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    

Wwi Era 1910s Vintage Military Type Sporting Suit_riding Breeches_livingston Bro1930's Black Pinstripe Double Breasted 3pc Suit Size 36Vintage Vietnam War Tiger Stripe Camo Tigerstripe Jacket Shirt Suit Pants ArvnVintage Polo Ralph Lauren Preppy Suit Teddy Bear Gray T Tee Shirt Sz M CottonNew Vintage Old Stock Brooks Brothers Seersucker Cotton Suit Blue Stripe 42l Nr!Gianni Versace Vintage Yellow Black Mens Silk Jacket Blazer Pant Suit 50Men's Brown Pinstripe Vintage 3 Piece Suit 36r W34 L31 Ar8844Men's Checked Vintage Tweed Suit 38r W34-36 L28 Ar6559Mens Canda 3 Piece Vintage Slim Fit Country Suit 42 W36 L30 Vintage Vietnam War Erdl Camo Jacket Shirt Suit Pants Arvn 101 AirborneVintage Trego's Westwear Western Wear Embroidered Cowboy Rockabilly Orange Suit Mens Lord John 3 Piece Vintage Chalk Stripe Slim Fit Country Suit 44 W38 L30 Vintage Men's Sean John Gray Sweat Suit Jacket And Pants Size 3xl / XxxlNew Vintage Men's Ecko Velour Sweat Suit Jacket And Pants Size XlStunning Vtg 70s Mens Rockabilly Disco Blue Leisure Suit Original Razzberry TagsVintage Retro Adidas Man's Trefoil Top Suit Track Bayern Munchen Jacket Sz 164Mad Men Vintage Sharkskin Suit Men's Dunn & Co Green Checked Vintage 2 Piece Suit 42s W34-36 L26 Ar7410Men's Hardy Amies Vintage Tweed Suit 40l W34-36 L33.5 Ar655560s Cesare Larini E Figlio Blue Green Sharkskin Suit 42 Chest 35x29 As IsDesigner English Suit- Anderson And Sheppard Of Saville Row- Vintage-pinstripeVintage Blue Sharkskin 3 Button Suit Jacket Mod Rat Pack 1950s / 1960s Mens LMid 1960s Vintage Atwood By Curlee Mens 2pc Sharkskin Gray Suit NrMen's Vintage 3 Pc Suit Burgundy Polyester 40r, Shiny, Disco, Tacky, 1970'sVintage Blue Hbt Parachute Jump Suit Coveralls Sz Small ParatrooperMen's Dunn & Co Grey Pinstripe Vintage 2 Piece Suit 40r W36 L30 Ar7413Vintage Ellesse Two-piece Red Track Sweat Jogging Suit- Sz 8 W, 32 M Unisex. EucVintage Adidas Nylon Track Suit Top SVintage Sssssssss Gray 3-piece Pinstripe Suit - Size 40sVintage Classic Burberry Grey Glen Plaid Wool Double Breasted Suit 42s Usa Mint!38l Vintage 1970's Polo Ralph Lauren Taupe 3/2 Sack Two Button Wool Tweed Suit