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In clothing, a suit is a set of garments made from the same cloth, usually consisting of at least a jacket and trousers. Lounge suits (also known as business suits when sober in colour and style), which originated in Britain as country wear, are the most common style of Western suit. 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 vest or 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 four ways:
The current styles were founded in the revolution during the late 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.
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 the Haggar Company that first introduced the concept of suit separates in the US, the concept of separately sold coats and pants, which are widely found in the marketplace today.
PARTS OF A SUIT
There are many possible variations in the choice of the style, the garments and the details of a suit.
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 is a loose American style.
There are 3 ways to make suits. (1) Ready made and altered "sizes" or pre cut shapes; a convenience that often is expressed over time with wrinkles from poor shaping, leading to distortion; (2) The made to measure that uses measurements, not shaping, to achieve things like style, lengths and horizontal measurements; (3) 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.
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 colours are greys, black, and olive. White and light blues are acceptable at some events, especially in the warm season. Red and the brighter greens are usually considered "unconventional" and "garish". Tradition calls for a gentleman's suit to be of decidedly plain colour, with splashes of bright colour reserved for shirts, neckties or kerchiefs.
In the United States and the United Kingdom, around the start 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 the US, 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, particularly since they may tend to permanently pucker along the jacket's edges after some use or a few dry cleanings. 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.
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.
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. Necktie width usually follows the width of the jacket lapel.
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.
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.
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 and "working button holes" (U.S.). 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. Certainty in fitting sleeve length must be achieved, as once working button holes are cut, the sleeve length essentially cannot be altered further.
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 informal wear, but is now rare.
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 favour 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. Those who prefer braces assert that, because they hang from the shoulders, they always make the pants fit and hang exactly as they should, while a belt may allow the pants waist to slip down on the hips or below a protruding midsection, and requires constant repositioning; also, they allow, indeed work best with, a slightly looser waist which gives room for natural expansion when seated.
Suit trousers, also known as dress pants in the US, are a style of trousers intended as formal or semi-formal wear. They are often made of either wool or polyester (although many other synthetic and natural textiles are used) and may be designed to be worn with a matching suit jacket. Suit trousers have a crease on them because of their tight-fitting nature. Suit trousers can be worn at many formal and semi-formal occasions combined with a shirt that has no tie and a more relaxed fashion, which can be considered smart casual dress.
SITUATIONS FOR WEARING AND PERCEPTIONS OF SUITS
In the United States
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 lower-class men, particularly in Western society, wearing a suit is reserved for special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, court appearances, 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, especially when these are purchased at minimal cost and quality for rare occasions, rather than being made to be worn comfortably. This tendency became prevalent enough that 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 such groups were 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
Double-breasted suit coats are almost always kept buttoned. When there is more than one button 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 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 as well as waistcoat 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 one of the classic styles of Savile Row tailoring). 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
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 (often called a Full-Windsor or Double-Windsor to distinguish it from the half-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.
Bow Ties: Bow ties have always provided an alternative to neckties, and even preceded the necktie. Bow ties are even regarded, arguably, as more formal or dressy than neckties, especially when worn with suits. During the "powerdressing," or "dress for success" days of the 1980s, bow ties, though in the minority, certainly had their share of the business and professional fashion market. This included women professionals, who wore a slightly fuller version of the bow tie with the skirt suits and buttoned-up blouses popular in the business world. Bow ties, for professional men or women, typically were the same fabrics, colours, and patterns as neckties.
Socks with suits
Socks are preferably at least mid-calf height, if not knee-height (over-the-calf), 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. In lieu of over-the-calf length (which will stay up by itself), some men still use garters to hold up their socks, but this is unusual.
SUIT ETIQUETTE FOR WOMEN
Suit-wearing etiquette for women generally follows the same guidelines used by men, with a few differences and more flexibility.
For women, the dress suit or skirt suit are both acceptable; a blouse, which can be white or coloured, takes the place of a shirt. Women's suits can also be worn with coloured tops or T-shirts.
Women's suits come in a larger variety of colours such as darks, pastels, and gem colours.
Women generally do not wear neckties with their suits. Fancy silk scarves that resemble a floppy ascot tie became popular in North America in the 1970s. By the 1980s, women were entering the white-collar workforce in increasing numbers and their dress fashions adopted looks not dissimilar from men's business wear. By the early to mid-1980s, conservatively-tailored skirt suits were the norm, in the same colours and fabrics considered standard in men's suits. These were typically worn with buttoned-up collared blouses, usually white or some pastel in colour. These were frequently accessorized with a version of the bow tie, usually the same fabrics, colours, and patterns as men's neckties and bow ties, but tied in a fuller bow at the collar.
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