Alastair Sooke explores the evolution of the gentleman's suit, which has evolved from working man's Sunday best to the casual wear of royalty over the last 100 years.
Browse content similar to The Perfect Suit. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
ENGINE FAILS TO START 'A maiden in distress. But what's this? A knight arriving on the scene.
'He's not in shining armour, but look at that perfectly fitting jacket,
'sleeves just the right length, and a nice hang to the trousers.'
MUSIC: Quiet Life by Japan
The gentleman's lounge suit has glamour, sex appeal,
and can signal a timeless image of cool.
# Now the times are changing the going could get rough
# Boys... #
But it also stands for a world of drudgery,
bland bureaucracy, the very essence of squareness.
How the suit manages to provoke such opposite reactions amazes me.
I want to find out what makes a suit so special,
how its evolution isn't only a story of fashion and tailoring,
but a barometer of our social history.
And ultimately, something that actually tells us what it means to be a man.
There's something great about a grey flannel suit,
it feels very British in a nice way, and it makes you look good.
It makes you feel good. Elegant, important, sexy, tall.
'Women love a man in a suit.'
The suit indicates success, success, success.
I wouldn't really describe myself as a suit person.
I remember turning up wearing casual clothes in the first day
of my new job as a journalist seven years ago,
and being told that I looked like a scruff ball
and that I needed to start dressing a bit more smartly,
which meant of course wearing a suit,
but I didn't actually buy my first suit until about a year ago,
when I got married in it.
It was off the peg, but I was very pleased with it because I guess it made me feel sharp,
and contributed to the sense of occasion,
and I suppose that on a subliminal psychological level,
it helped me get into the role of playing a proper grown-up man.
'Trouble with the set?
'Good thing there's a man about who knows what he's doing.'
I don't think I'm untypical.
For a generation, the suit has become an unappealing prospect,
a dull daily uniform or stuffy historical costume worn only for formal occasions.
Can you take me to Charlie Allen's, Upper Street, yeah?
'So I'm off to properly get to grips with the nuts and bolts of the traditional suit.
'And to do that, I need to speak to someone who makes them.'
MUSIC: Le Tombeau De Couperin: VI Toccata played by James Rhodes
Charlie Allen is a third-generation tailor.
-Hi there, how are you?
-How are you?
'Along with his master cutter, Mr Moto,'
he offers a fully bespoke tailoring service,
where each suit is designed and fitted to the customer's precise predilections.
There are 220 different components to a suit,
and it's the detail that matters so much.
-Top to bottom, give me all the options.
The best way is to draw it... I'll start off with the lapels.
-That's a step lapel. You can have peak lapel.
-You've got a peak lapel.
I've got a peak on here.
If you want to look sharp and slim and neat,
have your pockets slanted and narrow, the flaps quite narrow,
not too long and deep, shortens the body when you have a deeper flap.
-So you're always manipulating the eye, really.
-You're an illusionist.
-That's it. That's what a tailor should be called.
It depends on the actual body that you're working with.
'During an initial consultation, the skill of a tailor is way and above
'simply recording waist and inside leg measurements.'
Is there any point in me sucking in my stomach?
No, no, that's why you're here. Be yourself. Relax.
He is also discreetly assessing a client's unique body type,
his mannerisms and deportment, warts and all.
-Now, I'm looking at you, and you drop to one side.
-What does that mean?
-One shoulder's slightly lower than the other.
-That doesn't sound good.
-No, but it's fine. It's normal.
-Is there anything I can do about this?
Normally, you have one arm longer than the other,
so we have to check that as well, so we will check that on your jacket.
-Yeah, you do.
-Yeah, of course.
Keep it quiet, because we're very discreet.
Back to the choices available with even a simple suit,
and it's onto the trousers.
These are a few of the finishes you can have, a slanted side pocket,
or you can have welt pockets, or you can have frog.
People won't believe you, frog pockets. Why's it called frog?
Because it's a frog mouth, wide mouth, and it goes straight across.
-Or you can have Chinese pockets.
Yes, which go into the waistband.
Or you can have Western pockets, which is a rounded frog pocket.
Rounded Western frog?
Yeah, then you can have the welt pockets,
you can have jetted with flap, or just the flap, or...
