An elegant suit is the epitome of formal dressing. It can make an ordinary man outstand the crowd just like a deity does amongst the mortals…
Such is the power of a good suit, and this is something that men from all ages have known very well. It is a sign of power, and as we all know, a powerful man will always have an advantage over the rest in most aspects of life, and yes, including women.
That’s why here at Fashion Galleria we’ve decided to do a good recap on the history and evolution of suits. If you want to learn more, then just keep reading!
1600s: A Look Back In Time
Even though most men wouldn’t dare to wear the suits used in the 1600s, they were a real hit in that era. And yes, images speak louder than words:
The style is radically different to what modern men wear. The unique trait they share is that, just like now, suits were used to stand out from the crowd and to reflect status and power.
What would you think if I told you that the first two men are wearing their suits for every day activities? Shocking, right? Without any doubts suits have evolved very much in comparison to a few centuries back…
But the thing is that, for that time, these suits were extremely elegant and a clear signal of power. Men who wore them gained respect and admiration, because that was the main role of suits during that time (and it still is): to make the man stand out from the crowd.
1700s: An Upgrade in Style
The 1700s were different in the sense that men were supposed to wear an elegant hat and an iconic suit which was composed by a coat, vest and breeches. Right below you have George Washington as a reference:
In most cases the hat was black with a very distinctive design: it had the brim fastened up on three sides. This is a trait that definitively represents how men used to wear their suits in that era.
If we compare this style to the one present in the 1600s we can see that there is a noticeable change. Comparing suits from both eras will show that in the 1700s things become a little more simplified, something that marked the start for the modern-era suit.
1800s: A Change Starts to Happen
Suits became noticeably more simplified and gave room for the modern suit to appear. You can take your own conclusions from the following images:
(This one is from 1880s, and we can see that suits became even more simplified. And yes, you can see that the tricorn hat is long gone!)
Images speak louder than words. If we compare these styles to what was the fashion during 1600s and 1700s, we can see that the improvement is tremendous.
Cotton became very popular in the 19th century. It is important to remember that this fabric was forbidden in several European countries during the first half of 18th century, in order to protect the local wool and flax industries. Although, once the prohibition was lifted, the fabric became very popular and eventually became even more than linen.
During this time cotton became much cheaper than before, and hence, it made this fabric a very popular choice for suits. The material is very versatile, easy to dye and is pretty good for both summer and winter, therefore it gained plenty of popularity.
1900: The Rise of Suits
It wasn’t till the 20th century that the business suit was created and gained plenty of popularity and importance. Although, it is important to say that suits went through major changes during this century, ranging from the most minimalist styles to the most exotic and daring proposals, especially in the 70s.
This image from early 1900s clearly shows the great change that suits went through. Long gone were the days of Victorian suits and comfort became a more important factor:
The Victorian era was known for being very restrictive in several aspects, but once it became to a conclusion, human beings were freer to live their own lives and that also benefited suits.
One of the most remarkable changes is that the typical frock coat was replaced by the sack coat. Without any doubts a major improvement, and as many of us can say, the sack coat looks much better, more elegant and more stylish.
Frock suits managed to survive during the first decade of the 20th century, but since 1910 they lost the battle and became almost non-existent, because the attention was now on sack suits. Here you have an image for reference:
As the years advanced comfort became even more important in the design of suits, and we can see it perfectly reflected in the 1920s, because men preferred to wear short jackets with two or three buttons and a matching pair of trousers. Comparing this style to previous era shows how much we had advanced by then.
The 1930s were more special in the sense that men wanted to look like Hollywood stars, and yes, they tried to wear the same suits they used in the films. For instance, the London Drape suit became extremely popular during those years and there are two elements that stand out from the rest: this suit was much more flexible and softer. Again, this proves how comfort gained even more terrain during those years.
Here you have an image of the famous London Drape suit:
The 1940s were very unique. These years were marked by wars, and this also shaped the style of suits, because they followed a minimalist trend that we can see embodied in the style of Frank Sinatra:
The predominant trend was of the minimalist kind, but nonetheless, the suits were crafted to cause a great and positive impression. Men look more minimalist, but at the same time, they looked more elegant and sharper. This case is a perfect example of “sometimes less is more”.
After the war was over, the minimalist trend started to lose force, and as a consequence, the 1950s were full of ‘fuller’ suits. Right below you have a compilation of the predominant suit styles during these years:
The 1960s were very interesting because they marked a definitive change in men’s fashion. Formality was left a bit off the track and innovation took over. It was an era marked by captivating velvet trousers, exotic prints, narrower pants and tighter suits.
The Beatles represent the spirit and style of this era very well:
And well, the 70s were an era marked by flamboyant and extravagant suits. Just like The Beatles represent the style of the 60s, David Bowie is a perfect example of the 70s:
Italian designers became especially popular during this era were exotic combinations of colors and styles became the norm.
The 80s were time of more simplicity and elegance. Again, images speak louder than words:
That image from Wall Street (1986) gives you a clear vision on how pinstripes became popular in this decade, although, they were different than in the 30s and 40s, because they were noticeably wider.
The 90s was a decade of remarkable minimalist. If we compare decades, then we can see that it is like a roller coaster. Flamboyant suits and exotic styles peaked during the 70s, and then became less popular in the 80s and lost plenty of attention in the 90s, which was a time deeply marked by ‘extreme’ minimalism.
This image summarizes it all:
2000s: More Surprises and Innovation
The 2000s are, what we like to say, a ‘beautiful’ disaster. Even though many designers would not call it beautiful, it is still very interesting to see, because the early 2000s were a time of extreme fusion between previous trends and styles and influences from several sub-cultures and ethnic clothing.
During the first decade of 2000 the serious and minimalist style of suits from the previous 10 years was replaced by luxurious fabrics and a predominant flashy and flamboyant style.
However, following a similar pattern to that from 70s to 80s-90s, that style lost momentum by 2010 and suits experienced a return to a more suave and minimalist style. Since 2010 the suits look more masculine and suave, which pretty much resembles the James Bond style.
Leonardo Dicaprio represents this style very well:
As we’ve seen suits have evolved greatly during the last 400 years. We’ve gone through a lot: from the antique suits from the 1600s and 1700s to the minimalist suits of 1940, the exotic and extravagant style of 1970 and a return to a minimalist and masculine style in 2010 and in advance.
And it is wise to say that we will keep evolving, because that’s human nature. Suits will keep evolving because that’s how history and fashion work.