- For other garments (protective, etc) sometimes called suits, see suit (disambiguation).
In clothing, a suit is a set of garments made from the same cloth, consisting of at least a jacket and trousers. Lounge suits are the most common style of Western suit, originating in the United Kingdom as country wear. Other types of suit still worn today are the dinner suit, part of black tie, which arose as a lounging alternative to dress coats in much the same way as the day lounge suit came to replace frock coats and morning coats; and, rarely worn today, the morning suit. This article discusses the lounge suit (including business suits), elements of informal dress code.
The variations in design, cut, and cloth, such as two- and three- piece, or single- and double- breasted, determine the social and work suitability of the garment. Often, suits are worn, as is traditional, with a collared shirt and necktie. Until around the 1960s, as with all men's clothes, a hat would have been also worn when the wearer was outdoors. Suits also come with different numbers of pieces: a two-piece suit has a jacket and the trousers; a three piece adds a waistcoat; further pieces might include a matching flat cap.
Originally, as with most clothes, a tailor made the suit from his client's selected cloth; these are now often known as bespoke suits. The suit was custom made to the measurements, taste, and style of the man. Since the Industrial Revolution, most suits are mass-produced, and, as such, are sold as ready-to-wear garments (though alteration by a tailor prior to wearing is common). Currently, suits are sold in roughly three ways:
- bespoke, in which the garment is custom-made 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;
- and finally ready-to-wear, which is least expensive and hence most common.
- 1 History
- 2 Etymology
- 3 Parts of a suit
- 4 Situations for wearing and perceptions of suits
- 5 Suit etiquette for men
- 6 Suit etiquette for women
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The current styles were founded in the revolution during the early 18th century that 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. It was in the search for more comfort that the loosening of rules gave rise in the late 19th century to the modern lounge suit.
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 and diving suits and spacesuits (see Suit).
Parts of a suit
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 1) double-breasted suits, a conservative design with two vertical rows of buttons, spanned by a large overlap of the left and right sides; and 2) single-breasted suits, in which the sides just meet at the front down a single row of buttons.
Good tailoring anywhere in the world is characterised by strongly tapered sides and minimal shoulder, whereas often rack suits are padded to reduce labour. More casual suits are characterized by less construction and tailoring, much like the sack suit is a loose American style. 
There are 4 ways to make suits. Ready made and altered "sizes" or pre cut shapes; a convenience that often is express over time with wrinkles from poor shaping leading to contortion; The made to measure 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", drawing and cutting inaccuracies are overcome by the fitting.
Suits are made in a variety of fabrics, but most commonly from wool. The two main yarns produce worsteds (where the fibres are combed before spinning) and woollens (where they are not). These can be woven in a number of ways producing flannel, tweed, gabardine, and fresco among others. These fabrics all have different weights and feel, and some fabrics have an S (or Super S) number describing the fineness of the fibres. Although wool has traditionally been associated with warm, bulky clothing meant for warding off cold weather, advances in making finer and finer fiber have made wool suits acceptable for warmer weather, as fabrics have accordingly become lighter and more supple. For hot weather, linen is also used, and in North America cotton seersucker is worn. Other materials are used sometimes, such as cashmere. Silk and silk blended with wool are sometimes used. Synthetic materials, while cheap, are very rarely recommended by experts.
The main four colours for suits worn in business are black, light grey, dark grey, and navy, either with or without patterns. In particular, grey flannel suiting has been worn very widely since the 1930s. In non-business settings or less-formal business contexts, brown is another important colour; olive also occurs. In summer, lighter shades such as tan or cream are popular.
For non-business use tweed has been popular since Victorian times, and still is commonly worn. A wide range of colour is available, including muted shades of green, brown, red, and grey. Tweeds are usually checked, or plain with a herringbone weave, and are most associated with the country. While full tweed suits are not worn by many now, the jackets are often worn as sports jackets with odd trousers (trousers of different cloth).
The most conventional suit is a 2- or 3-button and either medium to dark grey or navy. Other conservative colors are greys, black, and olive. White and light blues are acceptable at some events, especially in the warm season. Red is usually considered "unconventional" and "garish". Tradition calls for a gentleman's suit to be of decidedly plain color, with splashes of bright color reserved for shirts, neckties or kerchiefs.
In the US and UK, at the turn of the 20th century, lounge suits were never traditionally worn in plain black, this colour instead being reserved for formal wear (including dinner jackets or strollers), and for undertakers. However, the decline of formal wear since the 1950s and the rise of casual wear in 1960s allowed the black suit to return to fashion as many designers started to want to move away from the business suit and into more fashion suits.