-Jetted with no flap.
-Jetted with no flap.
I recommend pleats,
for someone who's got more prominent seat, as you call it.
You know, wider in the hip.
-That's tailor speak for a fat arse!
-What about buttons, though?
-You've given me one button.
-You can have two, three.
-Which one do you do up?
-Always do the middle.
-If there's three, always do the one on the waist.
-What if there are two?
If there's two, always do the top one, but never do both.
-Never do both?
-Because you look like a newscaster.
It seems that sartorial elegance for men hangs on a thread,
and decoding the rules of the suit is much more complex than you might imagine.
The sleeve-button formation, you can have two, three,
I always recommend four because it's a nice figure.
Why do you like four? What do you mean it's a nice figure, why not three?
Well, because three just doesn't look enough and four looks right.
-Five, too many.
-Yeah. It's a bit dandy.
This now looks like you are sketching a suit of medieval armour.
Oh, right. It's modern-day armour,
it's a suit that you feel comfortable in, hardly protective
but mentally, it's something that you feel really comfortable in
and you can fight the world in.
Wow...it's dark now.
I've been in there for quite a while with Charlie and I'm stunned.
I'm almost speechless about the limitless possibilities
of what you can do with a bespoke suit.
It never ends.
I knew that you could have some details, but he has completely opened my eyes.
I feel like I've gone into a garage, opened the bonnet of a beautiful sports car
and seen this unbelievable machinery and engineering underneath.
You've got your lapels, they can be peak, they can be notched,
the pockets, you have all these varieties, ticket pockets,
fob pocket, frog mouth pocket, you can have a flap pocket,
a patch pocket, a jetted pocket.
You can have your trousers wide like Oxford bags,
you can have drainpipe, narrow trousers, you can have turn-ups,
you can have a zipper, you can have fly buttons...
That is an art.
It looks so simple and effortless when it's worn,
but it's a thing of beauty.
I'm beginning to really see that there is something unashamedly masculine about this mental armour
and the world that surrounds it.
But what surprises me is the gentleman's suit
is currently also a fashion must-have on the High Street.
# When I'm with you baby I go out of my head
# I just can't get enough
# I just can't get enough... #
Designers at Top Man have a customer in mind.
He's between 17 and 30, fashion forward and definitely no square.
And yet, they're selling more suits than ever.
The suit will make you feel different.
It changes your posture,
gives you a bit more authority,
makes you look at yourself differently.
You feel less slovenly in it, whatever the price was, if you know what I mean.
The perfect suit, I think, is the suit of the moment, really,
because it reflects the times and it reflects society,
and that's what fashion is about.
I'm quite surprised to hear that what I think of as a traditional outfit,
a boring old suit, is claiming a bit of fashion credibility.
What are some of the details that you've created with this jacket,
which makes it more fashiony than traditional?
When we first introduced the sort of skinnier-fit suit,
it was literally all about the shaping.
So it was taking the shoulders in, making them narrower,
raising the sort of armhole here,
making the sleeves slightly narrower as well,
and then working a lot on the trouser shapes and making that as skinny as we can.
Which you can see on the mannequins. This is how you are suggesting they should be worn.
This is how they're being worn at the moment, still elegant
and still stylish, but it sits into that kind of fashion side as opposed to just being like a suit for work.
# On the plane, on my brain 'Bout to do the sho'
# 40K contract Take it out the door
# Dive symbolise my life Roll 'em on the flo'... #
A 19-year-old student might know what they're doing in here,
but I'm still needing a bit of help.
# While we watch the TV... #
Time for a crash course in the very now rules of wearing a suit.
Bands and TV stars come to be professionally styled here by Michael Dale.
OK, yes, so if we want to start putting some bits on
and then we can start styling it up, working the accessories out.
He's chosen me a suit, but not as we know it.
I'm going to see whether these very, very skinny trousers actually fit.
If I just pull in my stomach then I think, you know, I think that works.
I don't think I've ever in my life worn a neckerchief.
Put it round, feels like a granny putting something over her head.
The crucial part of the suit...
Quite tight here at Top Man!
That really is quite tight, isn't it?
I know there's an Italian design, with a very short jacket,
and it's known as the bum freezer.
I feel like my bum would get quite cold wearing this thing.
