Fashion: How Men’s Suits Have Changed Over The Last 100 Years

A man cannot go wrong in a suit. Except of course if it’s the wrong time of day and not to the occasion’s code. The fact remains and has for a century that whether you’re fat, bald, tall, short, bearded, young or in your senior years it’s the way to dress and seemingly it’s even better if you like a drink and a cigar with it. A suit is composed of three ideals; the jacket, the tie and the trousers, how these are embellished and accessorised really stand you out.

You may think a suit is a suit but once you start looking, having received instructions for black tie you start to wonder if you’ll ever be dressed on time. Time indeed, let’s look at the significant changes of the Western styled Suit over the last one hundred years or so. You may be surprised at the differences and each have mostly been led by events during the era, well that’s fashion for you.

We’ve all seen the modern dress of the late 1800s and really before jeans were taken from the farmer’s field to the street, trousers were the type of clothing that every man used to wear no matter their class. The only items that set them apart was the fabric used and the tie around the waist to keep them up and whether the person was wearing shoes or not. For Victorians it was the Frock Coat – borrowed mostly from the British Navy, a lengthy one piece all enclosed fabric that kind of bottomed out like a dress.

Into the 1910s and ’20s this was fast replaced by a more slimmed down jacket and the Lounge Suit aka suit and tie. Previously a white tie used to be worn to denote formal but due to an increase in office labour, white turned to black where it has remained ever since. The 1930s arrive and Britain is very much under the grasp of a cinematic revolution, a period where even Hollywood had to play catch up. Suits were very close fitting and appeared long with tapered legs.

The War years were not kind on any industry where items were not in huge demand, as much as there were no fashionable tanks there were no fashionable suits either but bless them they tried. With materials very hard to get and labour costs driven down, fabrics were less tidy and not so superior, cloth meant less tailored suits, loosely fitting and minimal. Like an episode of Dallas gone wrong.

The 50s and 60s couldn’t be more different. One was swinging, well they both were but one of jazz and the other of pop and rock. Wide pleats and velvet turned into drainpipes and no collars and then the Seventies came. Flares, comfort and wide lapels and a single button which most definitely didn’t reach the Royal Family. The 80’s carried the relaxing thread by dropping padding and everyone wore summer suits.

The last thirty years have been much the same however, with only slight differences to be found. The 90s went all retro, in fact if you wasn’t slim you wasn’t getting in… a suit. Those minimalist suits and slim fit slacks still trend today, only in the noughties accompanied by superior materials that shine with additional buttoning and the 2010s gave us yet more slim fit suits and trousers that can only be explained that they were hand me downs from a shorter older brother.

All of these styles, the older the better barring perhaps the 1940s are very in at the moment. A man simply cannot go wrong in a suit, no matter which era they’re suited and booted in. Don’t forget also the accessories, a hat, a tail, cufflinks, tie, jacket, waistcoat, shirt, pocket, buttoning, watch and shoes and for those in 2010 ankle trousers, socks too.