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British Life

James Bond in a black suit in Camino Royale

James Bond

The Suit

“Black became the predominant color of men’s clothes on the Continent of Europe after the third decade of the nineteenth century. . . .The wearing of the black was neither a foreign imposition nor a sign of mourning. It was a spontaneous homage. . .The black suit was merely a symbol, a tacit admission of British supremacy in almost all fields, with the exception of abstract philosophy, music, cuisine, and love-making. . .” (Luigi Barzini, The Europeans).

Writers get carried away sometimes, but you'll have noticed that Barzini kept a few crucial fields out of British hands. There was, in fact, an indelible reason for the rise of the black suit, aside from the crucial fact that a black suit flattered a man by creating a body-slimming silhouette and was practical since it concealed dirt.

This was the fact that it had been worn by the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo when he met Napoleon and defeated him once and for all. Napoleon and his marshals were all dressed like peacocks on the field. Wellington wore a simple black civilian hunting coat. The battle appeared lost many times, but Wellington remained highly skilled and cool in deploying his forces. Having won the most decisive battle of the 19th century, the black suit easily proved versatile in handling business meetings, journeys, dinners, weddings, funerals, espionage and, no doubt on the rare occasion, lovemaking.

Despite declining in numbers, there are two other things the black suit still possesses today. First it is egalitarian. A man of modest means dressed in a black suit can feel fairly confident of his armour. The expensive brocades and velvets of the rich fell on the field when the black suit took over. Second, he can make a subtle but powerful personal statement with his selection of a tie. What he cannot do is persuade those who know that he is wearing a bespoke suit from Savile Row.


A bespoke tailor from Savile Row suit drapes and tailors his suit to an individual man. Employing legendary professional secrets, he can disguise the human imperfections of a man's physique.

Nor will a bespoke suit always be black. There are an almost number of subtle colours and fabrics available.

One of the points of Barzini’s essay is that British style reflected substance. Unimpressive men did not impress no matter what they wore.

The secrets of success?

Barzini tried to understand the secret of British success, and finally concluded, “They all had a few ideas firmly embedded in their heads.” He thinks it may have been seven ideas, but he isn’t sure what seven they are.

We think 21 ideas contributed to the success of British men and women, and will contribute to your success. You can find them here.


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