A History of Men’s Fashion in America Part III: The Suit in the 21st Century

A History of Men's Fashion in America Part III The Suit in the 21st Century featured image Art Lewin

The story of the suit can, from one perspective, be argued to be about the desire to dress like a king — quite literally! The most important figure for setting the fashion trends in medieval Europe certainly tended to be the king. If a king preferred long frock coats, long frock coats would be “totally in”. When taken up by the king’s court, a court composed of many influential people from all around the kingdom, soon the style of that locus of power will be seen in general fashion all around; the trend of long frocks proliferates around the kingdom! For example, King Louis XIV’s court required men to wear a long coat, waistcoat, wig, knee breeches, cravat, and hat — a style which, by the way, we don’t recommend getting. If you’re thinking about such an outfit, you need to visit Art Lewin Bespoke in Los Angeles and we’ll introduce you to modern men’s fashion and about the value of custom-made suits. But more on that later!

Even though America has no king, the transference of fashion trends in America has been strongly impacted by European fashion trends. The country is not immune to the power of idols or celebrities like Hollywood stars, for example; and these forces are transmitted strongly through the same processes of status-signalling and top-down influence that were determinate forces during the Middle Ages.

Your personal style tells the world what your relation to power is, how you wish to be perceived, your social role, and, of great significance today, your sense of personal taste. Even in the free-wheeling times of the early 1970s, we may note the fact that even those rebelling against assimilating with the dominant dress of the day wore uniforms themselves — the punk movement of the 80s had a distinct uniform, signaling to others that they belonged to it. From today’s perspective, we can see how these intended breaks from the process of imitation and conformity quickly blended into the culture which they were initially rebelling against. It’s a banal fact that you can go out and buy a butterfly coat or other “authentic” hippy attire right now — it remains quite popular to this day!

These passing trends speak of their particular eras and the people who lived in them. One of the most long-lived items of clothing in America for men has been the suit. The suit has mutated and developed just like pants and shoes have. The suit plays a unique role in the story of American fashion, however, as it remains to this day the centerpiece of upper-class fashion.

When it comes to suits, here at Art Lewin Bespoke, we are deeply aware that there is no “universal suit”. Suits come in a wide variety and different trends all have their history. For example, baggier suits were more popular in the 30s, 40s, and 80s; double-breasted suits in the 20s were mainly worn by older conservative men, and stayed in fashion until the end of WWII, when cloth rationing led to suits to be designed with minimal frill. The clothes were mass-produced and generally quite uniform in appearance.

Art Lewin Bespoke is proud to bring back the bespoke suit — custom-made suits tailored to fit you, your contours, and your individual taste. In the 21st century, a suit is more than just about your social role, but is a joy in and of itself. The beautiful curves of the fabric, the texture of the material, the color combinations . . . We are very happy to be part of this era in the history of the suit! If you want to get a custom-fit suit, contact Art Lewin Bespoke in Los Angeles. We offer Private Label Suits, big and tall suits, expert tailoring, and more.

In part I of this series, we discussed the early years of fashion in America. In part II, we focused in on how the suit — that pinnacle of men’s fashion in America — transformed and developed from 1900 to 1989. In today’s article, we conclude this series by looking at the history of the suit over the last 30 years. Let’s dive in!

Suits in the 1990s

Whereas the 80s were a time where suits were colorful (think: pastels), loose-fitting, and laid back, the 90s took parts of those trends and ran with them, while abandoning others. The pursuit of comfort, in particular the hegemony of business-casual, was ubiquitous in the 90s. The fashion entailed wide pants that pooled around square shoes, billowing dress shirts, wide ties, and in general the continuation of the oversized silhouette from the 80s, but lacking the swagger. The bright colors of the 80s were also softened. Really, the 90s can be seen as largely a mistake in terms of men’s fashion; it seems as though many men simply lost touch with the fundamentals in pursuit of greater comfort. You can be fashionable AND comfortable. There is no necessary dichotomy! Don’t believe us? Get a suit tailored by us here in LA and we’ll prove it to you.

Suits in the 2000s

The new millennium saw a break with the trends of the previous few decades. Farewell to baggy suits, hello to the slim fit! With the emergence of the internet, more and more regular people began to become influenced by and knowledgeable about fashion. What was happening in France became instantly viewable to the average American at the click of a button. An idealized image of the 1960s rock-and-roll artist in particular had a huge influence on men’s suits in the 2000s. A new confidence coupled with the rise of declarative new personal styles led to rapid innovations and changing demands — from narrower lapels, neater-looking pocket squares, to softer-shouldered Italian suits and slim ties.

At the same time, in a strange way it seems that the history of fashion has stopped to be as easily identifiable as before. Whereas earlier decades in American fashion history were distinct, it seems that the period from 2006 to today has a new stable fashion — and that’s retro. What retro period of the last century that is being referenced goes in and out of style and is regional, but there is no denying the ubiquity of references to idealized past periods in our history. You will regularly see people wearing loud patterns, three-piece suits, have 60s-style tailoring, or dressed up in the style of practically any other period of men’s fashion of the last century.

However, understanding that the fashion of each era speaks more about its own self-conception and man’s attitude towards the future, we may note that today it is as though we are haunted by the lost futures of modernity. Nostalgia and ironic pastiche sometimes seem to dominate the men’s fashion world — a trend that only grew in the 2010s.

Suits in the 2010s

The power of nostalgia in men’s fashion grew even stronger in the 2010s. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing — it speaks of an insistence of the vision of the future that those suits were aspiring towards during their era. Nostalgia is not simply about a return to the past, but, and arguably more importantly, is about the vision of the future that those styles spoke of. One thing that inspires us at Art Lewin in LA is the insistence on luxury and individuality that a bespoke suit announces, regardless of the era in American history that inspired it. A man wearing a custom-tailored suit from Art Lewin is one more man out there standing for a vision of a better future: a future of truer individuality, with an insistence on quality over quantity, and a future in which, quite simply, you look damn good!

Suits in the 2020s

The 2020s are just beginning, and we are excited to see where trends in men’s fashion will go! We can’t predict the future, but we can say that, beyond any ups and downs of trends, one thing will remain the same — the value of custom-fitted suits. Art Lewin suits are made of the finest material and are created by hand to fit you perfectly. If you are in LA and are looking for a great quality suit at the pinnacle of luxury and individuality, contact us today to schedule a fitting!

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