I'm not sure I can do this up!
I think this jacket is a little bit too small.
I think everything else is a good fit.
-The neckerchief is not working, is it?
-It look amazing, you're working it.
I'm slightly sceptical about the cravat, Michael.
You could even push the sleeves up and have it a bit more of a casual...
-Push them up?
-Yeah, like that. So what do you think?
-What's the verdict?
-Well, what is the verdict?
I think it's a very fresh look for you, it's young, it's hip,
it's a very different take on your standard suit, you know?
A different take.
That is the thing that I find most baffling in a sense about this.
I've just begun the whole process of finding out about the suit,
and I had a particular vision of the suit as something quite traditional, quite Savile Row, and this isn't it.
It's so different, and already I'm getting a sense that the suit is such a kind of slippery concept.
If you're not comfortable about what you're wearing, it shows.
I'm a little bit unsettled by my High Street fashion encounter
with the nipped-in, cropped, too-cool-for-school suit.
To understand how the suit evolved into that,
I need to find out how it all began,
and why this particular configuration of menswear, the classic lounge suit,
has come to dominate.
Ever since 1800, English tailoring has dominated the world.
Since then, all men have dressed as bankers
because that was the way to reassure the little woman
that you were going to support her for the rest of her life.
And it all started with the frock coat.
The frock coat, here we are.
This is the precursor of our modern lounge suit.
This is very respectable, that was the nature of the Victorian era,
we were respectable,
hard-working, honest, working for Queen and country and for the mercantile empire.
The line of two buttons going up the chest like this, slightly flaring, emphasises the manly torso,
-the wide shoulder, the slim waist.
Always about masculinity, about presenting yourself to the world.
Totally, and also looking like a proper warrior.
Actually, you will hate this,
but if you took a pair of shears and went duf-duf-duf across there,
-you've got a double-breasted modern lounge suit jacket.
This was still being worn way up into the First World War and beyond
by a certain echelon of society for respectability.
But there was a great movement that started in the late 1800s,
so 1860 it began,
where this began to be seen as old-fashioned, fuddy duddy, too restrictive.
By 1900, the poor frock coat was history.
People didn't want to wear them any more. So last season. So last century, even.
Quite right. So last monarch.
# Victoria, Victoria... #
So instead of the stuffy frock coat,
this is exactly what the very first English lounge suits would have looked like.
Fittingly enough, for a period without central heating,
what strikes me about this suit is its weight.
The fabric is much thicker and heavier than suits that we wear now, but I think it's pretty sharp.
Eric, I like the feel of this suit, and I like the look of it. I like this.
This is a country check and it would be worn in the country,
but if you imagine a plain blue, a plain black, a dark grey,
that's what the businessman would have been wearing around town.
So the cut and the shape, this was typical of the new lounge suits at the turn of the century.
Correct, correct. We've got a waistcoat covering up the shirt for respectability,
the shirt was regarded as underwear.
The collar, which is missing, would have been changed on a daily basis,
obviously washing machines were hardly common in those days,
so it was much easier to wash the collar and cuffs.
So the same shirt for a whole week?
Absolutely, that would not be uncommon.
Now one thing I can just suggest here,
the form is on a waistcoat to have the last button unbuttoned,
I think we've got a little bit of a slightly dandyish thing going on here.
I agree, I think it's really good. It's making me stand differently as well.
Yes, that's a modern look for the modern 20th-century man.
This suit is more than 100 years old in style,
but it's not so different to suits we wear today,
and it looks every inch the symbol of the sober establishment.
But there was a time and a place when wearing a suit exactly like that seemed revolutionary.
Parliament... one of the few places where the suit is still an absolute necessity.
John Sergeant reported on the goings-on in this place for more than 20 years,
and has seen first-hand the role that the suit plays in the House of Commons.
The thing that intrigues me is, you think about politicians today
and the way they present themselves,
in an era of spin, image is so important, they all wear suits.
The point about that is, is that they wear the same clothes in order,
in a way not to stand out,
because they don't want to be, oh, what are you wearing today?
It's a uniform, it makes it simple and you can go and work.
It's like anywhere else.
But in the 1890s, everyone here wore a frock coat,
until Keir Hardie was elected an MP and turned up wearing a lounge suit.
Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Labour Party,
but when he arrived, a radical miners' leader,
he'd organised a strike in Lanarkshire,
he wasn't going to wear the sort of very formal frock coat and all that sort of stuff.
No, he was going to wear what he regarded as an ordinary suit, and that made a very big difference.
But he wanted to stand out. He was different. He wasn't part of the British establishment.
-He was making that point by what he wore?
But I suppose the irony is that it becomes the establishment gear,
you know, wear a suit, fit in. Not wear a suit, look odd.
In the '90s, New Labour came to power
and it was a new era in politics, an age of spin, image was all important,
and Blair and the politicians in Labour wanted to present a more relaxed attitude.
They would appear without jackets, they would roll up their shirt sleeves.
Was that all a conscious decision on their part, do you think?
Yes, cos they always try to give the impression
they're new, they're offering something fresh.
Does it work? Do people buy it?
Well, no, because sometimes people are saying why don't they look smarter, or they lose authority,
and one of the problems of that sort of smart casual, let's just be folk, you can push it too far.
People say, wait a moment, he's dressed up like I am,
and he's meant to be running the country.
He's meant to be different from me.
So you've got to be careful about, oh, we're all mucking in together, aren't we?
So during the Blair period, it's quite uneasy.
People thinking, OK, I've taken my tie off, what do I do now,
and how do I impress my authority on people if I haven't got a uniform on,
if I don't look smarter and more organised than other people?
So sometimes, the jeans and the casual look
can give the impression you're casual about the state of the country.
It's difficult to imagine that the suit, as we understand it now,
was actually seen as a more casual option, the V-neck and jeans of a different age.
But one man, a prince, and a king in waiting,
was to do more for the popularity and the innovation of the suit than any other,
and he helped to make this street synonymous with classic English tailoring, the world over.
This is Savile Row, and when you say suit, this is what I think of.
'The impossibly dapper Patrick Grant bought an ailing tailor's company here in 2003.
'Now, he's Menswear Designer of the Year and he's very much the contemporary face of Savile Row.'
There's something great about a grey flannel suit,
it feels very British in a nice way and it, you know, it makes you look good.
Grant's style hero is a surprising advocate of the lounge suit,
the Duke of Windsor.
He was probably the most photographed man in the world
in an era where clothing changed very, very dramatically.
Born in 1894, Edward, the Duke of Windsor was raised to inherit the Crown
by the cripplingly formal King George V.
There's a great quote in one of his books,
he never saw his father without a starched collar on in his life,
whether he was shooting or going to the opera,
he always wore very, very, very formal clothes.
And the Duke of Windsor really dragged us out of that very starchy, very stiff period.
You can probably credit him with making the lounge suit
an acceptable form of dress for everyone.
MUSIC: Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
Sotheby's sold his entire wardrobe in 1997,
and the catalogue from the sale is one of Patrick's prized possessions.
But you look at the colours and the patterns in his wardrobe,
and it was really something spectacular when you think about what his father wore.
-Here we go.
-So these are his clothes.
This is his stuff, I love this photo, the array of pattern and colour,
he would have had a wardrobe like this in all of his houses.
-They're quite loud.
-Oh, they're very, very loud.
You think of him in black and white. A lot of the photos are black and white.
They are. But you know, there's so much colour.
He just had exquisite taste in everything.
I mean, he was obviously wealthy enough to go to the finest craftsmen that England offered.
-Look at the trousers!
-This is ridiculous, how can you say he had good taste?!
Well, I mean, he enjoyed clothes, he was a flamboyant dresser.
# Got your mother in a whirl... #
He was pushing the boundaries all the time,
and he was always getting chastised by his father.
I think that's part of the reason that really he was not thought of as kind of good king material.
# Rebel, rebel you've torn your dress Rebel, rebel... #
Throughout everything he writes, it's clear that he obsessed about clothes and the way things looked.
I mean, he just wore things in a really fantastic way.
-Lots of patterns.
-Lots of patterns, he was always combining pattern and colour.
-There was nothing drab in what he wore. Look at that!
That's a corker. That's probably an afternoon tea suit.
Afternoon tea suit? It's like loud Saturday night entertainment!
It's very kind of Bay City Rollers.