Traditional business suits are generally in solid colours or with pin stripes; windowpane checks are also acceptable. Outside business, the range of acceptable patterns widens, with plaids such as the traditional glen plaid and herringbone, though apart from some very traditional environments such as London banking, these are worn for business now too. The colour of the patterned element (stripes, plaids, and checks) varies by gender and location. For example, bold checks, particularly with tweeds, have fallen out of use in America, while they continue to be worn as traditionally in Britain. Some unusual old patterns such as diamonds are now rare everywhere.
Inside the jacket of a suit, between the outer fabric and the inner lining, there is a layer of sturdy interfacing fabric to prevent the wool from stretching out of shape; this layer of cloth is called the canvas after the fabric from which it was traditionally made. Expensive jackets have a floating canvas, while cheaply manufactured models have a fused (glued) canvas. A fused canvas is less soft and, if poorly done, damages the suppleness and durability of the jacket, so many tailors are quick to deride fused canvas as being less durable. However, some selling this type of jacket claim that the difference in quality is very small. A few London tailors state that all bespoke suits should use a floating canvas. In June 2008, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a British advertising regulator, ruled otherwise, citing the Oxford English Dictionary definition of bespoke as "made to order".
Most single-breasted suits have two or three buttons, and one or four buttons are unusual. It is rare to find a suit with more than four buttons, although zoot suits can have as many as six or more due to their longer length. There is also variation in the placement and style of buttons, since the button placement is critical to the overall impression of height conveyed by the jacket. The centre or top button will typically line up quite closely with the natural waistline.
Double-breasted jackets have only half their outer buttons functional, as the second row is for display only, forcing them to come in pairs. Some rare jackets can have as few as two buttons, and during various periods, for instance the 1960s and 70s, as many as eight were seen. Six buttons are typical, with two to button; the last pair floats above the overlap. The three buttons down each side may in this case be in a straight line (the 'keystone' layout) or more commonly, the top pair is half as far apart again as each pair in the bottom square. A four-button double-breasted jacket usually buttons in a square. The layout of the buttons and the shape of the lapel are co-ordinated in order to direct the eyes of an observer. For example, if the buttons are too low, or the lapel roll too pronounced, the eyes are drawn down from the face, and the waist appears larger.
The custom that a man's coat should button "left side over right", anecdotally originates in the use of the sword, where such cut avoided catching the top of the weapon in the opening of the cloth (since the sword was usually drawn right-handed).[not in citation given] Women's suits are buttoned "right side over left". A similar anecdotal story to explain this is that women were dressed by maids, and so the buttons were arranged for the convenience of their, typically, right-handed servants; men on the other hand dressed themselves and so the buttons were positioned to simplify that task.
The jacket's lapels can be notched (also called "stepped"), peaked ("pointed"), shawl, or "trick" (Mandarin and other unconventional styles). Each lapel style carries different connotations, and is worn with different cuts of suit. Notched lapels are only found on single-breasted jackets and are the most informal style. Double-breasted jackets usually have peaked lapels. Shawl lapels are a style derived from the Victorian informal evening wear, and as such are not normally seen on suit jackets except for dinner suits.
In the 1980s, double-breasted suits with notched lapels were popular with power suits and the New Wave style.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, a design considered very stylish was the single-breasted peaked lapel jacket. This has gone in and out of vogue periodically, being popular once again during the 1970s, and is still a recognised alternative. The ability to properly cut peak lapels on a single-breasted suit is one of the most challenging tailoring tasks, even for very experienced tailors.
The width of the lapel is a varying aspect of suits, and has changed over the years. The 1930s and 1970s featured exceptionally wide lapels, whereas during the late 1950s and most of the 1960s suits with very narrow lapels—often only about an inch wide—were in fashion. The 1980s saw mid-size lapels with a low gorge (the point on the jacket that forms the "notch" or "peak" between the collar and front lapel). Current (mid-2000s) trends are towards a narrower lapel and higher gorge.
Lapels also have a buttonhole, intended to hold a boutonnière, a decorative flower. These are now only commonly seen at more formal events. Usually double-breasted suits have one hole on each lapel (with a flower just on the left), while single-breasted suits have just one on the left.
Most jackets have a variety of inner pockets, and two main outer pockets, which are generally either patch pockets, flap pockets, or jetted pockets. The patch pocket is, with its single extra piece of cloth sewn directly onto the front of the jacket, a sporting option, sometimes seen on summer linen suits, or other informal styles. The flap pocket is standard for side pockets, and has an extra lined flap of matching fabric covering the top of the pocket. A jetted pocket is most formal, with a small strip of fabric taping the top and bottom of the slit for the pocket. This style is most often on seen on formalwear, such as a dinner jacket.
