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    

Antique Victorian Male Mannequin Adjustable Dress Form Suit Display Walnut BaseMens Barbour International Suit Belted Wax Jacket Navy Size 42Vintage Rare 1976 Montreal Canada Olympic Games Adidas Official Jacket Suit NrVictorian 1890s Suit Coat Vest Cutaway Beetle Coat Steampunk Goth Chest Size 36Vintage 1920's Men's Navy Blue Suit Coat Jacket Vest By Oakley Tailoring 40/42 Vintage 1930’s 1940’s Suit By Marshall-grahame!Vintage 1930's / 1940's Men's SuitVtg 1940s 3 Piece Double Breasted Button Fly Brown Striped Men's Suit - 36?Vintage 1960s Luxury Mens John Collier Bespoke Tweed 3 Piece Suit 38r W32 X L31 Genuine Vintage 1940's Blue Pinstripe Cc41 Demob Suit 36" Stunning Top End Ben Sherman Vintage Mod Gents Suit C42 W36 L29 Cost £400Mens Vtg 70s Barbour International Suit Wax Jacket BlackVintage Mens Brown Southwick Suit 3 Piece Blazer Jacket Vest Tweed Wool L 44 RVintage Gucci Gg Velour Onyx Black Track Suit Jacket Mens Xl Made In ItalyVintage Bespoke Huntsman Savile Row Suit 38Ralph Lauren Polo Tweed Suit Size 39r Excel Condition Vintage Brown Herringbone Vintage One Piece Descente - Large L Men's Ski Snow Suit Belted ZipperdVtg 1940s Blue Wool Double Breasted Gilbert's South Bend Indiana Men's Suit -38?1940s Lindy Hop Gangster Swing Demob Style Suit 40 Ch - 34 W 12Vintage 1930’s (nra 1934) Tuxedo Suit By Hastings!Vintage Refrigiwear Nylon Work Nylon Ski Suit Coveralls Mens Size L InsulatedAntique 1920s Black Wool Wide Lapel Tux Tuxedo Suit Double Breasted Richman BrosVintage Suit Mod Rockabilly SharkskinVintage Frank Thomas Xti Ii Series Ftl 300 One Piece Leather Motorcycle SuitVintage 1950s H Bar C Men's Western Cowboy Suit Jacket Sportcoat Peak Lapel 40Vtg 20s 30s Antique Tails Suit Tuxedo Formal Jacket Cropped Edwardian Steampunk Vintage Adidas Trefoil Shiny Track Suit Bottoms Pants Trousers D7 LVintage Duofold Double Layer Red Union Suit Long Johns With Back Button Flap LgVintage Suit SharkskinVintage Jones New York Double Breastedl Men's Suit Size 42s Slacks 36x29"Vintage Lot Sample Lebron Nike Warmup Track Jacket Pants Suit Ohio X Xi Vi Men LReal Workwear Mens Size 4xl Red Cotton Union Suit Long Underwear Very Nice!. Rare Collectors Vintage Adidas 80s Shell Suit Top Retro Tracksuit Jacket *,.''Men Sz 40r Vintage Gray Wool Gianni Versace Couture SuitVintage 90s Adidas Zip Up Windbreaker Jogging Suit Black White Slate Blue Mens MMens Adidas Athletic Jacket Sz Xl Black Retro Track (pants Suit Shirt Vintage LMen's Paul Stuart Grey Check Suit Jacket Size 36s/37s 2btn 31/30 30/30 VintageVintage Penneys Towncraft Combed Cotton Long Underwear Union Suit Trap Door 42Vtg 60s Mens Suit,rat Pack,mod,sharkskin,mid Century,size 38,smallVintage Brooks Brothers 3/2 3pc Suit Size 44r? Nice!Vintage Arcticwear Arctic Wear Jacket & Bibs Snowmobile Snowmobiling Suit MediumVintage Wards Pinehurst Men's 3 Piece Dark Blue Pinstripe Suit Double BreastedVintage Mayo Spruce Extra Heavy Union Suit Long Sleeve Ankle Length Size 44Vintage Duofold Union Suit, Size 40 Long Johns, Never WornVintage Men's Western Suit Jacket Pants Gray Ranch & Town Texas Wear 46 R 40wVintage 3 Piece Tan Corduroy Suit W Leather Trim- Chest 44, Waist 34 ,inseam 30Vintage Silver Reebok Unicorn Jogger Dance Suit Jacket Pants Outfit Mens Xl MintMens Formal 70s Vintage Suit Vest Waistcoat Wool Window Pane Brown 42 LargeMens Burton 3 Piece Vintage Pinstripe Town & Country Suit Uk46 W38 L29Vintage Brooks Brothers Gray Pinstripe Wool Suit - Size 43lVintage Mens Brown Retro Western Suit Leisure Blazer Jacket Pants Snap M 40 LVtg 70s Men S 38r Levis Panatela Tan Corduroy Western Vest Jacket Suit WaistcoatVintage Mens Blue Pinstripe John Blair Suit Blazer Jacket Pants Wool L 44 RVintage 1980's Palm Beach - 42l 35 Gray Check Two Button Wool Suit - Made In UsaVtg 50s 60s Wool Gray Shadow Plaid Canvassed Blazer Suit Jacket Rockabilly 40 LSuper Vintage Blue Textured Fabric Polyester Wearable Suit In Excellent ConditioWoolrich Hunting SuitVintage Jcpenney Mens Adult One Piece Snowmobile Snowmobiling Suit Size SmallFabulous Vintage Blue & White Patterned Polyester Suit In Excellent ConditionVintage 1992 Marlboro 2 Piece Adventure Team Lightweight Hooded Rain Suit W/bag