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 Barbour International Suit Wax Jacket Navy Size 40Fred Perry Suit Blazer Jacket Skinhead Mod Oi Scooter Rare Vintage Large1930's Palm Beach 2 Piece Cream Backbelted Suit Vintage Classic Austin Reed 3 Piece Tweed Suit Retro C36 TailoredMen's Vintage 1940 3 Piece Suit Heavy Wool Tweed Pleated Pants Notched Lapels1960s North Beach Leather Jacket Pant Suit Set Hippie Boho Unisex M 32 InseamVintage 30s-40s Mens Wool Grey 3 Piece Double Breasted Suit Union Made A Man's Vintage 100% Wool Heavy Tweed Suit. Chest 42 Inches. Waist 32 Inches.Men's Vintage 1941 3 Piece Suit Light Grey Wool Belted & Pleated BackVtg 1940's Chalk Stripe Single Breasted 3 Pc Worsted Wool Suit Sz 42 37 WaistVintage Us Army Woodland Camo Waterproof Rain Suit Parka Jacket Mens LVtg 70's Rust Color Polyester Disco Leisure Suit Sz 42 Jacket Pants 36" W 29" LPolo Ralph Lauren €Kingsridge Made In Usa 3 Piece Wool Suit 42r Includes VestVtg 40s 2 Pc Double Breasted Windowpane Suit Hollyood Gangster Jacket Pants RareVtg Ralph Lauren Polo Black Label 3 Piece Suit Black Wool Pin Stripe Coat VestDated '44 Wwii Us Army Air Forces An 6550 Summer Flying Suit, Size Medium 40Vintage Gatsby Hermes 100% Linen White Suit Italy Made Fitted To Size Small RareVintage Savile Row Bespoke Men's Tweed Hacking Suit 38Mens Vintage 3 Piece Western Suit Gray With Vest Size 46rCool Vintage Bespoke Bernard Weatherill Tan Tropical Wool Sb Peak Sack Suit 40 SVintage Mens 3pc Blue Velvet Suit Pants Vest 36l Made In Sweden Retro ModCricketeer Brown Tweed Vintage 100% Wool Mens Suit Jacket Pants Vest Sz 44r Mens S 36r Suit Vest Jacket Waistcoat Vtg 50s Reversible Wool Brown Gray TweedTrue Vtg 70s Groovy 3-piece Mod Hippie Disco Leisure Suit Flares Men's SmallVintage Military Uniform Suit Moss Bros Royal Army Service Corps 1940s/50s 40"Vntg 70s Blue Poly~safari Leisure Suit~ W/disco Pimp Shirt ~halloween Costume, L1960-70's Togs By London Fog Velvet Leisure Style Suit 42 RegRare Vintage J Riggings 3 Piece Vest Smoking Jacket Black Suit Crushed VelvetHickey Freeman Made In Usa Navy Pinstripe Wool Suit 41r Canterbury Collection38 Sz Mens Vintage Tan Beige Stripe Suit Vest Waistcoat Small Slim See!Vintage Adidas Track Suit Warm Ups Sweatpants Hooded Jacket Sweatshirt Large Vintage Western Style Leisure SuitMen's Anderson-little Anchorman Ron Burgundy Style Suit True Vintage BurgundyMen's True Vintage 70s Leisure Suit Jacket & Pants Pimp Disco Machine WashableVtg 50s 2 Pc Fleck Drop Loop Suit Hollyood Atomic Jacket & Pants Swing Vlv Rayon40l Vintage Richman Bros 1964 Men's Black Wool Round Lapel 2 Piece Suit Mad MenVintage 70s 3pc. Western Blue Leisure Pant Suit Costume1940's 4btn Db Black Suit Coat ...38 SMen's Sz 44 Retro Vintage Mod Disco 2 Piece Tan Knit Leisure SuitMens 2 Piece Pure Washed Silk Green Suit Vintage Uno Uomo 42 Reg 36x33 BlazerMens Vintage Vicon Western Style Navy Blue Black Dress SuitMens Retro Vintage Double Breasted Suit Jacket Blazer Brown Wool Blend M 40 RVintage Jc Penney Towncraft / Yellow / White Plaid Blazer / Suit Jacket 43 RVtg 80s Casual Studio Isle Nylon Windbreaker Jogging Suit Track Jacket Pants MTan Plaid Vintage Mens Suit Jacket-size 40-Vintage Zayre Yellow White Men's Leisure Suit Jacket Sports Coat 42rVintage Men's Casual Leather Blazer Suit Slim Fit Jacket Coat- Army Green1970's Vintage Beige Nubby 4 Button Wide Spread Collar Leisure Suit 42r 34x31Circle S Western Ranch Suit Taupe 44r Jacket 38 Pants Dallas Texas Vintage Vintage 1960s 1970s Suit Mens 3 Piece Wool Plaid Palm Beach Hipster 40/41rLge Mens Vtg 1970s Polyester Leisure Suit Green Bell Bottoms Disco Vtg 50s 2 Pc Windowpane Plaid Wool Suit Hollyood Jacket & Pants Swing Vlv 3 Btn1970s Loud Men's Sz 46 Blazer Suit Coat Jacket Perfect Shape VintageVintage Haggar Imperial Men's 46 L Gray Wool Blend Suit Pants 38x32 UsaMen's Vintage 70's Blue Marc Pierce Leisure Suit L ShortMens Jrs 60s Retro Sportcoat Suit Jacket Blazer Emerald Green Usa Skinny 35 SVintage Men's Tuxedo Tail Coat Gray Suit JacketVintage Ektelon Tennis Warm Up Suit Jacket & Pants Blue Green Size Large