A History of Men’s Fashion in America Part II: The Suit
In Part I of this series, we explored some of the early American influences on clothing and fashion. This piece ended up landing squarely on the topic of the men’s suit. As a truly iconic article of clothing, the suit is worth taking a closer look at it.
Art Lewin Bespoke suits are proud to carry on the long American tradition of custom-tailored suit design, with every piece inspired by the deeply fascinating emergence of this now-ubiquitous article of clothing. From boutonniere to button hole, all of our custom suit alterations are hand-cut and hand-sewn by our skilled in-house tailors. If you are looking for incomparable handmade suits in Los Angeles, Art Lewin can help.
People often associate men’s suits with uniformity and unoriginal designs, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A bespoke suit, like the ones we can make for you at Art Lewin, convey a lot about your personality and style. Get a suit that speaks true to who you are. If you want a suit that is both luxurious and highly individual, you can do no better than getting a bespoke suit from Art Lewin in LA!
How Did the Suit Become So Popular?
In the early-1900s, especially after the First World War, most men adopted the short lounge suit. These suits were most commonly made of dark, heavy fabrics — notably wool. Slowly but surely over the early decades of the 20th century, men began to adopt suits tailored with slimmer lapels and rounded collars. Three-piece suits were also quite prevalent during this time. This look takes a bit more skill to pull off today than it did way back when, but it can be done! When you look at pictures of men from this time period, one thing you may notice about men’s fashion is its general uniformity. Picture this: From head to toe — you may discern a few different types of hats, a slightly baggy but vaguely contemporary armor-like jacket with a vest worn underneath, black tie, and baggy trousers. It wasn’t until the 1920s that new, far more embellished suits came into fashion.
Suits in the 1920s
During the 1920s, suits were tailored with a mind for showing off a bit more individuality. It started to become more common to see men with much more elaborate suits and accessories like tie bars. This decade also saw a surge of new color, significantly influenced by the jazz culture of cities like Chicago and New York. Pants were high-waisted and baggy à la Charlie Chaplin, and jackets were gradually growing looser, especially among the working classes. If any style remained remotely customary at this time, it was the three-piece suit. However, in just a few decades it would be going out of fashion.
Suits in the 1930s
After the Great Depression hit, leaving millions of Americans struggling to get by, the age of flamboyant and hopeful fashion that had so iconically defined the roaring 20s experienced a rapid decline. What took its place was the double-breasted suit, generally somber in color and tailored with wide-legged pants. Single-breasted suits with lapels were fashionable during the 30s for the upper class, continuing to exaggerate some of the developments that occurred in the 1920s.
Suits in the 1940s
By 1940, waistcoats had begun to be made looser, making them less comfortable to wear. During WWII, a great deal of the natural fibers produced in America went to making military uniforms. Fabric was therefore used sparingly among civilians, leading to an all-time low in three-piece suits, cuffs, and other non-essentials. Rayon also started to replace the more traditional tweeds and wools that had previously been so ubiquitous. During the war, morning coats became less formal, while semi-formal wear like the stroller gained in popularity. However, the morning coat eventually proved to have greater longevity over the lounge suit, as it remains widely popular to this day.
Suits in the 1950s
Ah yes, the time where almost all men in America dressed as if they were clones. There is a great deal of irony that, during the height of The Red Scare in America; paranoia about the threat of the threat of uniformity and mass bureaucratization, American men were all wearing the same dark suit, white shirt, dark tie, and white pocket square. You’d be hard-pressed to find a businessman during this era who did not dress in this uniform. The standardization of the suit following 1945 can be seen as a byproduct of post-war rationing, as well as the exhaustion of the time leaving people fatigued and desiring a “return to normalcy”, nervous about new styles.
Suits in the 1960s
The 1960s were a decade of drastic change. Ties started to get slimmer, lapels narrower, and pants less baggy. The foundation set by the uniformity of the 50s style remained largely in vogue, but the unimaginative 50s were beginning to thaw into what would soon be one of the most creative times in the history of American fashion. Think of how The Beatles dressed in the early years — in matching dark suits — and you get a good idea of what was popular during this decade.
Suits in the 1970s
The floodgates of different suit styles began to open during the 70s. Whereas The Beatles in the 60s dressed like fashionable stock brokers, in the 70s they fully embraced the groovy, psychedelic-influenced styles of the times. The desire for self-expression — from modest to extremely flamboyant — was a huge driver of innovation during this time in men’s fashion. Wider lapels reminiscent of the 30s and 40s came back into fashion, and shirt collars got so wide they look ridiculous to us today. Polyester also became a ubiquitous material for men’s suits. Of course, not everyone was dawning mustard-colored polyester suits; most men continued to wear the timeless style of suit that is still common to this day.
Suits in the 1980s
The 1980s saw the transformation of 70s-style suits become looser fitting and more laidback. More color, but debatably more refined than the suit style of the 80s. For businessmen, this was the golden era of the pinstripe suit, which were often paired with shirt, tie, and suspenders. When not in the office, pastel colors and crew neck t-shirts instead of button-ups were also in vogue.
To Be Continued
In today’s post, we went over the most popular styles from 1900 to 1989. In our next post, we will explore how suits have changed from 1990 to today.
If you are considering being part of this long tradition of men wearing suits, consider getting a custom-tailored suit made with the best materials and an unmatched commitment to excellence.
If you are in Los Angeles and want a suit of the highest quality that fits you perfectly, check out Art Lewin’s suits today. There is nothing like a suit that is designed just for you, so contact us now to learn more about our suit options!
Every Art Lewin Bespoke suit is created with unrivaled attention to detail and is designed for you and you alone. We do everything — design, stitching, ironing testing, and more. Our standards are such that every thread must be placed perfectly. Contact us for a fitting today, and get a suit that is utterly unique.
Want to see some examples of suits we offer? Check out our gallery and see what’s in fashion this year for yourself!