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    

Vintage 1920's Men's Black SuitBrioni Vintage Gray Houndstooth Mens Peak Lapel 6x1 Db 100% Wool Suit Blazer-44rVintage 1970's Fila Bjorn Borg Track Suit Jacket Pants Sz L The Royal TenenbaumsBrioni Men's Vintage Gray Houndstooth Peak Lapel Db Camel Hair Suit Blazer- 42rAdidas Velour Zip Front Jacket Jamaican Flag Rasta Casual Track Suit Mens XlVintage Grey Striped Worsted Wool Country 3 Three Piece Suit Slim 36 R 30w 32lVtg 80s 90s Bright Neon White Fir Ski Suit Onesie Snowsuit Mens L Wow!True Vintage 1960s Thornproof Tweed English Country Wear 2 Piece Suit 38-40Mens Charly's Company 3 Piece Vintage Self Stripy Town & Country Suit 40 W34 L33Mens Ciro Citterio 3 Piece Vintage Self Striped Town & Country Suit 42 W36 L33Awesome Gucci Vintage Rare Designer Denim Monogram Jean Suit. *isw Vintage! Versace Classic V2 Navy 3btn Suit 44r 44 R E54r Vintage Nova Scotia Textiles Canada Size 44 Union Suit 100% WoolVintage Pendelton Mens Western Grey 100% Virgin Wool Suit Blazer Jacket 44 PatchMens Vintage Union Suit Long Underwear Thermal Cotton Short SleeveMens Vintage Rat Pack Suit Jacket Blazer Red Black 1950 1960 Mad Men Clothing 48Mint Lanvin Paris Vintage 40r Taupe W/ Stripes Silk Suit W/ Flat Front PantVtg 60s Bespoke Euc Gray 100% Wool 3 Pc Business Suit Vested Ticket Pocket 38 SVintage Brown Pinstripe Suit - 50" Chest/32"longWalter-morton Vintage Men's 44r 3 Piece Blue Wool Pinstripe Suit, 39/29 PantsVintage 1990 Grape 5 Orginal Flight Suit Grape V Mens Air Jordan Retro 5Unopened Ludlow Slim Suit Pant In Italian Linen-cotton 32/34 Vintage Grey | $188Vtg 50's 60's Bespoke Hand Tailored Eagle For Boyd's Rat Pack Suit 42l-xl? GreenNice Vintage Men's 3 Piece Suit -heather Wine & Charcoal Gray - Johnny Carson Mens Vintage Givenchy 3 Pc Suit Designer Gray Pinstripe 43 Clothing Pants VestRare Vintage 1980s Sergio Tacchini Tennis Track Suit Jacket Size 54 / XlVintage Neon Elho Freestyle Ski Snowboard Suit Jacket + Pants MVintage Eddie Bauer Goose Down Insulated Red Coveralls Snow Suit Mens1940's Vintage Anderson Little Co 2pc Mens Army Wool Suit Wwii Cuff Pants JacketMen's Vintage 70's After Six Ruffled Tuxedo Shirt Size 16 Prom Suit Wedding PimpMens Vintage Reed St.james Pin Striped Suit,nwt, Size 42Vintage Mod Wrangler 44r Suit Jacket Blazer Smoking Coat Western Cowboy NiceVintage Bill Parry Original Mens Retro Jumpsuit - Leisure Suit -coveralls LargeAdolfo S 38r 38 R Mens 2 Button Suit Navy Blue Stripe Vintage 100% WoolMen's Check Boston Vintage Suit 36r W30 L27 Ek6330Vtg Circle S Navy Blue 2 Pc Western Suit Rockabilly Polyester Cowboy 40 S 42 R