Where did Business Suits / Modern Suits come from?


Business Suits, the Modern Suit or just the Suit. Too many questions to ask at once – where did it all start? Why are blazers the length they are? Why are most Business Suits, particularly in Finance hubs, generally encouraged to be either Navy, Black or Grey? Read on and we’ll walk through the answers.

How it all started in the UK

London became the leading fashion centre in Europe as early as the 18th century since important new ideas kept coming from the British Isles. The English spent a great deal of time on their country estates, whereas the French aristocracy lived at the Royal Court. In typical English fashion, the pastime was fox hunting which has a unique clothing style. The knee-length coat proved to be a bit too long when trotting, so over time it was cut shorter and shorter. The vest became shorter to match, and the trousers tighter. This new look was taken up throughout Europe: in France the English frock coat became the fraque, and in Germany the Frack, while la Grande Nation corrupted “riding coat” into redingote.

Only at the end of the nineteenth century was the colour finally driven out of the suit that evolved during the 18th century, and consisted of a frock coat, vest, and pants.

City of London origins

The city had the effects of coal throughout, with black and grey being the prevalent colours in men’s suits. The green and brown colours of nature seen on country estates were reproduced in hunting and riding clothes. Unknown trendsetters who wanted to be able to wear comfortable riding jackets in the city as well came up with the idea of having them made of dark materials. It is this development we have to thank for the cut of the modern suit, with its short jacket. As a result, the modern man who finds a dark suit stiff and formal might be surprised to learn that it was in fact the dark version of a leisure outfit at the time.

Development into Business Suits

In the 1920s men began wearing wide, straight-legged trousers with their suits. Younger men often wore even wider-legged trousers. Trousers also began to be worn cuffed shortly after World War I and this style persisted until World War II. They first began to be worn creased in the 1920s.

Trousers were worn very highly waisted throughout the 1920s and this fashion remained in vogue until the 1940s. Single-breasted suits were in style throughout the 1920s and the double-breasted suit was mainly worn by older, more conservative men. Very fashionable men would often wear double-breasted waistcoats (with four buttons on each side) with single-breasted coats. Lapels on single-breasted suits were fashionably worn peaked and were often wide. In the early 1930s these styles continued and were often even further exaggerated.

Reflecting the balance of wealth and a larger trend toward simplification in the decades following the Second World War, the suit was standardised and streamlined. Suit coats were cut as straight as possible without any indication of a waistline. By the 1960s the lapel had become narrower than at any time prior. Cloth rationing during the war had forced significant changes in style, contributing to a large reduction in the popularity of cuts such as the double-breasted suit.

In the ’70s, a snug-fitting suit coat became popular once again, also encouraging the return of the waistcoat. This new three-piece style became closely associated with culture and was specifically popularised by the film Saturday Night Fever. Fashion brands such Haggar meanwhile started to introduce the concept of “suit separates”, a production innovation that reduced the need for excessive customisation.

Business Suits of today

The ’80s saw a trend towards the simplification of the suit once again. The jacket became steadily looser, and men dropped the waistcoat. A few suit makers continued to make waistcoats, but these tended to be cut low and often had only four buttons. The waistline on the suit coat moved down again in the ’80s to a position well below the waist. By 1985-1986, three-piece suits were on the way out and making way for cut double-breasted and two-piece single-breasted suits.

The late ’90s saw the return to popularity of the three-button two-piece suit. Which then went back out of fashion sometime in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Today we seem to have standardised to the Business Suit below, but how long will it last?

Nickson Shirt Model on zebra crossing wearing a blue slim fit shirt

For the perfect combination with modern suits, check out our formal shirt range below or directly via this link nicksonshirts.com/shop

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