Suit up! Comprehensive guide through history

Even though the old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, wardrobe is naturally the first thing people see on a person. Like it or not, clothes do play an enormous part in the first impression. When it comes to men, a suit is one garment that makes them feel powerful, confident and secure. And who wouldn’t love that?

The suit is one of the most iconic pieces of clothes in the history of humanity. But what history was that exactly?

Like many other English words, the one for suit originates from French word „suivre“ meaning „to follow“. It is supposed to indicate the intrinsic matching relationship between the jacket and the trousers, both in terms of color as well as material, which remains the fashion rule number one to this day.

Interestingly, suits were actually a break away from French court fashion of the time. It was the epitome of the 19-century English gentleman, Beau Brummell, who is credited for replacing the French heavy, dandy fabrics with much plainer coats, trousers and boots. Truth be told, the aftermath of the French revolution had already influenced the fashion trends of the time, casting unfavorable light to the ever-fewer men who were still adhering to the flashy French fashion. However, Brummell and his muted colors definitely popularized this new style which, over the long course of years and numerous phases, developed into the modern suit of today.

Some version of suits was remarkably popular in the English Victorian Era. A gentleman was unimaginable without a frock coat – a knee-long, single or double-breasted black coat resembling today’s overcoats. Some years later, the frock coat evolved in two different directions: the morning coat which kept the tails and the length, and the lounge suit which did not. Morning coats may still be seen nowadays, but only in the most formal occasions, such as high society weddings, and mostly in England. What is particularly interesting is that the morning coat usually doesn’t match the trousers with which it’s worn – both use a darker color scheme but are cut from different materials.

On the other hand, the lounge suit was the attire intended for casual outdoor activities, far more practical than formal. That is why the coat of the lounge suit was significantly shorter than that of the morning coat, and the material was heavier and more durable. Also, all three pieces of the lounge suit (trousers, vest and coat) were made from the same fabric, which also made it less formal.

However, the suit we know (and love!) today was created at the beginning of the 20th century. Naturally, changes have been made over time, but they were mostly cosmetical, while the foundation remained the same. From that point onward, the key differences are mostly about the kind of fabric, the height of gorge, the lapel width, the buttoning point, the jacket length, and so on.

The beginning of the century saw the increasing popularity of the lounge suit. The general life circumstances of the time influenced the choice of fabric – warm and heavy, coarse and dark. Since the coal heating was the only source of warmth at the time, the suit needed not only to keep the wearer warm all day long, but also to mask the sooth and coal particles which would inevitably stain it. In that regard, noticeable is the difference between the lounge suits worn in the city and in the country, which also included shades of brown and green.

The Roaring ‘20s saw numerous transformations of the suit. Military influence was evident in the trim cut of jackets and slim trousers with cuffs. Notably, the trousers of the time had a much higher rise than the ones today. Combined with wider shoulders and more waist suppression, these suits visually elongated legs and enhanced silhouette.

Additionally, the shape was not the only change the suits experienced in the Jazz Age. Namely, the overall appearance was significantly altered towards decoration – materials became flashier and more stylish and there were many more colors and patterns. Furthermore, accessories such as collar pins or pocket squares became largely popular.

However, towards the end of the decade forward fashion began introducing early drape suits which included wider trousers and more fabric in the chest. Longer jackets and lack of back vents created that masculine, heroic look encapsulated in the movies of the time and still admired nowadays.

Moving forwards, the 1930s are considered the “Golden Age of classic menswear” specifically due to the design of the suits. It’s no wonder that this was the case, especially given the fact that the World War Two significantly influenced all aspects of life, men’s fashion being no exception. The lack of resources meant simplification and minimalism. The new norm of everyday wear became the gray two-piece flannel suit – single-breasted, narrow-lapeled and with a very trim-cut trousers and no cuffs. Actually, the 1940’s suit looks the most like the one from the latest fashion trends of the 2020, due to its overall slim features. Naturally, there are still radical differences in fabric, which were significantly heavier.

The subsequent, post-war decade made up for the previous destitution by returning to the practice of using more fabric. So, the lapels became wider, pleats were restored, and the overall cut was looser. This allowed for much appreciated greater comfort and freedom of movement. The improvement of heating made the vest more obsolete. Also, for the first time ever, the post-war rebellion was expressed through leather jackets and jeans combined with T-shirt.

The 1960s saw largely the continuation of that fashion style. The biggest novelty was regarding the fabric, since they added new artificial fabrics to the mix. Narrowness was still greatly popular – trousers, lapels and ties were all narrow. The suits were closely fitting and included shoulder paddings, and sport coats were often decorated by bolder patterns and brighter colors.

The disco culture of the 1970s saw the return of the three-piece suits, but now they were rather casual, bright-colored and flashy. The leading material was synthetics, so quality was significantly different than in the preceding ones.

Quite contrary, the next decade birthed the power suit – soft and broad jacket with wider lapels and a much lower gorge. This is the beginning of the era of the famous fashion designers Giorgio Armani and Alan Flusser and the power suit as we know it today – full cut pants, double-breasted suit and pinstripes. The celebration of capitalism needed it’s uniform and this was it!

On the other hand, the ’90s went in another direction altogether. The fashion designers pronounced the prominent features of the previous versions of the suits: single-breasted jackets now had three or four buttons and double-breasted ones had up to six and only the lowest ones were buttoned. The jackets were paired up with oversized trousers which gave the whole appearance a ruffled, disorderly look.

Luckily, the change of millennium was a complete contrast to the previous decade and saw the return of slim-fit suits. As previously mentioned, the style is slightly more minimalistic than that of the 1940s and more alike the ones from the 1960s. The suit became shorter and slimmer and the buttons were positioned higher than previously. Similarly, pants hem was made short and the lapels were once again quite narrow.

And finally, the fashion tips of the 2010s generally promote more casual style, so the suits are mostly reserved for formal occasions or considered business attire. Nowadays, men’s suits are more about the way they make a man feel rather than a prescription of the social norm. The modern suits are still slim, but now the gorge as well as the buttoning point are placed higher, whereas the jackets are shorter.

As with almost any other item, the history of suit is a long one and saw many developments and changes. In general, fashion trends largely reflect the mood and views of the society which creates them, and menswear is certainly no exception. Following the history of suits, one learns about the state of mind of people through ages. We are excited to see what the future holds!