A breast pocket is usually found at the left side, where a pocket square or handkerchief can be displayed.
In addition to the standard two outer pockets and breast pocket, some suits have a fourth, the ticket pocket, usually located just above the right pocket and roughly half as wide. While this was originally exclusively a feature of country suits, used for conveniently storing a train ticket, it is now seen on some town suits. Another country feature also worn sometimes in cities is a pair of hacking pockets, which are similar to normal ones, but slanted; this was originally designed to make the pockets easier to open on horseback while hacking.
Suit jackets in all styles typically have three or four buttons on each cuff, which are often purely decorative (the sleeve is sewn closed and cannot be unbuttoned to open). Five buttons are unusual and are a modern fashion innovation. The number of buttons is primarily a function of the formality of the suit; a very casual summer sports jacket might traditionally (1930s) have had only one button, while tweed suits typically have three and city suits four. In the 1970s, two buttons were seen on some city suits. Today, four buttons are common on most business suits and even casual suits.
Although the sleeve buttons usually cannot be undone, the stitching is such that it appears they could. Functional cuff buttons may be found on high-end or bespoke suits; this feature is called a surgeon's cuff. Some wearers leave these buttons undone to reveal that they can afford a bespoke suit, although it is proper to leave these buttons done up. Modern bespoke styles and high end off-the-rack suits equipped with surgeon's cuffs have the last two buttons stitched off-centre, so that the sleeve hangs more cleanly should the buttons ever be undone.
A cuffed sleeve has an extra length of fabric folded back over the arm, or just some piping or stitching above the buttons to allude to the edge of a cuff. This was popular in the Edwardian era, as a feature of formalwear such as frock coats carried over to informalwear, but is now rare.
A vent is a slit in the bottom rear (the "tail") of the jacket. Originally, vents were a sporting option, designed to make riding easier, so are traditional on hacking jackets, formal coats such as a morning coat, and, for practicality, overcoats. Today there are three styles of venting: the single-vented style (with one vent at the centre); the ventless style; and the double-vented style (one vent on each side). Vents are convenient, particularly when using a pocket or sitting down, to improve the hang of the jacket, so are now used on most jackets. Ventless jackets are associated with Italian tailoring, while the double-vented style is typically British. (This is not the case with all types of jackets. For instance, dinner jackets traditionally take no vents.)
Waistcoats (called vests in the USA) were almost always worn with suits prior to the 1940s. After that time their use slowly declined.
Suit trousers are always made of the same material as the jacket. Even from the 1910s to 1920s, before the invention of sports jackets specifically to be worn with odd trousers, wearing a suit jacket with odd trousers was seen as an alternative to a full suit. However, with the modern advent of sports jackets, suit jackets are always worn with matching trousers, and the trousers have always been worn with the appropriate jacket.
Trouser width has varied considerably throughout the decades. In the 1920s, trousers were straight-legged and wide-legged, with a standard width at the cuff of 23 inches. After 1935, trousers began to be tapered in at the bottom half of the leg. Trousers remained wide at the top of the leg throughout the 1940s. By the 1950s and 1960s, a more slim look had become popular. In the 1970s, suit makers offered a variety of styles of trousers, including flared, bell bottomed, wide-legged, and more traditional tapered trousers. In the 1980s these styles disappeared in favor of tapered, slim-legged trousers.
One variation in the design of trousers is the use or not of pleats. The most classic style of trouser is to have two pleats, usually forward, since this gives more comfort sitting and better hang standing. This is still a common style, and for these reasons of utility has been worn throughout the 20th century. The style originally descended from the exaggeratedly widened Oxford bags worn in the 1930s in Oxford, which, though themselves short-lived, began a trend for fuller fronts. The style is still seen as the smartest, featuring on dress trousers with black and white tie. However, at various periods throughout the last century, flat fronted trousers with no pleats have been worn, and the swing in fashions has been marked enough that the more fashion-oriented ready-to-wear brands have not produced both types continuously.
Turn-ups on the bottom of trousers, or cuffs, were initially popularised in the 1890s by Edward VII, and were popular with suits throughout the 1920s and 1930s. After falling out of style in World War II, they were not generally popular again, despite serving the useful purpose of adding weight to straighten the hang of the trousers. They have always been an informal option, being inappropriate on all formalwear.
