A Brief History of Men’s Suits
Interest in fashion is often dismissed as shallow. But is it really? Scientists estimate that our ancestors started covering themselves up around 170,000 years ago. It could be that, at the time, they only wanted protection from the elements but gradually clothes acquired a symbolic meaning. As human networks became more complex, what one wore indicated where one stood in the social structure. Even today, our sartorial choices allude to our affluence, profession and standing and we are judged based on how we look. Experiments show that it only takes milliseconds for people to start making assumptions about us. It’s not shallow, it’s just human nature and quite possibly a remnant of our ancestors’ “fight or flight” survival mechanism.
What was fashionable in the ancient world?
Cavemen had very limited options: it was all about stitching skins together and we can only presume that the leaders of the tribe and the best hunters had access to the best skins. Then, over time, people figured out how to make plant and animal based fibers and turn them into fabrics. The clothes they produced were simple, e.g. the tunics worn in ancient Greece and Rome, and there was little room for creativity. However, the rich and powerful would source the best materials and adorn their outfits with jewellery. Gradually, men’s fashion evolved and shirts, breeches and coats made their appearance. The variety of options widened the gap between the rich and the poor with the former setting new, often extravagant, trends and the latter opting for more practical clothing.
The birth of the 3 piece suit
Two men played a vital role in the history of suits. In 1666, Charles II decreed that his courtiers would no longer wear French fashions but, instead, opt for a long coat, vest and knee breeches. Thus the 3 piece suit was born, although the decision was probably motivated by the monarch’s wish to moderate the extravagance of his court rather than any sartorial interest. A similar style was gradually adopted in other countries but, if we are to name the one person who invented the modern suit, we will have to pick George Bryan Brummell. A dandy who, in the early 19th century, socialised with aristocrats and befriended the Prince of Wales, he became better known as Beau Brummell and to him we owe many of the habits of a modern gentleman: he thought fitting was more important than opulence in clothes, he made full-length trousers fashionable and he popularised tailored shirts.
The evolution of the modern suit
From Beau Brummell onwards, the suit became the crown jewel of men’s fashion. Its evolution over time indicates the changing lifestyle of the modern gentleman and marks important moments in history. For example, the knee-length frock coat gradually gave way to the tailcoat, which was only long in the back, and this was then replaced by the dinner jacket, which is now the standard across 3 piece suits. This was not just a matter of fashion but it reflected a more active lifestyle which required convenient clothes. Similarly, when times were good, suit fashion became more colourful and cuts that use excessive fabric were the norm but, in times of financial depression or war, colours were solemn and the rationing of fabric led to more sensible cuts, e.g. making single-breasted suits more popular than double-breasted ones. There have even been times, e.g. in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the younger generation renounced the suit as a manifestation of the conservative lifestyle of their parents’ generation but come the ‘80s these very same men embraced the yuppie lifestyle and the suits that matched it.
Since their invention, suits have been a stable feature of men’s fashion, adapting to the times and the passing fads but always remaining the ultimate statement piece for the modern gentleman. A man of style and substance. A man who is conscious of fashion but not a slave to it. This is the man that the Aristocracy London founder had in mind when he first put his ideas on paper. Browse our collection and learn more about the unique characteristics of our limited edition 3 piece suits.