History of the Suit in 22 Minutes: The Evolution of Menswear from 1800 to Today

Welcome back to the Gentleman's Gazette!In today's video, we share with you the history and the evolution of the suit in22 minutes.

Even though many elements of the suit, as we know it today, have remained unchanged since its inception, there are certainlydifferences in the details of a suit from 2020 compared to a suit from the1980s or 1940s.

First of all, what exactly is a suit? The term “suit” is derived fromthe French term “Suivre” which means to follow.

Meaning, the jacket follows thepants or vice versa.

So a suit is a combination of a jacket and a pair ofpants in a matching fabric.

It's not just the color but also made out of the same fabric.

Like many aspects of classic menswear, the origins of the suit can also betraced back to Beau Brummell.

He was the prototypical gent in the 19th centuryEngland.

Before Beau Brummell, menswear was heavily influenced by the FrenchCorp and evolved around heavily embroidered fabrics such as velvet andknee breeches and stockings.

Beau Brummell replaced all of this with lonetrousers worn with boots and a coat that didn'thave much ornamentation or color.

Frankly, Brummell may not have been the first oneto simplify the classic French men's wardrobe because at that point in time, it had already become unpopular.

French menswear was negatively associated withthe French Revolution and people who wore it were beheaded in the guillotine.

Nevertheless, Beau Brummell definitely popularized the new less ornamentalstyle.

Now, it seems like the top and the bottom of Beau Brummell's outfits weren'talways exactly the same and matching but the whole silhouette and the more mutedcolor stream laid the groundwork for the modern suit, as we know it today.

By the start of the Victorian era which lasted from 1837 to 1901, the first and foremostgarment a man would wear was a frock coat.

It was basically a black coat that resembles modern overcoats.

It had a single vent in the back and waseither single or double breasted.

In terms of length, it reached down allthe way to the knees that's why it resembles an overcoat.

While the singlebreasted version of a frock coat was more common, the double-breasted versionwas more formal because it was also known as the Prince Albert.

Later in theVictorian era, the frock coat basically split up in two different elements.

Onthe one hand, we had the morning coat that kept the tails, on the other hand, wehad the lounge suit which lost it.

While the morning suit remained the length, it nowhad open quarters rather than the closed quarters of a frock coat and it oftenhad just a single button and it wasn't double-breasted anymore.

At the time, itbecame the number one option for formal daywear but in today's world, it'sprobably even more formal and typically only worn at Royal Weddings or highsociety weddings.

Maybe in England, it's a little different where you can still seethe regular Joe wearing a morning coat for their wedding but in the US and outside of England, it's typically just done so in very certain circles either bypeople who really appreciate classic men's clothing or because they have a certain status in society.

If you want to learn more about morning dress, pleasecheck out our in-depth morning dress guide here.

While frock codes and morningcoats could technically be worn with matching pair of trousers, more often, they were worn with contrasting trousers.

Still in a darker color scheme butnevertheless, they weren't made out of a matching fabric.

On the other hand, thelounge suit consists of a top and bottom of matching fabric.

Because of that, it wasalso known as Dittoes which is derived from the term “Ditto” which meanssame fabric for tops and bottoms.

The lounge suit was originally developed in1850s to the 1860s in Scotland.

It was made out of heavier fabric and was meant to be agarment for casual outdoor occasions.

Nowadays, in the mind of most people, asuit is a very formal garment but during the Victorian era, it was theopposite.

It was a casual garment that was not meant to be formal at all.

Specifically, the matching aspect of trousers and pants made it less formalbecause frock coats and morning coats were worn with somewhat contrasting trousers.

Another difference was obviously the length.

It was a much shorter coat withoutthe tails and was cut more sack like without pronounced front darts.

As thename implies, the lounge suit was primarily a garment for the casuallounge, something to be comfortable in, especially in the British countryside.

Ofcourse, at the time, central heating was not the norm and sosuits were always worn with a vest or a waistcoat that was matching so youalways had a three-piece suit.

As we started the 20th century, the suit, as weknow it today, was pretty much developed.

From that point on, the shape was defined, it was merely details that changed.

It could be the lapel width, the jacketlength, the buttoning point, the height of the gorge, the type of fabrics that wereused, but overall, it was just an adaptation to an existing model.

