Style Watch: Black in Blue

Style Watch: Black in Blue

If you were a factory worker and showed up at the warehouse in a suit and tie, teasing colleagues might guess that you were dressed for a day in court. The businessman, however, always looks like he’s ready to take the stand. Sartorially, among males, it is he who governs what it is to make a good impression.

Except that “the white-collar trial of the century,” as Maclean’s has billed it, opened with a blue shirt. Conrad Black’s appearance, when jury selection started in Chicago on Wednesday, was true to traditional form and consistent with his habit. One potential juror said, “Whenever I see his picture he seems to be dressed up in a tuxedo,” but if you Google images of Black, it’s evident that, other than for those occasions that might call for a red robe with an ermine collar, he favours the standard tenue de ville—the suit. On Wednesday, he, with his bullish build and Simone Signoret eyes, was tailored in grey, with a single-breasted, single-button jacket, which can emphasize an expansive chest; the aforementioned blue shirt with a collar that—not that pointy, not that spread—attractively emphasized nothing; and a necktie that The New York Times said was grey and The Globe and Mail said was blue.

What can you believe?

To be fair to the media, the shine of tie material can make it difficult to specify its shade. And Black seems to like a cravat that plays with light. On Thursday, it was a golden tie of prismatic effect, one that he’d been photographed in before. Also noticeable on Thursday was that one of the four buttons on the sleeves of his jacket was undone; buttons that actually function (called a surgeon’s cuff, after an occupation that found it handy to be able to turn back sleeves) are often a sign that a jacket has been custom-made. If that is the case here, and if I were Black, I’d be asking my tailor to work harder to avoid the unsightly moat between jacket collar and shirt collar that sometimes afflicts the fit of Black’s suit coats. And if I were the tailor, I’d be asking Black to pay more attention to pulling down his shirt cuffs, to making sure of that display of linen that is prerequisite to successful masculine costume. A knuckle-grazing jacket sleeve can make a man look like Stéphane Dion—i.e., a little boy dressed by a practical mother who believes in larger sizes to be grown into.

For the first two days in the Chicago courtroom, Barbara Amiel also wore suits, pantsuits. Day 1: a single-breasted jacket, more suppressed through the waist than her husband’s, more European than Brooks Brothers. With it went a red shirt with collar worn open over jacket collar, like that friendly woman banker has on in that high-rotation television commercial advertising the bank’s willingness to give you a second opinion whether you bank there or not. Shoes were racier, a two-tone wink at old-timey gentleman’s spats but possibly patent, with pointed toes and steep instep.

Altogether, it was a sound ensemble that made sense for a woman who must still live down her infamous remark to Vogue in 2002 that her extravagance knows no bounds. Not since Linda Evangelista told the same magazine that she didn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day has a funny, self-mocking comment come back so persistently to bite a person in the fundament.

Day 2: another pantsuit, under a high-style trench, over a turtleneck, slung with a long strand of large beads. The neckpiece looked old, ethnographic, and as if it might have come from the jewellery collection designed by Krystyne Griffin, a veteran of the fashion scene and a friend of Amiel’s.

Unless there are press releases issued, talking about what people wear off the runway is always a guessing game. Still, people love to know, as if they’re learning something when they learn it. “Look. Look there,” as a mob might put it: on the first day in Chicago, Conrad Black’s daughter, Alana, was wearing a coat from Club Monaco. What I saw was an attractive young woman with mod hair and a modish wrap coat in herringbone.

The name I’d like to learn is that of the “unidentified assistant” who appeared in the large colour photograph on the front page of the Toronto Star walking out of the courtroom with Conrad Black, his wife and daughter, all four of them wearing trousers. But it was the nameless one, the anonymous assistant, with brushed-up hair and cheekbones like Grace Jones, who for that snap of the shutter looked like she knew where she was going and, thusly, stole the show.

Image credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/ AP Photo (Toronto Star)