A Brief History of the Modern Day Suit

Nowadays you can buy anything from cheaply made or very nice “off the rack” suits, and designer suits, made to measure suits, and bespoke tailored suits.

There has not always been such variety and suit fashions have certainly evolved. In fact, the modern suit, now often called the lounge suit, in Britain, has only been around since the 19th century. However, history reflects that men’s suits, although very different from now, first came into fashion in the 17th century, when the King of England, following the King of France’s example, ruled that, at court, men must dress in a long coat, with a cravat (now a tie), waistcoat, trousers, a wig, and a hat.

In the early 1800’s European men began wearing less formal coats, but still with fancy neckwear. In the mid 19th century, the suit was put aside for business, in favor of frock coats that didn’t match the pants. At the end of the 19th century the modern suit began being worn as informal wear at sporting events, seashore visits, for going to the country.

Suits then became so popular almost every man owned at least one, depending on their income level and social status.

In the 20th century ready to wear clothing, including men’s suits sold in department stores, became available in The United States. Throughout the 20th century there was an ever changing popularity of different kinds of suits for men.

At the end of World War I, long coats mostly disappeared and men began wearing suits with shorter coats, except for formal occasions. At first the pants were straight, but wide and cuffed, sometimes creased, and quite high waisted. In the 1920’s, suits fit snugly and the pant legs showed the socks. In 1935, came looser fitting suit coats with tapered arms and pant bottoms. In the 1930’s, especially in the United States New York City Harlem area, the Zoot suit was the rage. Sometimes you still see them.

Double breasted suits from the 1940 were double breasted which would stay the main fashion of coats for about twenty more years. In the 1960’s the double breasted coat was on its way out and lapels shrank and coats were cut so there was not a waistline.

From England, the era of the Beatles brought back the collarless jacket suits, such as from the era of frocks. Then came the mod suit and the Mandarin suit. There was the safari suit in the 1970’s that replicated military clothing and the leisure suit, of which we will say no more!! The Disco suit, a 3 piece vested suit, was very popular in the 1970’s with its flared or bell bottomed pants. The 1980’s showed a return of more tapered pants.

Present day suit tailoring varies depending on where made or designed. British suits have very tapered coats usually with two vents at the back and almost no shoulder padding. Italian suits do not have vents usually, and are minimally tapered with more heavily padded shoulders. American suits are more casual with moderate shoulder pads, tapered sides and a single vent. Sometimes they have side vents or two vents at the back

For 2011 and 2012, the cuts are what count the most. Think broad shoulders, slim waist, and lower body and flattering to most every male body type, making a man feel confident and masculine. There is the classic style, with styling mimicking the formal Victorian era, to the savoir faire of the 1930’s, and the skinniness of the 1960’s. But not skinny like a few years ago, but slim to medium with the top button at the naval. Although, single breasted suits are still stylish, double breasted suits have made a comeback, just no longer boxy and much and better designed.

Both types of suits should have a front pocket, just big enough for a small handkerchief.

Fabrics range from cheap synthetics to cashmere. But wool is the gold standard of a good suit. Colors vary, but are still mainly conservative for business throughout the world with pin stripes or solid colors in shades of gray, navy, and black. But checks and plaids are used for suits, also, mainly in Great Britain.

Although styles have changed throughout the years and will continue to change, a well tailored, made to measure suit is always a good choice with designer fabrics and the fit, if correctly made, will be flattering. Of course, if expense is not a consideration, one may decide on a bespoke suit, hand-cut and hand made suit by a wonderful tailor on the premises, especially featured on London’s famous Savile Row. There are many fine fashion designers throughout the world, from which you can buy extremely nice ready to wear suits, of course, altered to suit your body and tastes.

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