A history of men’s suits

27 March 2017

Tracing from their rise in popularity to the modern day

While it’s important to understand the intricacies of a perfectly tailored suit, it’s also beneficial to understand the history of men’s suiting. How did they start? How did they become the standard form of dress for men around the world? The backstory of men’s suits is just as interesting as the suiting itself. 

The first traces of men’s suiting as we know it today appeared as far back as the 1600s. Then, King Charles II was the leading style icon and enforced a strict public dress code, which included a long coat, petticoat and cravat (among other items). This early English influence lived on until the 1800s when Beau Brummell, a noted British dandy, refined the dress code. Under his influence, a modern version of the suit and necktie came to prominence. The wealthier men in society wore dark tailcoats with complementary trousers. This era was known as the Regency Period.

The 19th Century brought about the Victorian Era in which frock coats and morning coats became the norm. It was considered informal to wear a matching coat and pair of trousers. Closer to the turn of the century, the leisure suit became the standard form of dress for casual events.

During the Edwardian period of the 20th Century, the lounge suit of the Victorian Era became appropriate for most activities. Men began to abandon the stuffy frock coat and all of its formality.

Perhaps the most influential period was the 1920s, shortly after the First World War ended. The waist-length jacket became standard, and men began wearing straight-legged trousers. Conservative men favoured double-breasted suits during this era. Also, style features like cuffing gained popularity.

Through the 1940s and 1950s, men’s suiting was further refined, simplified and modernised. Lapels were significantly reduced in size and experimentation with thicker fabrics like wool began. The 1970s saw a resurgence of experimentation, however, that was short-lived as the 1980s saw a major focus on power dressing and a return to minimalism. 

The 1920s was the era that most directly affected the way we wear suits now. The modern suit, defined by the matching jacket and trousers, was considered far too casual for daily wear until then. Thanks to the style moves adopted during this time, we were gifted with a blueprint for how to dress well.

The history of men’s suits is one that’s accented by constant experimentation and rapidly shifting cultural values. As we look forward, the next era will be defined by made-to-measure suiting and personalisation.

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