The business suit has a long standing reputation as the attire to be worn for formal business meetings and as a generally neat look for people who work in offices or banks. The style that we currently know and love is a throwback from the Industrial Revolution and the early 19th century. The methods of making fabrics became more efficient with the onset of textile factories, and this meant that clothing became cheaper to make and to buy.
Today’s business suit originates in the Regency period, when men wore tight jodhpurs style trousers and a waist length bolero style jacket. The ‘tie’ was a puffy cravat style worn loosely around the neck and men’s hair styles were, shall we say, interesting.
During the Victorian era, suits took a slightly different direction in the cut. The trousers no longer clung to the leg and were made from heavy wool fabric. The jacket was slightly longer than is usual today, and there was a waistcoat—usually double breasted—as a finishing touch. During the early 20th-century men’s suits became modernised again with the addition of the stereotypical bowler hat and umbrella, as worn by bankers and office workers of the time. You can see this stereotype in many movies and the style still remains today, minus the bowler hat and umbrella.
Styles of Suits
Different styles of suit have different lapels and openings. The peaked lapel has a little corner tail that come up from the lower lapel flap and is usually part of a double breasted suit. The notched lapel is the most commonly worn lapel and can be double or single breasted. Then, there’s the shawl lapel which is usually associated with a tuxedo.
Back in the 1980’s the fashionable business wear was the double breasted peaked lapel and was known as a power-suit amongst all the yuppies. The notched lapel was demoted for that era while the new corporate clothing to be seen in was the peaked version and of course it had to be accompanied by a Filofax and a brick cell phone.
Many men wear a suit for business but back in the 1920’s and 1930’s there was a huge trend toward wearing dark trousers with a light jacket or vice versa—a la Bing Crosby. The jacket was a boating or sports jacket, and it was usually worn with what we know now as ‘smart casual’ clothes.
Women in business also changed the way suits were approached and worn. The power suit of the woman in the 1940’s was worn extremely well and was designed as a pencil skirt with a tailored box jacket that came to just about the hips. It gave women another dimension and certainly helped toward them finally being taken more seriously in the workplace. Women now wear business suits as CEO’s, as well as secretaries, and the suit speaks volumes.