A Brief look at Men’s Suits–Their Style and How Comfortable They Were (or Weren’t) on a scale of 1 to 5 Bathrobes (1 Bathrobe = VERY uncomfortable, 5 Bathrobes = VERY comfortable)
1920s: Roaring 20s Were Stylish and Comfortable
The 20s was somewhat of a Renaissance of the suit– reflecting a kind of modernity still seen today. The turn of the 20th century was a shedding of the “armor” like menswear of the 1800s. Sweats were invented in the 20s for athletes which started catching on with the mid-30s olympians. Sweats may have been influenced by (or vice versa) the 1920s baggy pants, high waist and loose but fitted shoulders. What was worn was often a DIRECT correlation to communicating how successful you were.
Roaring 20’s Comfort Score: 3
1930s: Suits Reflected the Grey of the Times
Sure, almost everyone was broke, so the fashion followed suit (pun intended)– greys and black was a popular color. However, class style was distinct: poorer men seemed to wear loose fitting suits. I say “seemed to” because it could have been that they were just feeling skinnier.
1930s Comfort Score: 3
1940s: The Fashion of War, the Zoot Suit and the Classic Look
War had its own effect on fashion in the 40s making the military uniform the preferred “suit”. Also, it was this decade that the zoot suit became popularized–not by one designer or company selling suits. No, it rose to prominence because men would simply buy a suit 2 sizes too big and with “at home” seamstresses more plentiful back then, some adjustments could be easily made. Big pocket squares became a thing and no one wore a suit better than Nat King Cole, Gary Cooper and Humphrey Bogart– the decade’s biggest movie star. The classic style even today.
1940s Comfort Score: 3.5
1950s: A “New Uniform”
Once the war was over and the military uniform put away, it seemed another “uniform” was established by all men (the kind IBM clung to for decades): Dark suits, dark ties, pocket square and white shirt was almost a default in the 50s. Even “rebels” like Elvis didn’t stray too far from the uniform excel for setting a trend that would leak a bit into the 60s: A suitcoat of lighter color with a polo underneath and white socks. Frank Sinatra is wearing a suit that was quintessential 50s and it was a classic look not too different from the 40s but a notch closer to the modern suits today.
1950s Comfort Score: 3
1960s: A Tale of Two Decades
The 60s was a transformative decade: The early part of the decade saw a lot of holdover tradition from the 50s– politicians and statesmen and businessmen wore skinnier ties which started in the 50s. But then the late 60s saw the rise of rebellion against war and the fashion expressed that. Brighter colors and non-traditional prints and patterns began to take shape.
1960s Comfort Score: 2.5
1970s: The Suit Discovers the Full Spectrum of Color
While some businessmen stayed traditional, flare pants, wide collars, and big knotted ties were all the rage– more rage against tradition and asserting independence. But the polyester newly found in the fabric made the “freedom” of suits overly hot and uncomfortable.
1970s Comfort Score: 2
1980s: Birth of the Preppy and the “Creative Traditional” Suit
From Don Johnson’s Miami Vice pastel suits with a t-shirt underneath to the preppy look epitomized by Gordon Gekko and Wall Street (“Greed is Good”) to PeeWee’s callback to 50s and 60s style as a punchline, the 80s brought an expression of various styles– all of which came to define the 80s as much as the 80s didn’t want to be defined.
1980s Comfort Score: 3
1990s: “The Lost Decade”
The 90s were a strange time- almost immediately wanting to assert itself as different from the 80s while clinging to some of the same ol same ol in the early 90s. GQ Magazine calls this decade for menswear a time when “the suit loses its way”. That’s a fair assessment given the fact that pleats and no coat were popular as was the “anything goes” approach that in retrospect condoned the behavior of matching a suitcoat with mom jeans. Still, Letterman stayed true to tradition and always looked sharp in his own way.
1990s Comfort Score: 3
2000s: The Suit Makes a Comeback
2000s Comfort Score: 3
Today: Every Man For Himself!
Today’s Comfort Score: 3.5 – (some would argue 2 or 2.5, but the social acceptability of almost any suit style– skin tight or more loose gives it a rounding up)
The Real Enemy of comfort While Wearing a Suit
Yes– it’s not always the suit that makes you uncomfortable–sure, maybe the cut or style can be too restrictive, but for decades, the overall enemy of comfort has been… the unassuming undershirt:
Cheaply made, almost an afterthought by many large corporations that employ sweatshops worldwide. Long gone is an American-made undershirt that exudes comfort and promises to be the most comfortable undershirt you’ll ever own. Or is it gone?