A Brief History of Suits

Today is the day! Me and my homies are going suit shopping. Not just any old suit shopping, though; we’re going wedding suit shopping. What color suit? What type of suit? I’m not sure! We’ll see what happens. But I’m super psyched to get a nice, fancy, grown-ass-man suit.

Thinking about suits so much got me … well, thinking about suits! Where did modern suits come from? Who made the first suit? Why are suits associated with fanciness and wealth? Let’s take a deeper look, shall we?

In the Beginning…

As I thought more about it, I realized that suits, in one way or another, have been popular at least since the 1700s. When you think about George Washington or Benjamin Franklin, what are they wearing? A jacket? A vest? Pants? Yup. A suit. It may not look like our modern pieces, but it’s a suit nonetheless.

These suits often consisted of longer, more penguin-tail style jackets that extended well past the bottom of the butt. The pants were also much shorter. They usually came to just after the knee, and the wearer’s socks  were tucked under the pants leg.

old-suit

Worn with it were the classic buckle shoes, the hardcore ascot: this is one dapper dude. Also notice one big thing about the above painting: the color of the suit. Most of the time, these suits were dyed bright, flamboyant colors like red, blue, or green. What does this have to do with the suit? Everything! Only the richest of the rich could afford clothes with so much dye in them; the poor or middle class often could only afford clothes that were the colors of fibers: grey, black, brown, etc.

Also note the white socks, shirt, and ascot. As you and I both know, it’s pretty difficult to keep a white piece of clothing clean, so imagine how much trouble you would’ve had back in the 1700s when tide pens didn’t exist. When these upper-class individuals wore their white accents, it showed that they had the money to not only buy white clothing, but to clean white clothing as well. For a long time, the suit, and the colors associated with it, were viewed as a sign of wealth.

A Suit for Sore Eyes

As time went on, the industrial revolution began making its mark on western culture. New jobs opened up for everyone, and that meant more people started making more money. They wanted a way to show off their newfound wealth, and what a better way to do that than with clothes.

These individuals still didn’t have enough money to afford the extravagant suits of the upper class, so their suits often involved less fabric, and remained the colors that their clothes had been before: black, grey, brown, etc.

By choice, the long tail of the old-style suits began to lose its muster, and shorter, more practical suits began to take their hold in fashion. These shorter suit jackets were still longer than their modern counterparts, but were still shorter than their penguin-tailed brethren. Thanks to this, we get a picture that’s a little more like the suits we know and love today.

1850-suit

Keep in mind that, regardless of their affordability, suits were still worn by those with more money at this point. There were still a large number of people that couldn’t dream of affording a suit, no matter the color. Eventually these colors started dominating the market, until, of course, the 1920s and ’30s.

A Suit For Everyone

As the 1800s went on, the suit transformed to look more like our modern variant. Lapels were trimmed, backs were shortened, and styles and colors changed. This doesn’t mean that the older, longer suits were out of style, oh no. You can even find these styles on racks today, but as time went on, tastes changed. The 1920s saw the return of the colored suit. Brightly colored yellow, purple, and even full white suits were worn by the upper echelons of society.

In the 1950s, suits reflected the feelings of the time. They were mostly drab, colorless, and completely lame. Actually, they were pretty bad ass. Black suit, fedora, red tie… Damn. After that slump was broken, though, brightly colored suits remained popular until the late 1970s. I loved Mad Men for a number of reasons, one being the fashion. They did such a great job of showing off the fashion of the time. Don’s classic grey, black, and blue suits were definitely 1950s, just like Don. As seasons went by, fashion changed. Seeing Roger Sterling in his bright, plaid suits in the late ’60s was absolutely hilarious. But really. Wasn’t fashion just awesome back then?

leisure-suit

Lookin’ snazzy, guys. Lookin’ snazzy. Also, what the hell are they looking at through those binoculars? Anyway…

This time also saw the entrance of the leisure suit. Leisure suits are ones that are worn for, well, leisure. Day suits, not-so-fancy party suits, suits for every occasion. This is a concept that’s been around for a while, actually. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, short tailed-suits were often worn during the day, while their longer-tailed cousins were put on after dark. This was the convention for quite some time, but leisure suits took hold of society and didn’t let go.

The 1980s were much like the 1950s: drab, dull, and colorless, but oh so snazzy. Suit fashion has mostly stayed that way since. The 1990s did see the return of the Zoot Suit, however brief its appearance was, and some old fashions have found there way back into the mainstream. But today we mostly stay classy, simple, and elegant. They’re much shorter than they used to be, the pants actually go all the way down to our ankles, and our lapels, thank God, aren’t all the way to our shoulders.

But really, you can get any kind of suit you want now days. We still have penguin suits. We still have suits with lapels all the way to our shoulders. We still have pants that only go to our knees. Well, I guess those are called shorts or capris. Never mind. Suits. Suits suits suits.

dc-suit

Gahd damn, Daniel Craig… Keep rockin’ that double button.

I can’t wait to get a decent suit.

P.S. I know, I know. “But Reed, It’s your wedding! You should be wearing a tux!” Well, I say to you, sir or madam, that the wedding is at 4:00 in the afternoon. Suits should be worn until 5:00 and tuxedos after dark. What? Do you think I was raised in a barn?

 

Sources:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/07/where-did-business-suits-come-from/260182/

The History Of The Suit – Part I : 1900s – 1950s

http://stoneonstyle.com/style-etiquette-101/brief-history-mens-suits/

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