Other variations in trouser style include the rise of the trouser. This was very high in the early half of the 20th century, particularly with formalwear, with rises above the natural waist, to allow the waistcoat covering the waistband to come down just below the narrowest point of the chest. Though serving less purpose, this high height was duplicated in the daywear of the period. Since then, fashions have changed, and have rarely been that high again with styles returning more to low-rise trousers, even dropping down to have waistbands resting on the hips. Other changing aspects of the cut include the length, which determines the break, the bunching of fabric just above the shoe when the front seam is marginally longer than height to the shoe's top. Some parts of the world, such as Europe, traditionally opt for shorter trousers with little or no break, while Americans often choose to wear a slight break.
A final major distinction is made in whether the trousers take a belt or braces (suspenders). While a belt was originally never worn with a suit, the forced wearing of belts during wartime years (caused by restrictions on use of elastic caused by wartime shortages) contributed to their rise in popularity, with braces now much less popular than belts. When braces were common, the buttons for attaching them were placed on the outside of the waistband, because they would be covered by a waistcoat or cardigan, but now it is more frequent to button on the inside of the trouser. Trousers taking braces are rather different in cut at the waist, employing inches of extra girth and also height at the back. The split in the waistband at the back is in the fishtail shape.
As an alternative to trousers, breeches (or knickers in variations of English where this does not refer to underwear) may be worn with informal suits, such as tweed. These are shorter, descending to just below the knees, fastened closely at the top of the calf by a tab or button cuff. While once common, they are now typically only worn when engaged in traditional outdoor sports, such as shooting. The length and design is closely related to the plus-fours (and plus-sixes etc.) worn for sport, but differ in having no bagginess. They are usually designed to be worn with long socks meeting just below the knee, but riding breeches, worn with long boots such as top boots, are long enough to meet the boot and display no sock.
Suits would surely enhance the personality if it is accessorized well. Accessories for Suits include Ties, Shoes, Watch, Pocket Square, Cuff links and even Hats.
Situations for wearing and perceptions of suits
Because wearing a suit conveys a respectable image, many people wear suits during the job interview process. An interview suit is usually a conservative style, and often made of blue or grey fabric. Interview suits are frequently composed of wool or wool-blend fabric, with a solid or pin stripe pattern. The style of an interview suit, however, will depend on the organizational culture of the industry in which a person seeks employment.
In modern society, men's suits have become less common as an outfit of daily wear. During the 1990s, the prevailing management philosophy of the time favored more casual attire for employees; the aim was to encourage a sense of openness and egalitarianism. "Business casual" dress still tends to be the norm for most workers up to and sometimes including mid-level management. Traditional business dress as an everyday style is generally limited to middle- and upper-level corporate management (now sometimes collectively referred to as "suits"), and to the professions (particularly law). Casual dress has also become common in Western academic institutions.
For many men, particularly in Western society, wearing a suit is reserved for special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, and other more formal social events. Hence, because they are not a daily outfit for most men, they are often viewed as being "stuffy" and uncomfortable. The combination of a tie, belt and vest can be tight and restrictive compared to contemporary casual wear. The Christian Science Monitor reported that a suit combined with a necktie and slacks was "a design that guarantees that its wearer will be uncomfortable."  During the late 1960s and early 1970s, men's suits became less commonly worn, in much the same way that skirts and dresses were dropped by many women in favour of trousers. This was seen as a liberation from the conformity of earlier periods and occurred concurrently with the women's liberation movement.
Also remarkable is that the suit now frequently appears in Rock, Heavy Metal and Gothic happenings, even though once known for a rather rebellious tradition of clothing. Artists and bands such as Nick Cave, Marilyn Manson, Blutengel and Akercocke are known for the use of formal clothing in music videos and stage performances. The suit also appears when fans dress for styles such as Lolita, Victorian and Corporate Gothic.
Suit etiquette for men
Buttoning the suit jacket
The buttoning of the jacket is primarily determined by the button stance, a measure of how high the buttons are in relation to the natural waist. In some (now unusual) styles where the buttons are placed high, the tailor would have intended the suit to be buttoned differently from the more common lower stance. Nevertheless, some general guidelines are given here.
Double-breasted suit coats are almost always kept buttoned. When there is more than one to fasten (as in a traditional six-on-two arrangement), only the top one need be fastened; in some configurations, the wearer may elect to fasten only the bottom button, in order to present a longer line (a style popularised by the Prince George, Duke of Kent).
Single-breasted suit coats may be either fastened or unfastened. In two-button suits the bottom button is traditionally left unfastened except with certain unusual cuts of jacket. Legend has it that King Edward VII started the trend of leaving the bottom button of a suit undone.
When fastening a three-button suit, the middle button is fastened, and the top one sometimes, but the bottom is traditionally not designed to be (although in the past some jackets were cut so that it could be fastened without distorting the drape, this is not the case with current clothing). A four-button suit is untraditional and so has no traditional guidelines on buttoning, but the middle ones at least should be fastened. Additionally, the one button suit has regained some popularity (it is also a classic style for some Savile Row tailors). The button should always be fastened while standing.
