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 Brooks Brothers Seersucker Double Breasted Suit, Size 39 RegRare Vintage Adidas Men's Medium Soviet Union Cccp Track Suit Jacket Russia RedVintage Mens Suit By Sharles 3 Pieces Button Fly 1930s " Lots Of DetailsMens Vintage John Hanly Ireland Wool Tweed Check Country Suit Jacket Blazer 40 RPaul Smith London Tailored Vintage Sb Check Suit Nr London Map Lining 40" Vintage 1970s Mens Yorker Tweed Bespoke Shooting/ Hunting Suit Jacket 38rVintage Christian Dior Black 1 Btn Tuxedo 36 S Mens SuitMens Vintage English Classic 1950`s Bespoke Tweed Town And Country Suit 40"rVintage Adidas S. Edberg 1992 Us Open Jacket Shell Suit Top 90s Rare Mens L-xlVintage Military U.s. Navy Leather Flight Suit Colvinex Cfn24 Size 44Vintage 80's Nike Tracksuit Blue Tag Size Medium Great Condition Rare Track SuitVintage 100% Thai Silk Tang Suit Top Jacket Black Gold Hand Made Size XlVintage Giorgio Armani 'black Label' Men's Suit Size 40 RVintage Giorgio Armani 'black Label' Chaplain Men's Suit Size 40 RVintage* Tailored By Hickey Freeman * Mens 3pc Suit Sz. 40r60,s Vintage Tailor Made Slim Fit 3 Button100% Wool Mod Suit Bespoke Stunning !Vintage Old School Adidas Track Running Jacket Suit XlShwanky Vitnage Men's/youth Denim 3pc Suit Disco Hip Leisure Suit Blue SmallVintage 70s Mens Brown Polyester Knit 2 Pc Reversible Vest Jacket Pant Suit LVintage 1950s Mens Rayon One Piece Pajama Suit Space-jama Onesie Rare Shorts Vintage Ralph Lauren Polo White Button Down Dress Suit Shirt Mens Size 16-34Burberry Suit Jacket Mens Wool Blazer Coat Vintage Vtg Burberrys Size Sz L LargeVintage 3-piece Grey Wool Suit By Stafford 42rMen's Vintage Dkny 100% Wool 2-piece Suit, 40r, Good Condition, BlackJust Reduced! - Vintage Men's Suit Size 42 R Oakton Perma Press - Great ShapeKilburne & Finch 50r/45w Vintage Pattern/plaid Blazer Sportcoat Suit JacketVtg Indy Mod 1979 Lee For The Man Corduroy Western Leisure Suit 42r Brown NwtVintage Mens Suit - 38rVintage Adidas Atp Warm Up Suit! Made In Usa. Size L. No Reserve!Mens St Michael Stunning Executive Vintage Navy Luxury Suit 42r X W32 X L33Vintage Mod Indie Black Striped Wool 36 S Mens Suit Vtg 50s Reversible Pimp Velvet Red / Black Suit Vest Waistcoat Sz 34 RMen's Vintage Light Blue Blazer Suit Jacket By Gary Mcdonald The Union Xl