A closet is never complete without the penultimate menswear essential–the suit. You cannot call yourself a proper modern gentleman without a tailored suit that fits your body type and style to a T.
If you find yourself in a fashion conundrum regarding which kind of suit to buy or what kind of tie goes with your suit, a little bit of fashion history always helps. Yes, knowledge is power. Especially when it comes to suit shopping.
From Honest Abe to George Clooney, Saturday Night Fever and the cast of Mad Men, here is your quick field guide to the history of suiting. Better take notes, dapper gents.
1800’s: Beau Brummell
You can thank Beau Brummell for the suit that you know and love today. Without him, knee breeches and powdered wigs would still be in vogue. He democratized menswear by bringing full-length trousers and simple jackets into the fashion scene, creating the basis of menswear suiting as we know it today.
The 19th Century: Victorian Era
The Victorian Era saw a more relaxed form of suiting. The morning coat became a popular suit staple of the time. It was a more casual garment with a more open front silhouette. The creation of a casual suit resulted in the creation of “the dinner jacket” and from that, the tuxedo. Notable suit trends from this era are: slim lapels, wool fabrics, and high armholes. Also worth nothing is the prevalence and popularity of the three-piece suit during this period. Want more outfit inspo from this era? Check out the costume from the show, Peaky Blinders.
Early 20th Century: The Edwardian Era
The early 1900s was all about the “sack suit.” It was a loose fitting suit with a wide lapel. The sack suit is very similar to the modern suiting, and it comes in neutral tones as well as prints like stripes, plaid, and checks. Suit jackets were boxy and trousers were wide at this hips and cuffed at the bottom.
The Roaring Twenties
Long coats went out of style during the glitzy decade of the 20s. This period also saw more variety in the prints and colors of suits. The 20s were all about wealth and excess, which necessitated more embellishment and accessories to go with the suit. Colorful ties and pocket squares were the height of dapper, and tie pins and tie bars were popularized as well. Look no further than Leo Di Caprio’s Mr. Gatsby for reliable suit inspiration.
Reeling from the effects of war and The Great Depression, the public favored a darker color palette. Wide and peaked lapels and double-breasted suit styles made for a powerful menswear look, which was very much needed after the extravagance of the 20s and the destruction that the war caused.
The Swingin’ Sixties
The 60s was all about slimming down. Slim lapels, one-button closures, and straight jacket silhouettes (read: no nipped waists) were king. Suit styling during this decade was incredibly pared down, and even leaned slightly toward uniform territory. Most men wore gray suits with white pocket squares. Watch the old movie “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” for a firsthand fashion history lesson.
The 70s, 80s, and Beyond
That white suit from Saturday Night Fever aside, suits got even more exciting and varied as time wore on. The 70s saw the introduction of suit separates making suits more available to more people, and making a perfect tailored fit more attainable off-the-rack. The 1980s saw a lot of iconic suit looks, from power suits in the movie “Wall Street” to the unforgettable summer suits in “Miami Vice,” the suit went for broke in the 80s. The power suit was designed to intimidate at the first glance with its strong shoulders, large pinstripes, and ubiquitous pleating. The 80s also saw the comeback of the double-breasted silhouette and the emergence of suspenders as a major accessory.
The Modern Suit
Sadly, the suit lost its way. The 90s was a dark time for suits, but thankfully, suits are now right where they should be, that is the pinnacle of men’s fashion. Suits, at present, are back at the forefront and somewhat the subject of slight obsession for fashion conscious males. Perfecting the tailored fit, getting your signature suit style, making your suit style unique are all top priorities for the modern dapper gentleman. From bold printed bowties, bold colored suits, attention to detail and fit, or even adding unexpected sartorial elements, the suit is back and better than ever.
Suiting 101 is now officially done. Consider all this history lesson as a styling tip and outfit inspiration for your next visit to your tailor or your favorite menswear store.