To bring a bit of irreverent perspective to the suit, let’s begin with Mark Twain, who had his tailor make 14 identical suits out of white serge, a high-quality woven wool, so that he could wear a clean one every day. He called them his “don't give a damn” suits, but obviously the great writer did give a damn, otherwise he would not have gone to so much trouble.

About 100 years later, another author, Tom Wolfe, also embraced the white suit, only this time it was in the service of premeditated dandyhood. What is it about America authors and white suits?

We can’t answer that question, but we can tell you that by the turn of the 20th century, the three-piece suit was common for travel and everyday wear. Men were expected to wear tails for dinner, but jackets, vests, and pants (in other words, a three-piece suit), with a shirt secured by a necktie, were the rule for daywear.

Suit jackets in the early 1900s looked a lot like they do today, with a few important differences. Lounge coats, for example, tended to be single-breasted, while jackets for formal wear tended to be double-breasted, after the look of tailcoats.

Styles were largely codified in the 1930s and have remained virtually unchanged to this day. The main types of suits include the single-breasted two-piece suit, which is simply a jacket with side vents (i.e., cuts at the bottom of the jacket to make it easier to sit down in the suit) and a matching pair of pants; the double-breasted, double-vented jacket with matching trousers; and the single-breasted jacket with a matching vest and slacks.

The exception to this uniformity was the zoot suit, which was all the rage in many urban-American communities in the 1930s and ’40s. These suits featured extra-long jackets with crazy-wide lapels and big baggy pants that were pegged tight at the cuffs. Outsized shoulder pads were also a part of the look, as was a white-banded fedora, often crowned by a feather.

Another exception occurred during World War II, when fashions in general and suits in particular became more utilitarian due to a lack of raw materials. For men’s suits, this mea...

After the war, with the economy flush and materials in good supply, suits returned to their double-breasted ways, but vests never quite regained their earlier appeal.

All the while, before and after the war, tailors plying their trade on London’s Savile Row stuck to their traditions of creating bespoke, or made-to-order, suits for their well-heeled clients. A bespoke suit is not an existing garment—however impeccable its quality might be—customized for a client.

Bespoke means to start from scratch, without even a pattern. Some of the most famous names on Savile Row include Gieves & Hawkes; Henry Poole & Co.; Kilgour, French & Stanbury; and Anderson & Sheppard.

Still, for most people, the off-the-rack inventory of a number of excellent designers provides the next best thing. Suits by Italian designer Giorgio Armani are often made of linen, silk, and other soft fabrics, giving his suits a polished informality. Valentino, Gucci, Brioni, and Zannetti are just a few of the other highly desirable Italian names, while Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein are among the most sought-after U.S. favorites.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Morning Dress Guide

Morning Dress Guide

The morning coat is the epitome of men’s formal daywear. With its horizontal seam at the waist, cutaway skirt, an… [read review or visit site]

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Vtg 1930s Three Piece Tweed Herringbone Woven Double Breadsted Suit 34 36 Xs NosRare Vintage Puma Track Suit Sweat Pants Zipper Ankles Mens L Large Xl40's Vtg Double Breasted Pin Stripe Gangster Dark Blue Wool SuitLot Of Vtg Flecked Fabric, Jacket, Dress & Suit Making, Atomic Rockabilly StyleVtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 46 New In Pkg Long Sleeve Cotton Unionsuit NosVintage Men's Sears Long Johns Thermals Union Suit 100% Cotton White Size 42 Rare 1990 Vintage Air Jordan V Warm Up Suit Size MediumVtg 60s 70s H Bar C 3 Pc Western Suit Rockabilly Jacket Pants & Vest Fleck Nice!Vintage 70s 2pc Circle S Western Suit Sheen Black Rockabilly Blazer Usa 44 36x30Vtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 38 New In Pkg Double Fleece Cotton Unionsuit NosVtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 48 New In Pkg Double Fleeced Unionsuit NosVintage Elho Multicolour Neon Ski Snowboard Suit Jacket + Pants LVintage Jack Frost Peak Lapel Cowboy Western Suit Bi-swing 1950s 42 36x28 1962Shiny Plum Vintage 1960s Sharkskin Suit 46r 38x30 - A Killer Of A Rat Pack UnitVtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 44 New In Pkg Long Sleeve Cotton Unionsuit NosVtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 40 New In Pkg Short Sleeve Cotton Unionsuit NosVtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 50 New In Pkg Short Sleeve Cotton Unionsuit NosVtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 48 New In Pkg Long Sleeve Cotton Unionsuit NosGray Vintage Retro Men Formal Casual Dress Suit Slim Vest Waistcoat Coat MVintage Sergio Tacchini Track Suit Tennis Sz 40 Top 34 Pants Black Teal & PurpleVintage St Michaels Dark Charcoal Wool Cashmere Blend Suit 46 L 44 W Bnwot M&sRare Vintage Mens Pendleton Brown Suede Patches Wool Blazer Suit Coat Size 48Vtg Healthknit Union Suit Sz 44 New In Pkg Short Sleeve Cotton Unionsuit NosVintage 80's Ellesse Blue Warm Up Track Suit Jacket Pants Set- Extra Large (xl)Vintage Neon Ski Snowboard Suit Onepiece All In One L/xl8070/ Vintage Mens Christian Dior Monsier Warm Up Jogging Suit ~ Xl.Men's Vintage Grey Wool 3 Piece Suit Jacket Vest Pants 42r 34x32 Pinstripe Nice!Vintage 1990's Men's International Male Suit-tweed & Faux Leather - Miami ViceAuthentic Vintage Brioni Roman Style Double Breasted Suit Jacket Blazer Size 44Vintage 60s Mens 2pc Suit Penneys Towncraft Olive Green - Black Mens Vintage 3 Pc Formal Vest Pant Suit Pinstriped Heather Gray Usa Large 42 LAuthentic Vintage Kappa Black Track Suit Soccer Futbol Jacket Size SmallNew Gray Vintage Retro Men Formal Casual Dress Suit Slim Vest Waistcoat Coat L