Believe it or not, men’s fashions change regularly too, and suits are no exception. Over the last century we’ve seen suits vary from the formal tailcoats of the early 1900s to the skinny legged styles of today, from the white trousers and vests to mismatched separates. Let’s take a look at how suits have evolved in the last century.

1910

Edwardian fashion consisted of elegance and over-the-top opulence, much like the luxurious styles we relish seeing on our TV screens in the popular drama Downton Abbey. Sack suits, hats, gloves and wool were all popular during WWI, and men’s clothes styles were kept simple, conservative and practical.

This decade was all about formality on a budget, as the economies of the war limited people’s ability to stylise their suits to their full potential. Wearing formal coat-tails was acceptable during the day, and the suit was usually accompanied by a hat - worn as a symbol of rank and wealth. The upper class were still required to wear silk top hats, yet other hats were accepted more widely in a range of activities by all classes. There were straw boaters, newsboy caps, bowlers and panama hats - many of which are now popular again today.

1920

Think Leo in The Great Gatsby, donning his white trousers and jacket, brown vest, blue shirt and gold tie, beautifully accessorised with a walking cane and pocket square. This decade, as well as the iconic film, saw fashion make an opulent evolution.

As jazz music was introduced during this decade, a more relaxed and self-expressionist style was developed, keeping in tune with the new musical era. Shorter jackets, sportswear and flat hats were preferred over coat-tails and top hats during the day. Other casual clothes accepted for daily wear included sweaters, short trousers and straw boaters.

When night-time occasions arose, a more formal style was adopted. This consisted of a usually black or navy suit and coat, trimmed down the sides with satin ribbon, a white bow tie, silk top hat, gloves and patent leather Oxfords, as well as a boutonniere (a flower worn on the lapel). Double or single breasted buttons were favoured, and pinstriped suits were preferred over block colours.

1930

The Great Depression affected much of the 1930s, with the start of World War II and military production largely responsible for shaping the suit styles of the decade. Fashion of this decade was more reasonable, less formal and showcased the relaxed silhouette. The drape cut suit was the fashion trend, consisting of a flattering V lining, an athletic build shape, larger than life shoulders, narrow waists and wide legs. These suits were worn in many colours and textures such as tweed, plaid and herringbone.

British King Edward VIII had a huge influence during this era, both politically and and in the fashion realm. A rule breaker, it was only natural that others wanted to emulate the controversial king in his fashion choices. After the king was seen in the ‘morning coat’ time and time again at extremely formal occasions, the frock coat lost its popularity. His tailor, Frederick Scholte, also developed a soft drape cut, which saw a softer and more flexible construction than the suits of the previous generation. The cut was flattering, with folds or drapes front and back, enhancing the wearer’s figure.

But it was not only royalty that had a hold over this era. The glamourous world of Hollywood and celebrity also had a big influence during the 1930’s, as people began to frequent the cinema. Actor Clark Gable starred in 39 films during the 1930’s, and many people took inspiration from this fashion icon.

1940

As the world suffered during WWII, suits took a turn back in time to a more minimalistic style. Large suits were worn again, as clothing choices were restricted due to wartime constraints, with suits being limited to flapless pockets and flat front trousers. Given the somberness of everyday life, it was not surprising that people escaped through looking to Hollywood once again, with the stars of the time bringing their iconic style and inspiration to the general public. Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca wearing a trench coat and fedora hat is one of the most remembered fashion moments in film.

Films captured the prominent styles of the era, such as broad-shouldered jackets, double-breasted suits, white shirts and straight, pleated trousers. Cary Grant was also a big influence during this time and wore loose, double breasted pinstriped suits, something every man could pull off. The post-war period saw more relaxed fashion styles come back into prominence. Hawaiian shirts, double pleated trousers, big hats and even wider ties were thought to be a sign of freedom from the war restrictions of the late 1940s.

1950

As fabrics became more accessible during the 1950s, pants became fuller and were often cuffed, and accessorised boldly with various cuts and details. The era of the ‘Teddy Boys’, who were influenced by Edwardian style, favoured these suits as they gave room to dance, and showed the wearer's personality as they were draped in velvet collars. True rebels were born in this era, as going against the grain became more popular. Many men gave a nod to Hollywood with their fashion choices, with stars like James Dean making plain white t-shirts (at the time considered to be underwear) socially acceptable to pair with trousers and a belt. Frank Sinatra’s signature style of an impeccably tailored suit and fedora also stole many hearts.

To see this era in action all we have to do it turn to TV series Mad Men. The eccentric fashion seen in the show was actually worn by high up Madison Avenue advertising moguls in the late 1950’s. In this era, you wouldn’t have thought twice about wearing a suit jacket and pants with contrasting patterns, and you wouldn’t have left the house without your fedora hat.

