Suiting Up Through the Ages
Suits may have been commonly worn by men for the last 150 years, but no greater change has been seen in their style and wear than since the First World War. Here we look back at how suiting up has changed for men during this period.
The 1920’s to the 1940’s
Although the frock coat – a knee length coat with a central vent at the back and drawn in at the waist – may have been popular in the Edwardian period, the First World War saw the demise of this garment in place of the lounge suit, with its shorter jacket; the lounge suit became the garment of choice for day and business dress. At the same time, the more formal white tie dress code for evenings was replaced by black tie and the advent of the tuxedo – something that has stuck with us ever since.
The first part of the 1930’s saw suits take on a more tightly fitted style thanks to those worn by leading actors – this was after all the golden age of cinema and as a result very influential on fashion. Towards the end of the decade though, the style of suits went the other way with a looser fit becoming the trend, even for waistcoats, producing a much more relaxed look.
The start of the Second World War had a big impact on the direction that suits took. Due to rationing of fabrics, minimalism was the key; out went expensive fabrics, excess material and waistcoats – grey flannel suits were common and the two piece suit became the norm.
The 1950’s to the 1970’s
Once the 1950’s were upon us, once again cinema influenced suit fashion – this time the style of suits worn by the Brat Pack became popular – as did the rise of popular music; more material at the front of trousers aided dancing. That said the rise of jeans relegated suits to the office and evenings out, rather than for day wear.
The young pop stars of the 1960s had a big impact of suit wear in this decade. For example The Beatles’ dress of choice – slim-fitting suits, drainpipe trousers and collarless jackets – were copied by many young adults. Also more informal polo necks also started to be worn in preference to the shirt and tie, which would previously have always accompanied tailored trousers.
The 1970’s saw men use their suits as a means to attract the ladies, much influenced by the rise of Disco. More flamboyant suits were common on the dance floor, with designer labels and Italian tailoring both making a strong appearance.
The 1980’s to the 2000’s
In the 1980’s suit fashion was driven by two main influences, resulting in two contrasting styles. On the one hand Giorgio Armani removed padding and linings and opted for more slouchy materials, encouraging a more casual look. This was played against the suits favoured by the high fashion power dressing yuppies.
The 1990’s was about simplicity and no surprise, this was reflected in suit style too. Slim-fit suits worn with white shirts and black ties were all the rage thanks to Helmut Lang and Comme des Garcons.
In contrast to the previous decade, anything seemed to go in the noughties. It became again about flaunting what you had, so no expense was spared. More luxurious fabrics were popular, with velvet being a big hit. Suits in various colours and patterns also became a big thing, as did elaborate stitching.
Certainly the themes from the early days seem to have stayed into the second decade of the 21st century. However, no doubt suit fashion will continue to evolve as much during the next hundred years as it has done in the last century.