The History of Men's Formal Wear: From Tails to Tuxedos

Formal wear has always been an important aspect of men’s clothing. It represents sophistication, class, and elegance. From the elegant frock coats of the 18th century to the modern tuxedo, formal wear has undergone many changes over the centuries, reflecting changes in fashion, society, and culture.

18th Century: Frock Coats and Breeches

In the 18th century, men's formal wear was defined by the frock coat, which was a knee-length coat with a full skirt that flared out at the back. It was made from heavy fabrics like wool, velvet, and silk and was often worn with breeches, which were tight-fitting pants that ended at the knee. Breeches were made from similar materials as the frock coat and were often adorned with elaborate embroidery and buttons.

The 18th century also saw the introduction of the waistcoat, which was worn underneath the frock coat and over the shirt. The waistcoat was typically made from silk, satin, or brocade and was often brightly colored or patterned. Men also wore stockings and shoes with buckles to complete their formal look.

19th Century: Tails and Top Hats

In the 19th century, men's formal wear underwent significant changes. The frock coat was replaced by the tailcoat, which was a more streamlined version of the frock coat. The tailcoat had a narrower skirt and was cut away at the front, creating a distinctive "tail" at the back. It was typically worn with trousers that matched the coat and a white dress shirt with a winged collar and cravat.

The top hat also became a popular accessory in the 19th century. Made from silk or wool, the top hat was tall and cylindrical with a flat top and a narrow brim. It was worn tilted forward on the head and completed the formal look.

20th Century: Tuxedos and Business Suits

The 20th century saw significant changes in men's formal wear, reflecting changes in society and culture. In the early 1900s, the tuxedo was introduced as a more relaxed alternative to the tailcoat. The tuxedo was characterized by a shorter jacket with satin lapels and trousers with a matching satin stripe down the leg. The tuxedo was often worn with a black bow tie and a white dress shirt.

The business suit also became popular in the early 20th century. The business suit was a more practical and versatile option for everyday wear and was characterized by a single-breasted jacket and trousers that matched the jacket. The suit was typically made from wool and came in a range of colors and patterns.

In the 1920s, the double-breasted suit became popular. The double-breasted suit had two rows of buttons and was often worn with a peaked lapel. The 1920s also saw the introduction of the detachable collar, which allowed men to change the collar on their dress shirt without having to buy a new shirt.

In the 1930s, the zoot suit became popular among young men. The zoot suit was characterized by high-waisted, wide-legged trousers and a long, loose-fitting jacket with padded shoulders. The zoot suit was a symbol of rebellion and individuality and was often worn by African American and Latino men.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the business suit became more streamlined and fitted. The "Mad Men" style suit, made popular by the TV show of the same name, was characterized by a slim-fitting, single-breasted jacket with narrow lapels and tapered trousers. The suit was often made from wool or a wool blend and came in a range of colors and patterns.

In the 1970s, the disco era brought about a new style of formal wear, with shiny materials and bold patterns. Men’s suits became more flamboyant, with wide lapels and flared trousers. The leisure suit, made from synthetic fabrics like polyester, became a popular choice for men in the 1970s. The leisure suit was often worn with a shirt with a wide collar and a large medallion necklace.

In the 1980s, men’s formal wear became more conservative, with a return to classic styles. The power suit, characterized by a double-breasted jacket with padded shoulders and wide lapels, became popular among businessmen. The suit was often worn with a dress shirt with a pointed collar and a silk tie.

In the 1990s and 2000s, men’s formal wear became more relaxed and casual, reflecting the changing attitudes of society. The business suit became less formal, with a move towards lighter fabrics and more fitted cuts. The traditional tie was also replaced by more casual options like the bow tie and the skinny tie.

Today, men’s formal wear is more diverse than ever before. From classic tuxedos and business suits to more casual options like blazers and sports coats, there is a wide range of options for men to choose from. Formal wear is no longer limited to black and white, with a variety of colors and patterns now available.

In conclusion, men's formal wear has undergone many changes over the centuries, reflecting changes in fashion, society, and culture. From the elegant frock coats of the 18th century to the modern tuxedo, formal wear has remained a symbol of class, sophistication, and elegance. While formal wear has evolved over time, the basic principles of style, fit, and quality have remained the same. Today, men have more choices than ever before when it comes to formal wear, allowing them to express their individual style and personality while still looking sophisticated and elegant.