Suit Basics – A brief history of the Three Piece Suit

 

 There’s a lot of detail to get your head around when thinking suits. Fear not Gents, these articles will shed some light (and expose some snake oil) on what you need to know about suits.

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(Benjamin wears Andrew Fezza Suit)

#1. A Brief History of the Three Piece Suit

Regardless of how you feel about the Biblical Genesis, it’s intriguing to think that man remained naked only so long as he was innocent. The moment he knew good from evil he covered his nakedness, and the fashion industry was born.

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(San rock art from southern Africa showing cassocks worn by hunter-gatheres. http://www.mmilotours.com)

Examples of ensembles can be seen in the earliest of art works, and with humanity’s progress towards more complex societies clothing became an increasingly important form of communication.

Speeding through some fascinating though convoluted history to the immediate precursors of suits; A long jacket and pants (along with a ton of other fluff) were considered civilized dress in much of Europe as far back as the 1500s. The waistcoat was added to the repertoire on the 7th October 1666 by Charles II, and marks the formal origin of the modern three piece suit.

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(King Charles II of England. 1890swriters.blogspot.com)

Some suggest that as a result of the political unrest in Europe during the 18th Century (like the beheading of the monarchy in France, for example) the aristocracy attempted to distance themselves from the stereotypes of self indulgent, useless gluttons. The foppish lace, embroidery and flamboyant cuts of court couture were rapidly and radically replaced during the 1800s. This was also influenced by the slow rise of the ‘middling sort’ who needed distinguished yet practical clothes to signal their economic status.

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(Eon wears Custom Shirt)

The Dandy Movement and Beau Brummel in particular (late 1700s to early 1800s) is widely considered responsible for the invention of the modern suit silhouette.

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(A portrait of Beau Brummel and his statue in London. blog.austinreed.co.uk)

The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s contributed to the modern suit in two important ways. It first led to the rise of a new wealthy clothing purchaser; The Businessman. Who could both afford tailoring formerly reserved to the upper class, and needed a uniform to signal his position in society. This uniform which exuded wealth, also needed to be practical and comfortable, so its form and silhouette became sleek and flowing. It’s no question that the modern suit still signals business, as well as wealth.

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(Antonio wears Giancarlo Tie)

Second the invention of the sewing machine brought mass production to a new level, allowing styles to be easily disseminated to a far broader consumer base. This helped to percolate the silhouette of suits that not only worked with the widest range of body shapes, but was also the easiest to produce en mass. Again, no seeing person can deny the influence of this factor in modern suits.

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Rogue, my favorite South African menswears label unfortunately is no longer in business.

Although suits have gone through a few re-interpretations over the years, very little about their technology or their basic fit has altered since the industrial revolution.

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(Reghard wears a Vintage Jacket)

With the fashion industry today going through a number of tumultuous upheavals, there’s a definite push towards rethinking menswear, especially what we consider ‘formal’ attire.

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(Reghard wears Custom Trousers)

This post is part of a series on what Gents should know about Suits:

Brief History of Suit — Suit Fit, The Silhouette — Suit Fit, The Jacket — Suit Fit, The Trousers — Off the Peg Suits — Made to Measure Suits — Bespoke Suits — Common Suit Mistakes

 

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