Even though many elements of the suit, as we know it today, have remained unchanged since its inception, there are certainly differences in the details of a suit from 2020 compared to a suit from the 1980s or 1940s. First of all, what exactly is a suit? The term “suit” is derived from the French term “Suivre” which means to follow. Meaning, the jacket follows the pants or vice versa.
So a suit is a combination of a jacket and a pair of pants in a matching fabric. It’s not just the color but also made out of the same fabric. Like many aspects of classic menswear, the origins of the suit can also be traced back to Beau Brummell. He was the prototypical gent in the 19th century England. Before Beau Brummell, menswear was heavily influenced by the French Corp and evolved around heavily embroidered fabrics such as velvet and knee breeches and stockings. Beau Brummell replaced all of this with lone trousers worn with boots and a coat that didn’t have much ornamentation or color. Frankly, Brummell may not have been the first one to simplify the classic French men’s wardrobe because at that point in time, it had already become unpopular. French menswear was negatively associated with the French Revolution and people who wore it were beheaded in the guillotine.
Nevertheless, Beau Brummell definitely popularized the new less ornamental style. Now, it seems like the top and the bottom of Beau Brummell’s outfits weren’t always exactly the same and matching but the whole silhouette and the more muted color stream laid the groundwork for the modern suit, as we know it today. By the start of the Victorian era which lasted from 1837 to 1901, the first and foremost garment a man would wear was a frock coat. It was basically a black coat that resembles modern overcoats. It had a single vent in the back and was either single or double breasted. In terms of length, it reached down all the way to the knees that’s why it resembles an overcoat. While the single breasted version of a frock coat was more common, the double-breasted version was more formal because it was also known as the Prince Albert. Later in the Victorian era, the frock coat basically split up in two different elements.
On the one hand, we had the morning coat that kept the tails, on the other hand, we had the lounge suit which lost it. While the morning suit remained the length, it now had open quarters rather than the closed quarters of a frock coat and it often had just a single button and it wasn’t double-breasted anymore. At the time, it became the number one option for formal daywear but in today’s world, it’s probably even more formal and typically only worn at Royal Weddings or high society weddings. Maybe in England, it’s a little different where you can still see the regular Joe wearing a morning coat for their wedding but in the US and out side of England, it’s typically just done so in very certain circles either by people who really appreciate classic men’s clothing or because they have a certain status in society. Please watch the video for a timeline of the evolution of suits.