In thefirst decade of the 1900s, which is also known as the Edwardian era, the loungesuit persisted.

It became more and more popular.

The more formal frock coats andmorning coats were still around and were typically worn by older men but theylost ground very quickly.

If you ever had a chance to touch a suit from theEdwardian era, you'll notice that the fabric is extremely heavy and coarsebecause on the one hand, the fabric finishing wasn't as refined as it is today and onthe other hand, it was quite expensive and again, there was no central heatingand because of that, suits had to be worn inside.

Many households stillheated with coal and cities were, in general, a dirty sooty place to be.

Because of that, the city's suit was typically tailored out of darker coloredfabric.

On the flipside, country suits typically had more patterns and browntones in them.

For example, if you watch the firstepisodes of Downton Abbey today, you can see the trend that country suits areless formal and more colorful than their city suit counterparts.

The 1920s were anexciting decade for the suit as it went from super slim to fuller towards theend.

Right after World War I, the suit had a strong military influence.

The jacketwas cut trim, maybe slightly longer at a higher buttoning point, and trouserswere quite slim with cuffs and relatively short, however, by the end of the decade, fashion-forward suits already had theprecursor of the drape suit which meant there was more fabric in the chest andalso the pants were cut a little wider.

Drape and the drape suit really becamepopular in 1930s England in the US and you can learn more about ithere.

During 20s, trousers all had a very high rise especially compared to today'spants.

All jackets were cut pretty tightly towards the beginning of the1920s, towards the end, they had become wider in the shoulder with a bit morewaist suppression and in combination with the high rise pants, you get thatvisual illusion of longer legs and a pronounced waistline.

While the pant legsinitially touched the sock, by the end of the decade, the most fashion-forwardsuits had an opening of eleven and a half inches.

However, it wasn't a flarecut, it was a straight cut and sometimes even a tapered cut so there was lots ofroom in your trousers.

If you want get a better idea of this style in action, youmay want to watch the series Jeeves and Wooster and we also cover their Styleshere.

Because it was the roaring 20s, which is also known as the Jazz Age, thebig difference in terms of suiting materials was that they were morestylish, there was more flash, there were more colors, more patterns, andeverything was bit more lively compared to previous generations ofsuits.

There was also an increasing interest in accessorizing their suits with, let's say, pocket squares or shirts with collar pins.

In the end, it was a rebelliontowards the tradition of having dark suits and muted colors without boldpatterns.

For example, if you watch the show Boardwalk Empire, you see exactly what I mean.

You see really loud suits in bold colors, stripes, and it's just a very interesting time for the suit.

Likewise, the Great Gatsbyreflects this perfectly with his pink suit.

The 1920s were also known for thedouble-breasted waistcoat which was typically worn underneath a singlebreasted jacket with notch lapels.

Today, they would be considered quite unusual.

If you see a double-breasted waistcoat, it typically features a jacket with asingle or maybe two buttons and peak lapels.

You'd also won't button thejacket in order to show the double-breasted waist.

The 1930s were characterized by a suit that had a heavy drape cut with wideshoulder, a lot of waist suppression, high-rise trousers that were just cutvery full and just tapered slightly towards the shoes.

It was the number onestyle in England and in the US but also, places like Vienna.

Jackets weretypically a bit longer and had no vents in the back for an ideal clean line whenyou would stand.

Also bear in mind, the fabrics were sold quite heavy so theydraped really well and they didn't wrinkle very much.

Overall, the look wasvery masculine and it built the basis of a very heroic look on the silver screen.

Just look at Cary Grant or Clark Gable who perfectly used the suit to underlinetheir personalities in the movies.

To learn more about the style of both of them, please check our respective guides and videos here.

Overall, I'd say a 1930s drapestyle was a little more refined, more tapered towards the leg compared to thelate 20s suits.

Even today, the 1930s are often referred to as Golden Age ofclassic menswear in big part because of the way the suits were designed and youcan learn more about that to get a better idea of it by checking out our ebookGentlemen of the Golden Age.

Now in the following decade, the suit changed a lot.

World War II meant that everything had to be rationed and so there was no morefabric for these elaborate full cut large suits.

Instead, the 1940 suits wascharacterized by minimalism.

