The two piece lounge suit is a uniform for men in business almost all over the world and it is thought that its present form dates back approximately 150 years.
Before that, men’s fashion was much more colourful, featuring wigs, embroidery, jewellery, tight breeches, stockings of various designs and types until around the end of the 18th Century.
By this time London’s Saville Row, previously a centre for surgeons, had become the centre for gentlemen’s tailoring. The buttons on the cuffs of the modern suit jacket are said to be a relic of the surgeons. As professionals, as opposed to working men, they would keep their jackets on while working and the buttons could be undone to allow the sleeves to be rolled back to avoid their becoming blood spattered!
Male dress became more sober over the course of the 19th Century, at first using woollen cloth of more sober colours but with jackets having either tails or styled as frock coats.
The Regency dandy Beau Brummel is often credited with influencing the development of men’s clothing to a more simple style and with devising the trouser, allegedly influenced by the trouser of military uniform.
Generally a man would have a “bespoke” suit custom-made from his chosen cloth and to his specifications by his tailor.
The tailed morning coat finally gave up to the lounge suit with the rise of American business culture at the end of the 19th century. The modern suit jacket style has a sporting heritage, with the vents at the back making it more comfortable to wear on horseback. Slash pockets are also thought to have been derived from the need to access contents easily while on horseback.
Over the 20th Century the details of suit style have changed with the fashions. In the 1920s young men started wearing wide-legged trousers, known as Oxford bags. The normal suit trouser usually measured around 23 inches. Other trouser fashions have also come and gone, from with or without turn-up, narrow-legged or “drainpipe” to flared from below the knee and back to straight-leg or even narrow again.
Jacket styles have varied too, having one, two, three or even four buttons, wide or narrow lapels, pockets with or without flaps.
Tailoring also developed from bespoke to made to measure, where a standard pattern was adapted to fit the person and a choice of fabrics was offered. Nowadays, of course, suits can be bought ready to wear, although it is often still the case that alterations by an expert tailor are needed to get the perfect fit.