But you know, he somehow managed to pull it off.
# Hot tramp I love you so... #
One of the things I like about the story Patrick told me about the Duke of Windsor
is that like a lot of young men, he was reacting against his dad!
He thought his dad was quite stuffy and overly formal,
and he wanted to have a much more casual, fun-loving approach to life.
And I love the way he signalled this to the world by using and wearing lounge suits.
And I love the idea that Keir Hardie introduced the lounge suit to Parliament
as an almost revolutionary gesture,
and just three decades later, you've got the Duke of Windsor,
future King Edward VIII, before he abdicated,
wearing this casual, quite loose, soft-fitting garment,
the lounge suit, completely had gone right up the social scale.
And that set the tone for what was to follow.
Soon afterwards, it was going to be adopted
and worn by pretty much most British men who wanted to work.
'This young man is obviously heading for the top.
'He knows he must be well-dressed, and that means superb styling
'and skilled craftsmanship to the last detail.'
MUSIC: Fade To Grey by Visage
# Ah, ah, we fade to grey Fade to grey... #
From the board room to the shop floor,
every man who wanted to get on had to have a suit.
# We fade to grey Fade to grey... #
But it didn't stop there.
A man's suit was worn everywhere,
as Sunday Best,
and even on the beach.
The simple lounge suit reduced all men to a sea of serge and grey flannel.
In a world without jeans and rock and roll,
it was a suit that even signalled sex appeal.
Retailers of suits like Burton's weren't shy of pointing this out.
Their advertising makes it very clear a suit was all you needed to make you irresistible to the ladies.
Hm! Boy coming down the steps. He's worth looking at.
What a nice boyfriend to have!
So attractive! I like that suit.
'There's no doubt about it, you can't beat Burton Tailoring.'
Burton's opened in Leeds in 1904 and offered men across the nation
a mix of made-to-measure and off-the-peg suits.
And by 1925, it was the biggest tailoring chain in the world.
With an exclusively male customer base,
the drive to incorporate function and technology was very much to the fore.
'That's careless, though this can happen to anyone.
'And this you can't escape, but wise men wear trousers made of Burtex, Burton's new stain-resisting cloth.
'See how ordinary cloth absorbs liquid,
'but Burtex-treated cloth just won't absorb liquid.
'It shakes off easily. That's careless!'
After the Second World War, new-fangled man-made fabrics were seized upon
and the suit was made washable and, miraculously, water- and stain-resistant.
Unfortunately, without the look and feel of 100% wool,
men wearing these suits crackled with static and dripped with sweat.
These days, most of us buy our suits off the peg.
And we still want a suit that looks smart, but functions too.
One in five of those suits sold in the UK comes from Marks and Spencer.
They sell three suits a minute.
And for them, the search for the technologically perfect suit is still on.
What's your most exciting technical innovation?
At the moment we've been selling this product here, which is...
You might want to try one on.
-This is what we call our performance suit.
Yeah, it's 100% wool, it's called high-twist yarn,
so it's got a natural stretch in it.
-I think you'll feel comfortable in that,
and it's also got Stormwear on it, our water-repellent finish that we put onto suits.
-Yeah. I think as a customer,
if you buy a suit and you go out and get caught in the rain, even if you don't know about it,
that's a massive benefit, even if you only use it once.
-You've brought a bottle of water. Excellent.
-I'm really going to give it to you.
Are you ready?
That is amazing!
-Good, isn't it?
-There is no water on the suit!
-That is like a magic trick.
Why wouldn't you want your suit to be waterproof?
When you put it like that, and after this, I couldn't agree more.
-Thank you, Mark.
In boom times, huge factories employed whole towns in the North of England,
just to keep up with the demand for the suit.
'Young girls enjoy making clothes, especially for men.
'Every year, groups of school leavers are recruited to become the machinists of the future.'
Now, most mass-produced suits are made abroad,
but some of the British companies behind them are still thriving.
One British suit manufacturer makes as many as 18,000 suits
for the British High Street every single week.
And I've come to Hungary to find out exactly how they do it.
This is Budapest.
Berwin and Berwin began trading in Manchester in 1886,
and have been mass-production tailors ever since.
If you've bought a suit from the High Street,
chances are they made it.
