Traditional men’s suits have been around in varying guises for over four hundred years. Originally there was Royal Court dress, consisting of matching tailcoat and waistcoat, together with knee length breeches and stockings, lace cuffs and cravat, hat and not forgetting the obligatory sword! Formal Court dress still exists, an example of which can be seen at the state opening of Parliament.
A suit is described as a set of garments in matching cloth, often referred to today as a lounge suit or business suit (if cut in a conservative style). Over the last 400 years, sartorial styles and tastes have changed along with the culture and influences of the time.
Going back in time, suits in the Regency period were elaborately decorated with embroidery and jewels, the greater the splendour, the greater the social status of the owner.
Beau Brummell is credited with re-defining the suit, leading to a rise in popularity, English men took to the suit, wanting, simple yet well-cut tailored clothes in contrast to the extravagant designs of previous incarnations.
Moving on to Victorian times, suits became more formal and less decorative, reflecting the starkness of the industrial era. The frock coat became popular standard business dress for gentleman. At the same time, a new informal coat became more acceptable in society – the morning coat. The morning coat was ideal for riding, as in modern times, the morning coat was worn with trousers that didn’t match, so it wasn’t strictly a suit! Evening dress was what we now refer to as white tie.
Towards the end of the Victorian era, the modern lounge suit was born as a very informal garment meant only to be worn for sports activities in the country or on the visits to the seaside, popularised by the advent of the railways and Sunday being the day of rest for the majority of workers.
Next month, we will be talking about the 20th century suit, but before we forget, this brings me to men in petticoats… Prior to the French Revolution, what we now call a waistcoat was referred to as a petticoat; the name disappeared from use along with the French Aristocracy after the revolution in 1789, it is now a name for ladies underwear!
Read The History of the Suit - Part 2 - Covering Up One's Knickers