With a single-breasted suit, it is proper to have the buttons unfastened while sitting down to avoid an ugly drape. A good double-breasted suit is usually able to be left buttoned, to avoid the difficulty of constantly redoing inner buttons when standing up.
Ties with suits
Working with neckties is very much a matter of personal taste, but in conservative terms there are some basic guidelines.
Colour: Ties should always be darker than the wearer's shirt. The background colour of the tie should not be the same as that of the shirt, while the foreground of the tie should contain the colour of the shirt and thereby "pick up" on the colour of the shirt. Ideally, the tie should also integrate the colour of the suit in the same way. Generally, simple or subdued patterns are preferred for conservative dress, though these are terms with a wide range of interpretation. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, it became popular to match the necktie colour with the shirt (a "monochromatic" look popularized by TV personality Regis Philbin) or even wearing a lighter coloured tie with a darker shirt, usually during formal occasions. A light blue shirt with a blue tie that is darker in its colour is also common.
Knot: Some of the most common knots are the Four-in-hand, the Half-Windsor, the Windsor (or Full-Windsor), and the Shelby or Pratt. A Four-in-hand, Half-Windsor, or Windsor is generally the most appropriate with a suit, particularly by contemporary guidelines. Once properly knotted and arranged, the bottom of the tie can extend anywhere from the wearer's navel level, to slightly below the waistband. The thin end should not extend below the wide end, though this can occasionally be seen to be acceptable with thin ties.
Alternatives: In the 1960s, it was fashionable for men as well as women to wear scarves with a suit in a tied knot either inside a shirt as an Ascot or under the collar as would be worn like a tie. This style began to fade by the mid 1970s and came back in the 1990s mainly for women. It did however make a small comeback by 2005 and some famous stars wear them. Although some wore scarves back in the 1960s, ties were still preferred among business workers.
Shirts with suits
Socks with suits
In the United States it is common for socks to match the trouser leg. This makes the leg appear longer and minimises the attention drawn by a trouser leg tailored to be too short. A more general rule is for socks to be darker than the shade of the trousers, but potentially a different colour. With patterned socks, ideally the background colour of the sock should match the primary colour of the suit. If it is not possible to match the trouser leg, socks may match one's shoes. In particular, pale or even white socks might be worn with, for example, a cream linen suit with white shoes. Although white socks may be worn with very light coloured suits, it is less common and considered a faux pas with darker suits. In practice therefore socks are usually navy, black, or brown, particularly for more conservative occasions.
Socks are preferably at least mid-calf height (over-the-calf), if not knee-height, and are usually made predominantly of cotton or wool, though luxury or dress socks may use more exotic blends such as silk and cashmere. Before World War II, patterned socks were common, and a variety of designs like Argyle or contrasting socks was commonly seen. After WWII, socks became more subdued in colour.
Shoes with suits
The correct footwear varies from country to country. Shoes should always be smarter shoes, such as Oxfords (Balmorals in American English), Derbies (Blüchers), or smart slip-ons; never very casual shoes such as trainers (sneakers) or deck shoes. A slip-on is normally only worn with a modern and very informal suit: brown or sometimes navy. Shoes also have differing degrees of decoration, with less ornamentation being more formal, leaving half- and full- brogues as less formal options. Shoes are broadly divided into the two categories of black and not black. Black shoes are worn with all business suits by the English, who traditionally keep brown shoes with suits for tweed or linen only. The rest of the world wears black with grey or black suits, and brown with navy and non-business suits. The shades of brown also vary considerably, as only Americans generally wear colours like cordovan or oxblood; lighter browns are less formal and more appropriate for summer, for example with linen.
Suit etiquette for women
Suit-wearing etiquette for women generally follows the same guidelines used by men, with a few differences and slightly more flexibility.
For women, a dress or skirts are acceptable suits; a blouse (usually white) takes the place of a shirt. Blue and pink blouses are also seen. Women have more leeway in selecting their tops than men have in selecting their shirts. Sometimes a high-quality knitted top replaces the blouse; this is not universally accepted but is common, particularly if the top is made of a luxurious material.
Women's suits come in a larger variety of colors such as darks, pastels, and gem colors. Skirt suits are as popular as pant suits (trouser suits).
Women generally do not wear neckties with their suits. Fancy silk scarves that resemble a floppy ascot tie were popular in North America in the 1970s, worn with pant suits. At that time women entered the white-collar workforce in large numbers and their dress fashions imitated men's business wear.
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- Men Suits and Accessories
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