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Tailoring always comes with plenty of rules to follow, but even with these a black suit can be can be a tricky thing to get right. And it’s pretty unforgiving if you get it wrong. It can either look sophisticated and suave or cheap and unflattering, and there are definite rules regarding when and where you can wear it. If you’re suddenly panicking about that black suit hanging in your wardrobe, read on for some advice of how and when best to wear it.

When to wear it

The simplest rule – and probably the most important – is that you should never wear a black suit as office wear. Black suits just don’t work well in daylight. It’s all too easy for them to look washed-out and lifeless, or just cold and stark. They’re also harder to coordinate with accessories, as different black fabrics that look perfectly fine indoors can look remarkably different out in daylight. A blue or grey suit is your best bet when it comes to officewear.

On the positive side, black is fantastic for evening wear, and a black suit has a classic and elegant sophistication in more subtle light. Not every black suit is the same, spend some time thinking about what occasions you need it for, a shawl lapel for instance is perfect for black tie or a peak lapel jacket for a standout look. More conventional suits with a peak or notch lapel are more suited to sombre formal occasions, and should not be worn to a wedding.

What to wear

Formal

To nail the formal look, a black suit can be surprisingly adaptable. If you don’t want to fork out for a tux, you can style up a regular black suit with a plain-fronted white dress shirt and a bow tie. Or go with a slim black tie for an effortlessly cool formal look – think Reservoir Dogs.

As long as it’s not an overly traditional event, you could also opt for the monotone look. This is a trickier style to pull off, but it can look very sophisticated when done right. The trick is to choose different textures of black, such as a silk tie and pocket square along with high-shine patent leather formal shoes to match a black suit and black cotton shirt.

Smart casual

A black suit can also be useful for more relaxed affair, but again this is strictly for evenings only. Pair your black suit jacket with dark jeans and a grey t-shirt for an effortless but stylish look. You could also try light grey chinos and a white shirt. Pair with smart boots or classy trainers depending on where you’re planning to go.

In cooler weather you could also pair a black jacket with some stylish knitwear, such as a turtleneck jumper in a neutral shade, or a light cardigan.