A suit is a set of men’s or women’s clothes comprising a suit jacket, or coat, and trousers. When of identical textile, and worn with a collared dress shirt, necktie, and dress shoes, it is traditionally considered informal wear in Western dress codes. The lounge suit originated in 19th-century Britain as more casual wear alternative for sportswear and British country clothing. After replacing the black frock coat in the early 20th century as regular daywear, a sober one-coloured suit became known as a lounge suit. A darker, understated lounge suit for professional occasions became known as a business suit.
Suits are offered in different designs and constructions. Cut, and cloth, whether two- or three-piece, single- or double-breasted, vary, in addition to various accessories. A two-piece suit has a jacket and trousers, a three-piece suit adds a waistcoat (known as a vest in North America). Hats were almost always worn outdoors (and sometimes indoors) with all men’s clothes until the counterculture of the 1960s in Western culture. Informal suits have been traditionally worn with a fedora, a trilby, or a flat cap. Other accessories include handkerchief, suspenders or belt, watch, and jewelry.
Other notable types of suits are for semi-formal occasions dinner suit (black tie) and the black lounge suit (stroller), both which arose as less formal alternatives for the formal wear of the dress coat for white tie, and the morning coat with formal trousers for morning dress, respectively.
Originally, suits were always tailor-made from the client’s selected cloth. These are now known as bespoke suits, custom-made to measurements, taste, and style preferences. Since the 1960s, most suits are mass-produced ready-to-wear garments. Currently, suits are offered in roughly four ways:
- bespoke, in which the garment is custom-made by a tailor from a pattern created entirely from the customer’s measurements, giving the best fit and free choice of fabric;
- made to measure, in which a pre-made pattern is modified to fit the customer, and a limited selection of options and fabrics is available;
- ready-to-wear, off-the-peg (Commonwealth English), or off-the-rack (American English), which is sold as is, although some tailor alteration tends to be required;
- suit separates where lounge jacket and trousers are sold separately in order to minimize alterations needed, including also odd-colored blazers or sports coats as smart casual options
The word suit derives from the French suite, meaning “following”, from some Late Latin derivative form of the Latin verb sequor = “I follow”, because the component garments (jacket and trousers and waistcoat) follow each other and have the same cloth and colour and are worn together.
As a suit (in this sense) covers all or most of the wearer’s body, the term “suit” was extended to a single garment that covers all or most of the body, such as boilersuits, diving suits, and spacesuits (see Suit (disambiguation)).
The current styles, founded in the industrial revolution during the late 18th century, sharply changed the elaborately embroidered and jewelled formal clothing into the simpler clothing of the British Regency period, which gradually evolved to the stark formality of the Victorian era. In the late 19th century, it was in the search for more comfort that the loosening of rules gave rise to the modern lounge suit.
Brooks Brothers is generally credited with first offering the “ready-to-wear” suit, a suit which was sold already manufactured and sized, ready to be tailored. It was Haggar Clothing that first introduced the concept of suit separates in the US, the concept of separately sold jackets and trousers, which are widely found in the marketplace today.
There are many possible variations in the choice of the style, the garments, and the details of a suit.
The silhouette of a suit is its outline. Tailored balance created from a canvas fitting allows a balanced silhouette so a jacket need not be buttoned and a garment is not too tight or too loose. A proper garment is shaped from the neck to the chest and shoulders to drape without wrinkles from tension. Shape is the essential part of tailoring that often takes hand work from the start. The two main cuts are double-breasted suits, a conservative design with two columns of buttons, spanned by a large overlap of the left and right sides; and single-breasted suits, in which the sides overlap very slightly, with a single column of buttons.
Good tailoring anywhere in the world is characterised by strongly tapered sides and minimal shoulder, whereas rack suits are often padded to reduce labour. More casual suits are characterised by less construction and tailoring, much like the sack suit, a loose American style.
There are three ways to make suits:
- Ready made and altered “sizes” or precut shapes; a convenience that often is expressed over time with wrinkles from poor shaping, leading to distortion;
- The made-to-measure suit that uses measurements, not shaping, to achieve things like style, lengths and horizontal measurements;
- The custom, bespoke or tailoring-designed suit that has interim half-made fittings and is cut from an actual personal pattern.
The acid test of authentic tailoring standards is the wrinkle that comes from poor tailoring. Rumples can be pressed out. For interim fittings, “Rock Of Eye” (which means trained freehand based on an experienced artistic eye to match the item to the wearer, trusting the eye over unyielding scripted approach), drawing and cutting inaccuracies are overcome by the fitting.