The man's suit of clothes, in the sense of a lounge or business or office suit, is a set of garments which are crafted from the same cloth. This article discusses the history of the lounge suit, often called a business suit when made in dark colours and of conservative cut.
The current styles were founded in a period of sartorial revolution during the early 19th century. This sharply changed the elaborately embroidered and jeweled formal clothing into the simpler clothing of the Regency period, which gradually evolved to the stark formality of the Victorian era. It was in the search for more comfort that the loosening of rules gave rise in the late 19th century to the modern lounge suit.
The suit is a traditional form of men's formal clothes in the Western world. For some four hundred years, suits of matching coat, trousers, and waistcoat have been in and out of fashion. The modern lounge suit's derivation is visible in the outline of the brightly-coloured, elaborately-crafted royal court dress of the 17th century (suit, wig, knee breeches), which was shed because of the French Revolution. This evolution is seen more recently in British tailoring's use of steam and padding in moulding woolen cloth, the rise and fall in popularity of the necktie, and the gradual disuse of waistcoats and hats in the last fifty years.
The modern lounge suit appeared in the late 19th century, but traces its origins to the simplified, sartorial standard of dress established by the British king Charles IIin the 17th century. In 1666, the restored monarch, Charles II, per the example of King Louis XIV's court at Versailles, decreed that in the English Court men would wear a long coat, a waistcoat (then called "petticoat"), a cravat (a precursor of the necktie), a wig, and knee breeches (trousers), and a hat.
In the early 19th century, British dandy Beau Brummell redefined and adapted this style, then popularised it, leading European men to wearing well-cut, tailored clothes, adorned with carefully knotted neckties. The simplicity of the new clothes and their sombre colours contrasted strongly with the extravagant, foppish styles just before. Brummell's influence introduced the modern era of men's clothing which now includes the modern suit and necktie. Moreover, he introduced a whole new era of grooming and style, including regular (daily) bathing as part of a man's toilet.
In this regency period, the predominant upper-class clothing introduced by Brummell for day wear was a tightly fitting, dark coloured tailcoat with non-matching (usually pale) trousers, pale waistcoat, white shirt and cravat and tall boots.
Towards the start of the Victorian period, the frock coat, initially not just black, became popular, and quickly became the standard daily clothing for gentlemen. From the middle of the 19th century, a new (then informal) coat, the morning coat, became acceptable. It was a less formal garment, with a cut away front, making it suitable for wearing while riding. Morning dress and the frock coat garments were not suits, because they were worn with trousers that didn't match in color or fabric; a matching waistcoat and trousers were considered informal, clothes described as such in the short-lived term "ditto suit".The frock coat was still the standard garment for all formal or business occasions, and a tailcoat was worn in the evenings.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the modern lounge suit was born as a very informal garment meant only to be worn for sports, in the country, or at the seaside.
Parallel to this, the dinner jacket was invented and came to be worn for informal evening events. It was descended from white tie (the dress code associated with the evening tailcoat) but quickly became a full new garment, the dinner jacket, with a new dress code, initially known as 'dress lounge' and later black tie. When it was imported to the United States, it became known as the tuxedo. The 'dress lounge' was originally worn only for small private gatherings and white tie ('White tie and tails') was still worn for large formal events. The 'dress lounge' slowly became more popular for larger events as an alternative to full evening dress in white tie.