Menswear is rooted in practicality and pragmatic beginnings. Through time, men wore clothing as a means of survival and doing work and vary rarely for fashion. Kings and the ruling class wore clothing for fashion, and everyone else wore clothes so that they didn’t freeze to death. No matter if you are wearing a suit for work or a wedding, a tuxedo, or a sport coat, they all have the same origin story. The history of the business suit traces back 300 years to the mid-17th century in England and the end of a plague.
An Edict from the King
King Charles II of England changed men’s fashion in his kingdom out of necessity. England was emerging from the plague and the Great Fire of London. His subjects didn’t have much and he wanted to bring a new era of stability. He ordered the nobility to wear simple tunics, a far cry from the flamboyant wardrobes that were common at the time. The simple pant, shirt, and tunic combination quickly became popular among merchants and aristocrats. The earth-toned palette was reinforced by the normal English countryside attire of a dark coat and riding pants.
A Beau for all Seasons
The 18th century saw another transformation in the suit. George “Beau” Brummel is credited with being the godfather of the modern men’s suit. He was a friend of the prince regent and was working with him to develop new military uniforms for one of the English regiments. Beau believed that fabric cut and fit were the most important traits concerning men’s attire. His influence was seen in the tight-fitting clothes. England was in the midst of a neoclassical period and trying to emulate Greek culture. That meant showing off one’s physique and contours. When the soldiers wore the uniforms for the first time, it was a hit that was soon adopted by the masses.
That first evolution of the suit is far from what men are wearing today. It took a long time for tailors to make small adjustments and additions to the suit over the centuries. A confluence of medical, sporting, and military details transformed the suit into the modern style seen today. The V-shaped torso is a nod to Brummel’s original design and neoclassical beginnings. The needs of surgeons lead to working buttonholes, and padded shoulders trace back to military uniforms that look best while standing. In addition, side vents were cut so that a man could ride a horse. The history of the business suit is rooted in a practical solution to a redesign of the English army uniform and its global influence. During the 19th century, it was spread far and wide to their colonies and territories.