Style

A brief history of suits

You know when you pull on a suit and you feel like Michael Douglas in Wall Street? Yeah you do. It's thank to these moments in history that you, good sir, look the money.

Pictures: Rex Features, Getty Images, Corbis, Allstar

  • A brief history of suits

    The Age Of Industrialism (1920s)

    After the First World War, the lounge suit, with its shorter jacket, began replacing the frock coat for everyday and business dress. This era also saw the birth of black tie and tuxedo for evenings, with the more formal white tie dress code fading. Gangland Chicago also had an effect with straight-leg trousers (usually 23-inch around the cuff) worn high-waisted with double-breasted waistcoats.

    Style Icons: Charlie Chaplin, Howard Hughes, Al Capone

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    The Age Of Cinema (1930s)

    A more exaggerated silhouette prevailed at the start of the 30s, influenced by the golden age of cinema and suits worn by its leading men. Halfway through the decade the mood changed. Loose-fitting coats were introduced and trousers were tapered towards the ankle. Even the snug waistcoat was given a more 'comfortable' fit, despite complaints it rode up when you sat down.

    Style icons: Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, The Duke Of Windsor

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    The Age Of Constructed Tailoring (1940s)

    The rationing of fabrics that followed the start of the Second World War brought a new austerity to men's dress, where the focus was to minimalise and modernise the day suit. Grey flannel became fashionable, the fit of jackets was cut as straight as possible and the 'flaunting' of superfluous fabric was reined in.

    Style Icons: Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy

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    The Age Of Charisma (1950s)

    The Brat Pack and Age of Swing saw a recovery for the suit, with the return of dressing for occasion. A wider pleated-front trouser returned, giving more mobility to dance, with teddy boys influenced by Edwardian dress favouring velvet-collared draped suits and longer jackets. The advent of leisure wear and jeans put the suit in its place, as worn mainly for the office or heading out on the town.

    Style Icons: Dean Martin, Hugh Hefner, Cary Grant

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    The Age Of Pop Culture (1960s)

    The growing inflence of teenagers and working-class heroes had a major impact. Up-and-coming stars such as Peter Sellers and The Beatles adopted the 'mod' approach with skinny-fit suits, drainpipe trousers cut short at the ankles and collarless jackets. The 60s also saw the rebirth of Savile Row, while polo-neck sweaters often replaced the shirt-and-tie combo worn with a suit.

    Style icons: Michael Caine, Paul McCartney

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    The Age of Hedonism (1970s)

    The birth of disco gave the suit a new role to play as a weapon of seduction. In contrast to the 60s, this decade spawned a generation of designer-clad, social climbers with a more flamboyant and liberated sense of dress. Italian fashion had international influence with exaggerated lapels, single-button fastenings and flared trousers.

    Style icons: Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Burt Reynolds

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    The Age Of Deconstruction (1980s)

    Designer Giorgio Armani used American Gigolo to unleash a new silhouette for mainstream men's tailoring. He removed padding and jacket lining and use slouchy fabrics such as linen for pyjama-soft trousers. This played against the contrast of power-dressing Wall Street yuppies and the pastel-coloured pushed-up-sleeve blazers worn with white T-shirts by Miami drug barons.

    Style Icons: Richard Gere, Michael Douglas, Eddie Murphy

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    The Age Of Minimalism (1990s)

    The 90s' obsession with minimising technology, de-cluttering your home and a more intellectual approach to fashion gave rise to a new, any-colour-so-long-as-it's-matte-black generation. Influenced by designers Helmut Lang and Comme des Garcons, plus Reservoir Dogs, slim-fit suits, skinny trousers, white shirts and slim black ties were in.

    Style Icons: Michael Madsen, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale

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    The Age Of The Metrosexual (2000s)

    In reaction to the monochromatic anonymity of the 90s, the turn of the Millenium prised open a suppressed hedonism and unashamed flaunting of disposable income. Celebrities weren't afraid to expose their more flamboyant, feminine side. It saw luxury fabrics such as printed velvets and 'bling' embroidery play backdrop to this reincarnation of dandyism.

    Style Icons: David Beckham, P Diddy, Justin Timberlake

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    The Age Of The Retrosexual (2010)

    Early indications point to a return to suave masculine values, the thype that orders Scotch on the rocks and uses Brylcream. Prime-time sensation Mad Men suggests the same 60 suburban US Brooks Brothers-style suit will have a stronghold in the foreseeable future. Shiny mohair suits with slim lapels and trousers that finish short of the ankle are key.

    Style Icons: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Ford, Jon Hamm