The process begins here.
You've got these big rolls, these are for Ted Baker and basically,
this is an assembly line, this is a factory.
What you see are the bales loaded into a machine here,
loads of fabric rolled into them.
Because this is a factory, they're not cutting individual suits,
they have big turnover.
These machines are laying out the fabric, layering them up,
ensuring that they're all smoothly positioned
and ready to go into the machine itself.
Mind out for the vents and the ducts
This is completely extraordinary.
This machine is called the Gerber Cutter.
There are three of them here in this factory,
one here and two over there.
What that does, is cut through about 80 layers of fabric.
It has a vacuum underneath it, so it's sucking in air, so all the fabric's held tight.
That means that when the blade starts cutting in there, it won't slip.
Inside that piece of machinery, in that head,
is one of these.
It's a razor blade, a big blade, each one costs about 20 euros.
There's one of those in that head,
and it's cutting through layers of fabric like this very, very deft.
If you look up close, you can watch it go, so, so quick.
The thing I love most of all, there's one guy operating it,
and I'm slightly in the way, I don't want to disturb him
cos he's working, but underneath, sorry, can I?
You have these. Look at this. These are the shears. This is old school.
This is how they do it on Savile Row
But here they have this big machine,
that tiny blade that's super sharp, going like that.
So, once all those big rolls of fabric have been through
the Gerber Cutter cutting machines, they're carefully labelled and piled up.
They're placed in the back of a lorry here in Budapest
and they're driven two and a half hours away to
another factory where they're all sewn together.
That's in a town called, I'll just get this right, Vasarosnameny,
which is about 15 kilometres from the border with Ukraine.
That's where I'm heading now.
It's the scale of this place that is so mind blowing.
I've been imagining one enormous machine,
you put cloth in one end and magic suits come out the other end.
Of course it's not like that.
The other thing that strikes me, I remember meeting Charlie Allen.
We talked all about the jargon in tailoring
and it felt like going to mechanics, opening the bonnet of a car.
Well, this is the assembly line where the cars are mass-produced
It's exactly like that, all the bits are like chassis of vehicle
hanging up, being taken along, something else welded to it, fused.
The thing I really respect is the attention to detail.
You'd think, mass-produced, who cares?
Each person, they are paying so much attention to what they're doing.
You can see that this is delicate, filigree, precise work.
It's been a total eye-opener.
The quality of what they produce here in Hungary, I think,
is really pretty good.
This is an example which happens to be on the dummy,
it's a Ted Baker jacket, the label doesn't really matter, this isn't about product placement.
The point is that if you look at the thing, I'll try it on...
I think it's got a nice feel, and the detailing is second to none.
Tiny little pockets on the inside, one lining there,
another different lining with a pattern there.
Of course the killer detail for me, the cuffs.
The sign of a bespoke suit, they say, you can undo the cuffs.
Well, I'm standing in a factory in Hungary and there they are.
Have a look at that. That's the sign of bespoke.
60 years ago, mass production meant ubiquity.
And the lounge suit, like the frock coat it replaced,
was starting to look just as stuffy.
Suits became a byword for mediocrity, conformity and blandness.
Every inch of it the uniform of boring, British commuter drones.
But what happened soon after the war society began to change
and change very fast.
All of a sudden, popular culture and fashion
infiltrated the world of the suit.
And here in London, the suit began to swing.
So to find out how the suit trends were set during the '60s,
I'm going to take in a couple of movies.
Chris Breward from the Victoria and Albert Museum, has a passion for menswear.
-Now that, I think, is a very cool look.
That's Ocean's Eleven, it's 1960.
What do you think the impact of a film like that would've been?
Film had enormous power, and people looked to film stars,
men as much as women, for cues.
This is an era where there aren't men's style magazines,
when there's not the discussion of men's fashion in the newspapers,
so who do you look to?
You look to the kind of key fashionable films of the time.
What are the stylistic hallmarks, of these suits that differentiate them?
Well, I think Dean Martin's suit in this clip is the key one.
It's slightly iridescent fabric, much lighter wool,
it's cut much more tightly to the body, it's the very slim lapels,
very narrow trousers, no pleats at the front.
The style had little to do with traditional English tailoring.
This was a look inspired by men on the streets of Naples and Rome.
