A history of style: the suit through the ages

06 November 2014

The bespoke suit has been around in some form or another for hundreds of years. The changing styles reflect the different attitudes of each era, and the shift in fashions will always be a reflection of the forward-thinking members of society driving style forward to the next decade. Influences used to come from royalty, and then fabric rationing in the twentieth century required more creativity for a defined style. The advance of Hollywood and international media meant that fashions moved more swiftly, and the social rebellion of the 1960s and 1970s gave fashion even more cultural meaning. We take a look at some of these crucial moments in suit fashion history…


King Charles II was responsible for the first real suit fashions. He decreed that the men of his court wear a very specific arrangement of breeches, cravat, waistcoat and long coat, mimicking the fashions of the extravagant Louis XIV court in France.


The long coat morphed into the frock coat – the style of the Victorian dandy coming to the fore. Extravagant, wide lines were the key, with exaggerated cuffs for the very style-conscious. Imagine the typical pirate coat (thanks, Jack Sparrow) and you’re there. Of course, while pirates favoured heavy leather, the frock coat of the town dandy would have been constructed of the finest linens and wools, often with exquisite embroidery to pick out specific details.


With the frock coat no longer a fashionable item, now the tighter and neater ‘tuxedo’ jacket was standard fashion at formal events, while the lounge suit was popular day wear. The First World War had a huge impact on fashion, with most men favouring their demob suit for special occasions immediately following the war. Formalwear became less formal than the white tie of twenty years before, with the dinner jacket establishing its name as a timeless classic.


Just after the First World War shorter jackets became firm favourites, while gangland America began to have an influence on wider suits and double-breasted jackets throughout the 1930s. Excessive fabrics were used to show off wealth, and the pinstripe classic we now associate with gangsters was staunchly popular for the danger and glamour it suggested.


Second World War fabric rationing had a huge impact on fashion in the 1940s, with the ban on additional material such as turn-ups on trousers meaning that styles were clean-lined and simple. This simplicity continued into the 1950s and early 1960s, with small lapels, defined waists and a focus on clean tailoring rather than smaller details.


Everything changed. Wide lapels, oversized jackets and bright colours all came bounding into fashion. Saturday Night Fever has a lot to answer for with regards to the return of the three-piece suit, exaggerated lines and closer fit.


Looser, double-breasted styles dominated for the business era of the 1980s, continuing through to the late 1990s. Cleaner lines made a return for the early 2000s, with a choice of two-button or three-button jackets and piped lapels becoming the uniform of the hipster.


The most free of fashion decades, nowadays pretty much anything goes. The choice is completely yours, and the best way to show that is with a bespoke handmade suit. From the overall shape to the finer details, the style is completely up to you – which makes our current decade one of the most exciting in suit history.