The gray flannel suit became the optionof choice for professional everyday wear, it wasn't double-breasted, it was single breasted, it had narrow lapels and a very trim cut trouserwithout cuffs in order to save fabric.

For the same reasons, waistcoats or vestsbecame unpopular and if you look at the suit from the 1940s, it is very close tothe fashion of a 2020 suit because it's lean and trimmed and overall, very slim.

Of course, the fabrics were still a lot heavier than they are today and they also hada bit more texture than what you would get today.

The exception in 1940s minimalsuit was the rebellious Zoot suit.

It was a product of thecounterculture rebellion youth, particularly in African American andMexican communities.

They had really baggy pants, a long jacket, and everything wasoversized and excessive.

The shoulders were super padded and often, peoplecriticized it as being unpatriotic because it put your own idea of fashionbeyond the rationing of fabric.

During the 1950's, the post-war rebelliondefinitely had an impact on the suit.

To the end of austerity, some people wentback to the suit style from before the warso lapels came wider, pants had pleats again, and it wasn't as slim anymore.

Pleated pants were particularly popular because they allow for a range ofmovement and more comfort and that, by the way, is still true today.

The vest ina three-piece suit continued to decline because central heating was more or lesswell established at the time and so the need for extra heat inside had vanished.

Again, it was a post-war period and just like after the 1920s when there was thispost-war rebellion against the previous generation's style, the same thing happenedin the 50s.

It wasn't just the zoot suit but many other young men rebelledagainst the style of their fathers and grandfathers by wearing t-shirts orjeans or leather jackets.

Another example of this rebellion, maybe so in a moresubtle way, was the Ivy League style which was epitomized by the sack suitstyle jacket.

It is usually defined by a three-roll-two jacket with a singlecenter vent and pants without pleats.

The other style of jacket was always single breasted and had very little or no padding in the shoulders which made for a verynatural silhouette which is more closely associated with Italy today but in fact, the Americans have done that for a long time too.

This was a time when BrooksBrothers really dominated in American history and overall, the casualization ofclothes also didn't make hold of the suit so Ivy League style wascharacterized by combinations, more so than the suit.

Yes, the suit was stillaround but sport coats have become more popular due to their increased textureand color variation.

Now at the end of the 50s, we saw yet another subculture in suits known as the Mod suit.

It was slim-fitting with narrow lapels.

Itwas worn with narrow ties, non pleated pants that were very thin and straight cut.

Forgood examples of 1950 suits, you can look at Frank Sinatra or the Rat Pack, they really epitomized the style of the time.

During 1960s, the styleof the 50s was more or less extended when it came to suits.

So you had closelyfitting suits with some shoulder paddings that were worn with narrowties.

Trousers were rather narrow, a little more tapered towards the ankleand short so you wouldn't see a break on the shoe.

Even if there were cuffs or nocuffs, fabrics were still rather heavy and textured but they made someadvancements and now added nylon and new artificial fibers to the fabric becausethat was a new thing.

At that same vein, sport coats with bolder patterns seem to befavored for more muted ones.

A good glimpse of the style of the 60s can beseen in this series Mad Men where you can see, for example, people wearing boldplaid coats, slim suits to the office.

The style definitely came to halt in 1970swhich can be considered to be a low point in the history of the suit andmen's fashion, in general.

Suits were still relatively tight but had reallybig lapels, they were rather flashy, and pants oftentimes in a flare cut.

Nowinterestingly, the 70s sort of returned the three-piece suit but it wasn't formal atall.

It was rather casual and more part ofthe disco culture.

Just think of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

Alongwith the bright colors, synthetics were now predominantly used in 1970s suitswhich didn't make them better in the long term and just overall, it was adecade to be forgotten.

Now, the 80s on the other hand, were a lotbetter for the suit.

If we had to break it down to one thing, it would be probablythe power suit.

It was popularized first by Richard Gere as American Gigolo butalso on TV by Miami Vice.

The central figure in this suit silhouette wasGiorgio Armani.

It had a suit jacket that was soft yet broad in the shoulders, hadwider lapels with a much lower gorge yet a very very little buttoning point.

Overall, Armani created a very defining suit silhouette but today, it is easilydated as the 1980s because of that.