It's lighter, it's sexier, I suppose, it's got sex appeal...
-Hey gimme a kiss.
which you can't say about many Savile Row suits,
traditional Savile Row suits, they're doing the opposite.
They're like armour, that kind of, you know, covering up.
They're presenting a different sort of mask to the world.
The Italian suit, it's relaxed, it's about an open approach to life
and the sense of the Italian man as a fashion icon,
a sense of sprezzatura, of kind of owning the streets,
of being relaxed in your clothes.
Is that what that means? A sense of sort of like pizzazz, confidence?
Yeah, pizzazz, confidence, that's a very good definition.
But Italian tailoring is all about that, which is very different
to the more traditional notion of British tailoring.
In a sense, this Oceans Eleven look,
you can also see it reflected in the working-class sub-culture of the time,
in the Mod sub-culture for example.
Mods, young working-class men who are into an Italian lifestyle,
the Italian mopeds, the coffee bars, the whole sort of Italian feel.
What do you want to go with that?
You want a sharp Italian-style suit that makes you look fabulous.
I think that's what's so new and so brilliant about it in the '60s.
It's very, very fresh.
My second film is a little bit of a cheat.
It's much newer, but I reckon the suits in it have become
sartorial shorthand for the '60s.
Come on, baby, work with me.
Show me love.
Great, baby! Yeah!
This is a film that comes from '97, it's a big parody of Bond,
of lots of stylish films that came out in the '60s.
Mike Myers is just camping it up to the max.
That suit's ridiculous.
Somebody's done their research.
I think there's a moment, around '66, '67 in London,
where this kind of extreme form of menswear,
just in a couple of streets, is outrageous.
So in that sense, it's not so far-fetched I don't think.
Oh, behave. Yeah...
So, suits like that that were actually available to men in the '60s to buy,
but not only that, they wore them.
A few men wore them I think.
It became known as the sort of peacock style,
the kind of Swinging London look.
If you were a young man in the Swinging '60s in London,
you bought a suit like that,
what's the message, what are you trying to say as a person?
I think you're saying that you're kind of kicking against the establishment,
this is not a suit for the office job.
This is a suit for going out to the new London clubs,
it's a suit for engaging with the new street culture of London
and engaging with the now.
Means you're hyper-fashionable.
Psychedelic, dandified boutiques and tailors like Mr Fish
and Granny Takes a Trip, launched the peacock revolution.
There's a sense of the kind of Edwardian or late Victorian dandy
about this sort of costume, or even the Regency buck.
But the period they really liked, the '60s designer,
was the early 19th Century, the kind of Regency dandy.
There's a sort of madness about it, I think.
Nothing was off limits and '60s designers used all sorts
of unusual materials to steal the suit back from the establishment.
# Daddy wasn't there
# To take me to the fair
# It seems he doesn't care. #
It looks like designer curtains.
It does, but the researcher's done their work,
we've a suit by Mr Fish in the V&A collection, that's not so dissimilar.
Those sorts of designers were taking furniture fabrics and turning them into suits.
It's only permissible within the middle of London
and other urban centres.
It loses its power and becomes rather dangerous
when it moves outside of that sort of terrain.
There's a lot of nervousness about the way
men are growing their hair, turning into women, essentially.
I think it's disgusting, disgraceful and effeminate.
-I can't tell one from the other.
-I think they're a load of poofs.
Do you think it was a particularly worrying time for those people
because the suit, historically, is so synonymous with masculinity?
To see that change, it's like, oh my God,
everything we know and understand is being taken away from us.
Yeah, social conservatives were, you know, shaking in their shoes.
'If the row of long-haired mealy youths you've pictured
'are British manhood 1967, then God help this country.'
Things are loosening up in the '60s. Ways of being a man are shifting.
You've got the decriminalisation of homosexuality,
it's a time of new freedom.
In an interesting way, I think men's clothes
reflect those broader changes in terms of fashion generally.
So there's this Technicolor moment when men's fashion
changes from the monochrome, you get these incredibly bright colours,
new textures, new inspiration, and then it goes again by '68, '69.
-Very brief, then.
Although menswear as a whole got progressively wilder
and more relaxed throughout the '60s, this wasn't good news for the suit.
