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    

Genuine Vintage 1940's Blue Pinstripe Cc41 Demob Suit 36" Mens Superb Vintage Bespoke Tailored Tweed 3 Piece Country Style Suit 42 Fabulous American Vintage 1940's Blue Pinstripe Suit, 36"1920’s 3 Pc Men’s Belt Back Striped Suit W Great Cut JacketVintage Custom Made Pinstripe Wool 3 Pc Mens Suit Jacket Vest Pants Dated 1914 Vtg 40s Black Moleskin Work Boiler Suit Army Overalls Coveralls Trousers PantsVintage 1960s Luxury Mens John Collier Bespoke Tweed 3 Piece Suit 38r W32 X L31Vintage 40s Wool Herringbone Twill 3 Piece Suit Mens Size 42Vintage Grey Charcoal Flecked Men’s 2pc Suit Size 48 Xl 2xl 1950’s Rockabilly Vintage Walls Blizzard-pruf Insulated Snow Suit Coveralls Men's Large Regular G8 G-8 J-wfs Wep Buaer Usn Usmc Us Navy Air Force Flight Bomber Jacket Suit G11880s 1890s 3 Piece Men's Daywear Suit. Size 38 Timeless Vintage Kolmer Mocha Brown Glen Plaid Pow 2pc Suit Jacket Pants ~42 NrNike Windbreaker Track Suit Jacket & Pants Large Windsuit Vintage Logo Lined Vintage 80s 90s Nordica Snowboard Ski Snowmobile Suit 1 Piece Jacket Hood Mens MVtg 50's/60's Men's Olive Glen Plaid Suit 46 L *rare* Vintage 1974 3 Pc. Ralph Lauren Polo Suit 42l/36w *perfect Condition* Matsuda Vintage Wool Suit Sz 50 (new W/o Tags)Vtg 60s 70s Retro Disco Loud Plaid Polyester 2 Pc Suit Leisure Bell Bottom 44 RVintage 1960s Woolrich Red-blk Buffalo Plaid 2pc Hunting Suit Sz-40 Pants 34Vintage Underwear Mens Long Johns Sz M Union Suit Butt Flap Heavy Weigh Wool EucInternational Male Chesterfield Coat And Pants Suit 1980s Black - Size LargeVintage 70's Polyester SuitVtg Circle S Shiny Gray Sharkskin 2 Pc Western Suit Rockabilly 40 S 42 REdwardian Mens One Piece Underwear - Pickwick Cotton Union Suit - SLevi's Panatela Vintage 3 Piece Suit 44r BrownHickey Freeman Customized Vintage Corrigan Twill Green Suit 43r 3 ButtonOriginal Vintage 1990's Kappa Track Suit Jacket + Pants Men's Size SmallVtg 90s Iridescent Surf Style Windbreaker Jacket Pants Jogging Suit Great Cond Vtg 70s Mens 43r Ernesto Bellini Brown Herringbone Tweed 2-pc Suit Hacking WoolVintage Crushed Velvet Trim Inky Black Men’s Tuxedo Suit Sz 40 R Vintage Circle S Western Suit/jacket 46l/pants 38 X 33 Usa Gray W/black Velvet Vintage 70s Mens Gray Levis Action Suit 2 Piece Blazer Jacket Vest Retro Xl 46 LVintage Sears Work & Leisure Winter Coveralls Snow Suit Blue 38 Short Clean EucCustom Tailors Antique Men's Black Wool Suit Pants & Vest, Waist=33-39"Vintage Marker Brand Snowsuit , Ski Suit, Snowmobile Suit Size Medium UnisexVintage Men's Casual Leather Designed Blazer Suit Slim Fit Jacket Coat-redVintage Men's Casual Leather Blazer Suit Slim Fit Jacket Coat- Army GreenVintage Adolfo Men's Suit Size 40-41r. Gray Double Breasted. Wool. Pants 36 X 3390's Vintage Adidas Small Lined Jogging Track Suit Running Suit - Unisex?Vintage 60s Mens Gold Iridescent Sharkskin Suit Blazer Jacket Pants Wool L 42 RKing's Road Sears 1970's- 1980's Retro Vintage Jogging Suit Jacket With StripesVintage Robert Stock Blue Silk Track Jogger Jacket & Pant Suit Set Sz M