The Suit: Form, Function and Style 

Reviewed By  Janet Mawdesley       November 18, 2016


Author  Christopher Breward

Distributor:       Booktopia/Amazon 
ISBN:                 9781780235233
Publisher:         REAKTION BOOKS
Release Date:   May 2016  

Website:    http:/,au 

The Suit has always seemed to have been there in the halls of fashion, in the street, for the working man, for the up and coming in the business world and as a mark of power in hallowed halls of the power brokers of the business world.

The Suit therefore, is something that is taken for granted in the world of men’s dressing and in various times women’s fashion; but it has not always been thus. The Suit is considered as one of the foremost symbols of modern society which stretches back as far as the French and English Courts of the mid seventeenth century, when it was considered to be the model of sartorial elegance by wearing a bespoke outfit, often referred to as a ‘mish-mash’ of garments, which denoted your standing in society.

The more flamboyant and embellished the higher the status of the gentleman. This mode of dressing was, in the following years, frowned up by the Puritans who stripped the outfit down to basic garments, and so began the journey of the Suit, which has over the centuries evolved and remained a standard item in men’s apparel.

Along with the creating of the bespoke suit of clothing came a complete industry of tailors and garment makers, weavers, button-makers and so forth who perfected their craft to an art form, so much so that in London it was considered the height of fashion to have you garments made by a certain tailor, whoever happened to be in fashion at the time, most of whom had their workshops and outlets in Saville Row in London. In America, Brooks brothers took on the mantle of dressing men with a sartorial elegance which still holds today.

The Europeans have also over the years developed with panache a suit that occasionally places the more traditional of men’s tailoring in the shade, but rather than take on the more formal aspect of the suit they have branched out, making the more causal or relaxed style of suiting something that is and was and has been for many, many years enjoyed for the comfort and very wearable elegance that can be achieve with the use of different fabrics and a loose styling.

Suit’s like every other aspect fashion go in and out of vogue. The Seventeenth century saw a range of lavish, heavily ornate garments created in the name of a suit of clothing, the eighteenth century saw much of this extravagance pared back. The nineteenth century saw a change from breeches to trousers, with the very forward and rakish outfit introduced into the world of feminine apparel.

Enter the twentieth century where just about anything went over a time with a casual elegance becoming an accepted norm of society. Mass production also gained traction making the Suit affordable for men of all levels of society, which began to break down the class system which until this time made owning a suit a very expensive proposition.

But over the years the Suit has perhaps, and always will be, a symbol of status, of power, of prestige and of the avant-garde of society.

It has had its extremes of fashion, as with the Zoot Suit which was a very symbolic piece of clothing in America, the Carnaby Street incarnation created as a symbol of the new and emerging generation; the power suits of Brooks Brothers and Saville Row denoting the businessman, the power broker, the man about town, the drab featureless Mao Suit created as a symbol of revolution in China, and the sensual relaxed suit of Gianni Versace, all rub shoulders amongst the wonderfully colourful, complex and fascinating history of the humble, or perhaps not so humble Suit.

There is much fascination in the history of The Suit, its creation, uses, misuses and power symbols, over its four hundred year history that makes this work and intriguing and interesting read, but the age old conundrum still does apply, ‘Does the suit maketh and man or doth the man maketh the suit’.

Perhaps a little bit of both, maybe!