It is undisputed: The suit embodies seriousness, respect and awareness for style. And without consciously noticing it, we somehow respect a man in a suit more than would be the case in any other outfit. Perhaps this is because such men appear to be more self-confident. It’s no wonder that serious bankers and lawyers are wearing suits even in the middle of the summer, with outside temperatures of 35 degrees. Of course, a men’s suit is also a sign of adaptability and conservatism and is an essential part of a world which is mainly ruled by men. But where does the suit actually come from?
Timeless etiquette from the 17th century
It is the etiquette that has been steadily maintained since the 17th century, making the suit the most timeless garment ever since. Even during the last hundreds of years, the suit has only changed in terms of details, but never in the way that is valid for current trends in fashion. Perhaps it is also because one can no longer recognize the cultural, ethnic or religious differences of a man, if he wears a suit. But how can it be that this kind of clothing persistently survived and will most certainly remain one of the most important garments in a men’s wardrobe in the future?
In times of splendor and extravagance
The 17th century was characterized by all kinds of flamboyancy and exaggerations, even in terms of fashion. One of the main reasons was that the nobility wanted to properly present its wealth and all luxury it possessed. Think of all the elaborate corsets, the intricate embroidery, the infinite splendor of color and the large, sumptuous jewelry. Showing off was what it was all about.
However, this was different for Charles II, the King of England, who put an end to this. Inspired by King Louis XIV from Versailles in France, he declared in 1666 that the royal court would ban showy jewelry and the typical ruff. Instead, it should be about elegant simplicity, about beautiful fabrics with matching cuts. So first the long vest was launched, as well as the scarf and a simple shirt with breeches which was paired with a knee length overcoat.
Fashion revolution in the 18th century
Of course, this was not the end of the wigs or even the bright colors. This only happened during the revolution in the 18th century where the eye-catching dresses of noble people were hated and despised more and more. After all, “normal” citizens were not able to wear anything like this themselves and started spreading their own fashion. This consisted of neat and simple colors as well as simple fabrics and comfortable clothes.
In England, one could observe these changes even more clearly, but there it was initially based on the equestrian fashion from the English upper class. In these circles one would wear long pants with a short vest and a matching white shirt. We also know the overcoats with the typical V-neck, which were especially designed for sitting on a horseback. To make this horseback riding attire respectable, the sporty outfit had to be slightly changed. After all, it was Beau Brummel who took on this task.
Elegant classic garments spread across Europe
At first, it was the French who adapted to the new fashion. Later, it reached all of Europe, whereby the simplicity was finally able to prevail. Stylish people were no longer interested in colorful and eccentric clothes. The dark suit was born and was in vogue like no other garment. It embodied style and fashion awareness at that time already.
Arrival in the 19th century
By the middle of the 19th century, it was the long frock coat and cutaway, a formal form of frock coat which were famous. Today, this is commonly known as a tuxedo, which was worn by well-dressed men for smoking and drinking with friends. Instead of tuxedo we can also use the term “black-tie“. Wearing this garment had a particular reason back then as the tuxedo prevented that the remaining clothes were “smoked in”. During the day men would wear a dinner jacket whereas the tuxedo was reserved for the evening, as is still the case today.
However, it came to a turnaround because men’s fashion was not supposed to put itself in the front of women’s fashion at that time. Probably this was due to economic reasons. Therefore, the high-quality suit was placed rather in the background. This led to its mass production and it becoming cheaper and cheaper. Due to this development, these neat garments became also accessible for people from the lower class. Hence, the suit could establish itself quickly as the formal business attire for all classes.
Rules and established standards
Men did not simply wear anything. They rather adhered to the etiquette and the standards which established themselves in this elegant world. For formal occasions, men would wear a cutaway, which was a garment for men developed from the frock coat. If a reception took place in the evening, the perfect choice was a tailcoat. This is a garment with a waist-length jacket with two knee-length tails at the back. We can also use the term “white-tie” if we refer to a tailcoat. When it comes to daily office work, then a short frock coat was the standard. Gustav Stresemann developed a special design in 1925 which finally turned the suit into an all-rounder. After all, as Foreign Minister, he did not always have the time to change his clothes constantly. Therefore, he simply combined a black jacket with gray pants and created an everyday look.
From then on, well-known politicians wore the Stresemann look and thereby inspired the Americans. Combining a dark jacket with a pair of lighter pants created a new trend. However, the cut of the suit and the actual shape remained unchanged which is the case until today. The same applies to wearing all those well-known men’s accessories such as the tie.
Nice to know – the tie!
Did you know that the tie, also referred to as “cravat”, is not an accessory which was invented to combine it with a suit in the first place? Actually, its first form goes back to the year 200 AD. Even then, people were already wearing linen scarves around their necks. If we have a look at its further historical development, then we might ascribe the tie’s invention to the French. This however was not the case. The predecessor of today’s tie was worn by Croatian soldiers in the 17th century during the Thirty Years’ War and helped to distinguish friends from enemies. The French word “cravate” did not refer to the tie directly, but to the Croats’ nationality.
Most of the garments and accessories in the fashion industry have some history. The suit established itself really well on the market and there is no end foreseeable for the most popular men’s garment. Although today’s suits differ significantly from each other in terms of quality and workmanship, a nice suit can enhance the appearance of just about any man. A bespoke men’s suit from a professional tailor is certainly the best choice to venerate the tradition of the suit.