSTRATOR MIKE KIM
"Wearing [black] still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.”
That sound bite comes courtesy of Johnny Cash, the Man in Black himself. And while it no doubt buttresses the tropes of expected rockstar styling, it also prompts a few questions: If, sartorially, black is oft considered rebellious, then why is it also (and as often) deemed universal? Sure, it’s a rebuff of the conventional in that it connotes toughness, maybe angst, maybe doom. But it can also be argued that black simply is convention—far, far more men have items of clothing that are black than, say, canary yellow or fuchsia. It’s barbed and omnipresent, in tandem. And this is the confounding thing about the color: When worn, black seems to hold a wider range of signals than other chroma. Loud rebel to low-key regular guy and back again–but therein lies its chameleonic appeal.
One arena in which we’re seeing an uptick in the use of the color black: Celebrities wearing black dress shirts. Once sequestered to awkward prom looks and cater waiters, the garment now seems–suddenly, improbably–chic.
At Ralph Lauren’s recent California show, Ben Affleck was seen wearing a black dress shirt under a black notched lapel jacket, complete with a black melange tie (one would assume each item was RL-branded). At the premiere of Tulsa King in New York City, Garrett Hedlund sported a black-on-black Prada suit. Adrien Brody blended a peak-lapel tuxedo with a black shirt and bowtie at the Academy Museum Gala in Los Angeles, and Rami Malek wore a black-on-black structured suit to the London premiere of Amsterdam. The list of such sightings over the past few weeks goes on.
The motive here does not seem to be overtly rebellious, especially considering the wider margins men have explored with red carpet risk-taking in recent years. What there is, however, is a subtle bit of subversion without coloring (or not coloring) too far outside the lines. Given that 99 percent of the time a tuxedo or suit is paired with a white shirt beneath, there is some defiance in rendering the opposite.
“Personally, I love an all-black look, especially in formalwear,” says the stylist Edward Bowleg. Bowleg has dressed Tom Brady and Kylian Mbappé for magazine covers, and styled everything from Valentino campaigns to Prabal Gurung shows. “I think it is an easy way to ‘stand out’ from everyone else in the room wearing a traditional white shirt, without being loud. It is understated.”
This sentiment is echoed by Tiffany Briseno, who styles Shawn Mendes and works with Angus Cloud, among many others. “No question, a full [black] tonal look is a great way of elevating any outfit. An all black formal fit is not only sleek, it also has a contemporary approach. [You’re seeing] runway collections, like Valentino fall/winter 2022, that have a whole section of the show dedicated to the color. Runways are proving how chic the moment is.”
One extra-notable example of a black formal shirt comes courtesy of Timothée Chalamet. This is not surprising. The actor has a track record of pushing established menswear boundaries and, in doing so, has registered some of the most memorable male red carpet looks of 2022.
At a photocall for his most recent movie Bones and All, Chalamet donned a sleeveless, draped, sash-tied and tonally striped noir shirt from Saint Laurent. The muted sheen of the top paired well against the shinier–and also black–leather of his trousers, and matched, in an elevated way, his Bones and All role’s broodiness (his character is a cannibal, after all).
Chalamet’s fit won’t be for everyone, but there’s a balance in it that Briseno says is an important consideration for guys hoping to demo the concept. “When creating an all black look, make sure you are mixing textures and fabrics. For example: leather with denim. This will make [the outfit] pop, rather than fall flat on the body.”
Of course, there are more traditional stylistic roads, which will be what most will take. At the film premiere of Devotion in Los Angeles recently, the actors Glen Powell, Jonathan Majors and Michael B. Jordan deftly exhibited how to wear the black shirt in three sharp–yet safe–ways. Majors buttoned his to the top. Powell had a matching knit tie. And Jordan kept it on the casual side with an opened up collar.
Bowleg thinks the aesthetic is “very easy” for men to pull off in the everyday. “I’d say skip the tie, and leave the top two buttons open. It makes [the look] feel less fussy, but still pulled together.”
And, if mulling over where to begin piecing it all together, each suggests their go-to’s. Bowleg cites Brioni, Celine, The Row and Prada, and Briseno adds Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons. There are non-designer options, too: Theory makes a great option, and Nordstrom’s in-house label has one for under $100. The ultimate, though? Both stylists recommend Saint Laurent. “Saint Laurent has shown us [something],” says Briseno. “That black is always a great idea in any context or setting.”
From: Esquire US