We’ve all heard the old adage “all fashion comes back around eventually”, usually when wearing something modern that you’ve just purchased and are particularly proud of, until some aunt proclaims that she had something ‘just like that’ when she was young in approximately 1782.
So we were wondering just what we have to look forward to if all these fashions of bygone eras do start to roll back in. I mean, wandering around like Frank Sinatra can’t be a bad thing, right?
Our smart men’s code of dress can all be traced back to the 17th century, when King Charles II decreed that in English court men would be expected to wear a long coat, a petticoat (waistcoat), a cravat, a wig, and knee breeches (trousers). And so the smart suit was born. For many years men enjoyed this style of dress, with tailoring and use of colours and fabrics being important to indicate their wealth and stature in society to the world at large. At the start of the Victorian era the frock coat became popular, giving rise towards the end of the century to the looser and more comfortable morning coat, similar to what we think of as tails. At the same time the dinner jacket started to be worn to informal evening events, the descendant of the standard ‘white tie’ code of frock coat suit, this new ‘lounge suit’ came to be commonly known as ‘black tie’.
Into the early 20th century, morning coats were the gold standard for businessmen, but the lounge suit had gained hugely in popularity in the states, and was starting to be worn outside its original setting, now beginning to be seen as day-wear in town. This slackening of the tight rules and regulations was being taken advantage of, with men becoming accustomed to being more comfortable, and the ‘sack suit’ was born. This was a loose fitting cut of lounge suit, unfitted, loose and informal, it seemed that bigger was better. Trousers were generally worn high waisted but very loose and with cuffs or turn-ups.
The war changed the face of men’s fashion. With rationing of fabrics, suits took on a much more matched appearance, often with several elements made from the same fabric. Looser suits became an ostentatious and almost unpatriotic display of wealth at a time when many were poor and suffering from the shortages. Double breasted suits which had been the norm before, now fell by the wayside. Lapels shrunk and the suit was more simplified and streamlined.
After the war, and when rationing had stopped, suits began to feel the burgeoning influence of the swinging sixties. Bright colours and psychedelic patterns happened, and wide lapels with hugely flared trousers appeared like a rebellion for the years of shortages and repression. Continuing well into the 70’s, men started to find comfort again, and looser ‘leisure suits’ were born, allowing a smart suit with fashionable colours and ease of movement.
The 1980’s saw a business boom, with smart men running to and from the office, the suit became their armour. With bold colours, sharp tailoring, big shoulderpads and even graphic patterns showing confidence in this new cutthroat world. This stayed has stayed true until the present, but with ‘smart casual’ entering the fashion world’s vocabulary in the early 90’s and new and improved fabrics and technologies started to allow for suits that were both comfortable and looked sharp! Mixed fabrics gave a little stretch, meaning that the looser styles were no longer necessary in order to be comfortable all day, and men of style started to adopt a sartorial elegance that had been missing in recent decades. These days, dressing in a suit is more of an occasion than wearing comfortable jeans, announcing to the world that you have somewhere important to be.