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 1982 Og Fila Borg Bj Terrinda Grey Full Suit Us38 I48 80s Casuals MintVintage 1982 Og Mcenroe Sergio Tacchini Full Suit Us40 I 50 80s Casuals MintVintage 1982 Og Cerruti 1881 Connors Velour Full Suit Us40 I 50 80s Casuals MintNew Mens Bespoke 3 Piece Vintage Herringbone 'town & Country' Suit 40l W34 L32Mens Striking Unique Vintage Tweed Burton Tailored 3 Piece Suit 40Vintage Edwardian 1910’s Morning Suit Tuxedo! Dated 1916!Vintage 1940s 50s Suit Jacket & Pants 40-42Cool Vtg Barbour Wax International Suit Black Motorcycle JacketToc Edwardian Cream Double Breasted Vest Suit Formal Tuxedo WaistcoatGianni Versace Couture Vintage Embroidered Light Blue Suit Sz Eur 52 Us 42Vintage Ysl Yves Saint Laurent Brown Tweed Wool 3 Pc Suit Slim 40 34x29.542r Henry Grethel Tweed 3 Piece Men's SuitCool Vtg Barbour Wax International Suit Black C42 LargeVintage Retro 60's 70's Plaid Men's Suit Jacket 42r Chest= 44" Dress Pants 36"Mens 3 Pc Vintage Pant Suit Wool Blue Window Pane Multi Plaid Usa Xl 46 LongIsw* Vintage Giorgio Armani Gray D/b Suit 40 S / R Vintage 1930's Minnesota Woolen Co. 100% Wool Union Suit Long JohnsVintage Men's Late 1940's Suit! True Vintage! Truly Fabulous!Men's Burton Vintage Suit 42r W34-36 L29 Dry Cleaned Ek7307Hart Schaffner Marx 2 Btn Tweed Tan Fleck Suit Sz 38r Flat Front Vintage SuperbRare 1980s Vintage Calvin Klein Kid Suede Leather 2pc Suit Mens Jacket Pants 40Vtg 70's Rockabilly Polyester Western Suit Jacket 42l Pants 34x32 Denver CowboyVintage 80s Pierre Cardin Keyrolan Track Suit Jacket & Pants Large Deadstock NewJ Press Classic Gray Pinstripe Vintage 3 Roll 2 Sac Flat Front Pants Suit 42 LNat Nast Xl Vintage 1946 Porker Playing Card Suit Embroidery 100% Silk Shirt TopMen's C & A Vintage Suit 44s W34-36 L28 Dry Cleaned Ek7650Giorgio Armani Men's Suit Db/peak Lapel/pleats Gray Nailhead Wool 40r Vintage!Vintage Adidas Trefoil Track Suit Top Jacket D7 L Vintage Used Complete Adidas Track Suit Size LargeMens Vintage 70s Made In The Usa Burgundy Purple Velvet Suit Jacket Blazer 42 RVintage Burberrys Men’s Suit Gray Double Breast Pleated Pants 42 Regular52 Sz Mens Vintage Navy Blue Stripe Wool Tweed Suit Vest Waistcoat Xl AdjustableMens Vintage Pant Suit Mad Men Style Mod 60s Houndstooth Brown Usa Sz 46 LongIncredible Custom Vintage Vichenzo 3 Piece Pinstripe Suit 38r-40rVintage Athletic Union Suit-size 52 Bvd DeadstockMen's Vintage Suit 46-48s W40 L27 Ek6492