Another great example of the power suitwas the stuff that Michael Douglas wore is Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street.

All of those suits were designed by Alan Flusser and they're the epitome of whata power suit is to this day.

To learn more about the Gordon Gecko style, pleasecheck out this video here.

In short, you saw the return the double-breasted suit, you saw pinstripes again and full cut pants.

Despite the fact that Armaniessentially reduced the structure of the suit and made it very soft, it was stillconsidered to be something that had strong or large shoulders and a defiantsilhouette.

In general, the 80s were a time of excess and a celebration ofcapitalism and the power suit was a direct expression of that time.

Now, the1990s were another low point of the suit.

They basically took the worst aspects ofthe 80 suits, pronounced it, made it even more ugly.

The 90s suit was more clownish;single breasted jackets sometimes had three or even four buttons, double-breasted oneshad six buttons but only the very bottom one was buttoned on an extremely lowbuttoning point so just the proportions looked off.

Pants were boxy andbaggy and were too long and puddled around the ankles.

In contrast to that, the early 2000s saw the return of the slim fit suit.

The new millennium broughta total reaction to the fully cut puddling suits of the 80s and 90s andwent back more to a minimalist style that we had seen before in the 40s.

Some would even argue that it went back more to a 1960s mod style suit.

Now, notonly did the suit get slimmer but it also got shorter and the buttoning pointgot higher.

At the same time, some people preferred to wear the black suit as aneasy way to create a minimalist uniform that was reduced.

Pants were often hemmedquite short, jackets had narrow lapels, and a perfect example of that is Tom Brownwhich made extremely short jackets and pants.

Others like Tom Ford, for example, had still slimmer cut suits but they weren't as extreme.

Because of that, TomFord suits can still be worn today versus Tom Brown suits are more a fashionstatement than something a regular man would wear in an everyday setting.

Inthe following decade, society, in general, became more casual and the need for asuit really disappeared.

At the same time, there has been a resurgence in classicmen's clothing of people who don't have to wear a suit but who intentionallywant to wear a suit because they like the look of it and how it makes themfeel.

While popular suits, in general, are still slim, the gorge on the jacket hasmoved further up especially for peak lapel jackets and the buttoning pointhas come up also.

Sometimes, the jackets have even gotten shorter to the extentwhere they don't even cover part of your bum anymore.

Suit Supply became aworldwide phenomenon reflecting this trend towards a slimmer shorter jacket, higher buttoning point suit.

Likewise, Internet technology enabled allentrepreneurs to come up with online made-to-measure services so people cancustomize their suit online without the need of having to see a tailor.

Nevertheless, with the general resurgence and interest for the topic of suits andclassic menswear, there are probably more bespoke tailors today than there were 20years ago.

Thanks to the Internet, interest groups fromall across the world can now connect, share, and drop their knowledge and sothe general knowledge about suit and classic men's style has definitelyincreased.

In most recent years, the casual three-roll-two jacket with morenatural shoulders in a slim silhouette and sometimes even string trousers havebecome more popular, so it's all about getting more casual with more textureand brighter colors in a jacket that is soft and unstructured and sometimes, evenmade out of a knit fabric which is extremely flexible and feels more likewearing a sweater rather than a traditional suit jacket.

So what will thefollowing decade mean for the suit? It's hard to tell but we, at theGentleman's Gazette, will always focus on the classic style that is stillrelevant in the present.

in today's video I'm wearing a dark blue double-breastedsuit made out of a very fine worsted wool fabric from Vitale Barberis Canonicoit's a custom suit and it's extremely soft in the shoulders in the fabric itreally feels more like a sweater than anything else because it's such a finehigh twisted yarn it is prone to wrinkles at the same time I can steam itout in the shower I am combining it with a double cuffed summer shirt in bolderstripes of white yellow blue and brown and a yellow silk knit tie from FortBelvedere that matches the linen pocket square with cross stitches and ofcontrasting blue which pick up the color in the outfitmy shoes are hand patinaed Brown monk straps that have a nice color gradationbetween yellow brownish light brown and darker Browns and I'm tying it togetherwith a suit using a pair of shadow striped socks from Fort Belvedere in blue andgreyish blue my cufflinks are gold monkey fists from Fort Belvedere and youcan find them in our shop here.