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    

Mens Vtg 70s Barbour International Suit Wax Jacket BlackHugo Boss Mens Grey Tweed Blazer Vintage Three Button Coat Jacket Uk 44 Vtg SuitEdwardian Suit - 3 Piece Jacket, Vest, Pants, Wool - Stunning Original ConditionNative American Sioux Bead Work Suit Jacket Pants Indian Beads Vintage Medium NrVintage Underwear Mens Long Johns Size 42-44 Union Suit Butt Flap Wool Blend EucVintage Scotch Woolen Mills 5 Swatch Sample Men's Suit Store Display W Case Nr1950s Vintage Brown & Pink Flecked Men's Wool Suit, 36Vintage Bespoke 1980s Country Check Shooting Tweed Suit Ch 44 W 34Vintage 50s Gabardine Suit Multi Color Fleck Rockabilly Atomic Drop Loops MediumVintage Adidas Track Suit Pants Red Nylon Mesh Lined Zip Leggings Xl 32-38"x33Vintage Frank Thomas Xti Ii Series Ftl 300 One Piece Leather Motorcycle SuitVintage 60's Dark Blue Silk Shiny Sharkskin Two Piece Suit Jacket Pants Sz 42 36Vintage Early 1960s Penney's Town Clad Gray Sharkskin Men's SuitVintage 1980s Brooks Brothers 3 Piece Men’s Gray Herringbone Suit Size 46lVintage 70s Mens Gray Plaid Knack 2 Piece Suit Blazer Jacket Pants Wool Xl 46 LVintage Adidas Trefoil Velour Track Suit Bottoms Pants Trousers D6 180 MVintage Sergio Tacchini Track Suit Top Jacket Windbreaker XlVintage 60's Primavera Italian Made Plaid Sharkskin Suit Jacket Coat Sz 42-44Vintage Adidas Trefoil Track Suit Top Velour Jacket D3 162 XsVintage Gucci Suit Dinner JacketMint Lanvin - Vintage 1976 - 44r 38 Navy Stripe 3-piece Wool Suit - Made In UsaAdidas Black Vintage Sweat Jump Suit Track Pants Spring Coat Large L Bmx XxlVtg 80s Mens M 41r Oxxford Gray Red Pinstripe 2-piece Wool 2-button Suit JacketMen's Navy Blue Pinstriped Vintage Brooks Brothers Blazer/suit Jacket 36sLanvin Paris 3 Piece Vested Suit 48r 44w Gray Plaid Classic Vintage 70's? MintVintage 50s Union Suit, Russell, Size 38 Never Worn Long JohnsVintage 40s Union Suit, Wrights Brand Size Small Long Johns DeadstockExcellent Condition Vintage 3 Pc Suit By Men's Quality Fashions Montgomery WardMen Vtg 50s Charcoal Gray Heavy All Wool Suit Jacket 42 R Pants 34 W ConmarVintage 60s Kennedy's Black Plaid Wool Blazer Suit Jacket Sportcoat 38rVtg Brookfield Seafoam Polyester Striped 3 Pc Leisure Suit Peak Lapel 39 RVintage Mens Sero Sweat Suit Red And White Size Xl Great Vintage Quality Vintage 1980's Palm Beach - 42l 35 Gray Check Two Button Wool Suit - Made In UsaNew Mint Vintage Gray Plaid Wool Suit / Harve Benard ~ Holtzman / 42l 42 34x32