1960

The term ‘bespoke’ was coined in the 1960s, referring to suits individually tailored to fit. Ironically, this era was all about emulating influential figures, such as The Beatles, Michael Cain and Sean Connery. Skinny-fit suits, drainpipe trousers, short cut ankles and collarless jackets saw the 1960s become a decade for the fashion ages. The Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren played a large part in the suits of this era, as they were an impeccable fit and almost never a simple, solid colour. The natural fit of the suits of this era made for a very masculine look, exaggerating the shoulder width and with a deep, V-style neckline at the front. Paired with a crisp white collared shirt, this made for a classy and professional look.

Pocket squares were also a huge trend during the 1960s, with professional men almost always having a clean, white square of linen poking out from their breast pocket. For a more casual and creative look, men experimented with different patterns and shapes of pocket squares, exploring a variety of colours.

1970

The 1970s is probably one of the most well known and remembered fashion eras. This decade stepped out on its own, and saw one of the largest evolutions in men’s fashion trends, a few of which still exist today. Although new, the suits of this era were similar to the previous generations, with a re-introduction of the three piece suit. The V-drape shape was often accompanied by a variety of outlandish colours such as pink, blue, green and orange.

The influence of Italian designers gave the style of the era a disco aesthetic; big collars and tight pants with high waists were the norm. An influence from the East also permeated the suit choices, with patterns such as paisley becoming extremely popular. Glam rock also hit the scene, but this was more of a weekend style rather than one for the office. Being flamboyant and expressive was celebrated during the 1970s, with men having more confidence to individualise and alter their suits.

1980

The notion that fashion has a life cycle was highly evident during the 1980s. The trends of this decade emulate the look of the 1950s, with narrow waists and shoulder ties being very popular. Skinny ties against broad shoulders added formality to an otherwise informal suit, and made it acceptable to wear to the office. The three-piece suit was officially out of style by this time (being seen in this style would be like being seen in pink ugg boots today). Comfort was a big factor during this decade, and the padded suit worn with thick pinstripes appealed to niche (and very fashionable) markets. This style of suit could be found at every department store, making the decade less about individualism and more about fitting in with the crowd.

The styles of movies such as Miami Vice and celebrities such as Michael Jackson permeated this era, with the use of loud, bright colours and leather entering the fashion scene. Accessories such as gloves, trilby hats and men’s jewellery added pizzazz to formal outfits. A more casual look also became popular, with plain white t-shirts worn under expensive suit jackets and pants. Donning a pair of expensive sneakers completed this sporty, athletic look.

1990

Many believe the 1990s to have been an almost suitless decade. Suits were considered to be for formal occasions only, and when they were required to be worn at work, the style was similar to that of the 1980s, with big shoulders, cinched waists and and flat front trousers dominating the scene.

Ties were big in this decade, with men preferring thick, patterned and colourful designs. The suits of the 1990s lacked shape, distinction or tailoring, making this area a pretty forgettable one in terms of suit styling.

2000

The 2000s continued the decline of the formal suit-wearing society. Suits were only deemed necessary at extremely formal occasions, and when they were worn, they were often paired with casual items such as denim, sneakers or t-shirts, to dress the look down and give it an urban edge. This ‘casual suit style’ was rocked by pop culture icons the world over, with celebrities having a massive influence on the fashion trends of the era.

The decade also saw the rising popularity of the two-button blazer, which was easy to wear for businessmen and fashionistas. The power suit also made a comeback, and has now evolved into the matching one-button jacket and pant set that we are all familiar with. This era was another one big on the expression of identity and individualism. The indie look rose to popularity, with ripped jeans and stonewashed tees teamed with fitted suit jackets and blazers for a businessmen-turned-rockstar look. The cropped pant and patterned sock were also big trends, alluding to the creativity and negotiability of what was considered ‘formal wear’ during this decade.

2010

Today, suit styles are made up of a modern interpretive combination of trends from the 1920s, 1940s and 1950s. Men are open to experiment with different cultural influences, and often make bold statements with their suit choices through colours, patterns and cuts. Gone are the days of dull block colours - the 2010s has brought with it colour, patterns, endless accessories and a plethora of suit choices. There has even been the return of the three piece, double breasted jacket, the trench and sport coat, chinos and skinny ties. You could be wearing a three piece suit with a cane and panama hat and no one would bat an eyelid.

It is the era of bespoke suits, as men are free to express their own style - as long as the fit is right. Baggy trousers and shoulder pads won’t cut it - it’s all about the tightly fitted pants and expertly tailored jacket. Models, bloggers and Instagram sensations are the fashion influencers in this day and age, as social media gives us the opportunity to take inspiration from their every outfit choice.

A century of men's suit styles

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