The 19th century not only gave us artistic masterpieces such as ‘The Starry Night’ by Vincent Van Gogh, it also marked the transition of intricately-embroidered and jeweled clothing into much simpler attires such as suits. That is the reason the era is often attributed for what can be regarded as a sartorial revolution. This was the time when men’s suits started to transform from bright, royal court dresses – from the days of the French revolution – to the contemporary forms of attire popular among today’s generation.
Interestingly, over the years, ‘business attire’ has undergone many changes – right from cuffs, to belts for men suits, and from styling of pockets to fitting of trousers. Though the evolution is still in progress, the footprints of history are no less intriguing.
Inception – As a Dress Code for the First Time
Formal jackets came into being as a dress code for the first time in the 19th century, when King Charles II instructed his courtiers to wear a waistcoat, a long coat, and other things such as a cravat and hat, as a part of their daily attire.
Beau Brummell and the Business Suit
The Lounge Suit or the office suit that we know today was an invention or perhaps a gift to the coming generations by Beau Brummell – an icon of the Regency era – who redesigned the earlier dress code. Then, his idea of style was adopted by European men, which eventually lead to well-cut clothing and then to modern suits with neckties. The definition of men’s business suits has been constantly changing ever since.
Frock and Morning Coat
The long period of peace and prosperity, an outcome of the Victorian era, saw great changes and gentlemen could be seen in frock coats. By the mid-19th century, people could be seen in a new version of attire called the morning coat that had a cut in the front, which soon gained mass acceptance owing to its informal tone. Though it was designed for the business class, frock coat was still not a ‘suit’, as people used to wear them with contrasting trousers. It was only during the Edwardian times, the morning suit became a standard dress.
Tuxedo and Oxford Bags
The end of the 19th-century saw the appearance of Tuxedos – when USA started to import dinner jackets and people called them by this moniker. Another development was the fashion of oxford bags – wide trousers that young people used to wear. The 1920s gave birth to the cuffing of trousers, a style reintroduced by Ralph Lauren Purple Label.
Developments from 1940 to 1980
Suit styles in the 1940s and 50s, with small lapel sizes and a fairly straight cut, aimed to modernize and simplify the attire. After the launch of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ in 1977, 3-piece suit came in vogue, often associated with discotheque culture. Tailoring started to suffer at the same time, as custom fit suits had made their way to the market, allowing people to separately purchase jackets and pants. By the 1980s, the suit became simpler and waistcoats were completely out of vogue.
Today, suits have become more comfortable and simpler than their predecessors; yet, the 21st century man has many options to explore. The choices do not end with a bespoke and off-the-rack; there are made-to-measures (MTM) as well.