By the '70s, the predominance of denim and casual wear
made the suit look boring, pretty ugly and strictly for formal occasions.
In the '70s, suits were for work and they were for Sundays,
and funerals and marriages.
Nobody who was cool wore a suit.
It was such, you know,
if you wanted to look at a suit on Top Of The Pops,
you'd switch it on and you know who'd be wearing suits?
The most ghastly, awful pop band, Mudd.
Or The Osmonds.
# Don't love me for fun girl
# Let me be the one, girl
# Love me for a reason
# Let the reason be love. #
It really was the decade that taste forgot.
People were wearing safari suits.
Think of Roger Moore, he was the worst-dressed Bond of all time.
But the '70s wasn't without its suit moment.
Think of people like David Bowie or Bryan Ferry.
They were suit innovators, doing something different, new.
I'm going to meet the man who helped them to do it.
# Teenage revolution... #
When Roxy Music first appeared in the early '70s,
their entire look, including Bryan Ferry's suits,
was put together by designer Antony Price.
A suit is one of the few garments that you can actually alter
the contour of someone's body.
You can make them appear a completely different shape
by using the art of tailoring, which, of course,
you cannot do with a pair of skin tight jeans.
If you've got a terrible arse,
it will be a terrible arse covered in denim.
When you started designing the suits,
what did you do specifically about the jackets?
I suddenly started doing things that looked more American '40s.
It's true that one does draw from things in the past.
You've got to get men to buy these things
and men are very conscious of buying things that are...
They won't buy something if they're going to look a fool in front of friends,
or they think that.
When the penny drops they might get sex out of it,
then we have a different attitude.
Women love a man in a suit.
He can bring home the bacon, the suit indicates success, success, success.
Women can take or leave sex, men can't and they need that suit.
If it's going to get them laid, they're going to buy that suit.
The classic framing of Antony Price's suits for Bryan Ferry
was further sexed up by subtle, but significant details.
There's nothing feminised about this suit.
The shoulders are defined, the torso's tapered
and by cutting away the front of the jacket, the crotch is all on show.
What I was doing in the '70s became commercial '80s,
including that look that I'd done on Bryan Ferry, which was the slim suit.
He'd obviously worn it on television, so it had got around.
Nobody dared wear that suit for almost ten years.
It was ten years before Duran Duran took it on board and said,
"I don't care who's worn it before,
"we love it and we're going to wear it."
# Her name is Rio
# She don't need to understand. #
The suits were narrow, with quite narrow lapels.
We did the turquoise and green and lilac suits,
which were then strategically placed on a yacht.
Everyone aspired then to go to the Caribbean.
To see them sploshing around in these suits with dyed yellow hair,
against a turquoise sea and azure blue sky,
worked very well and it's an iconic image from the '80s.
After a decade in the fashion doldrums,
the suit started to become cool again during the '80s.
Looking relaxed and luxurious, the right suit said you'd arrived.
And it wasn't just Antony Price who was making them.
Just as in the '60s, Italian design was on the rise again.
Armani's really interesting.
His whole attitude towards fashion, certainly the suit
and menswear, has been about the feel and touch of fabric.
An Armani suit was cool, sexy, with that kind of slouchy style,
epitomised by Richard Gere in American Gigolo.
It's not for boys.
Isn't it a little late for you?
My husband's still in New York. I'm alone.
It's for men in their thirties who could afford it.
You aspire to an Armani suit.
Armani can pick up a suit and put it on like that.
Because they're easy to wear, they're comfortable,
it's like wearing a cardigan.
-Why did he do that?
-Because it was new and because it would sell.
In the '80s, an Armani suit became shorthand for success.
For all of his subtle design innovations and emphasis on fabric,
it was Armani's ability to create a desirable brand
that made his suits entirely new.
What Armani did that was so brilliant
was to make it so international
and to make the idea of his label so extremely desirable.
It was way above the importance of the cut of that suit.
He started off in 1975.
By 1987, he had a 350 million turnover.
The '80s brought the suit right back into fashion,
Antony Price's design for Bryan Ferry,
the billowing silk numbers he did for Duran Duran,
or think of Miami Vice and those loose colourful suits
worn with the sleeves rolled up.
But it was here in the City
that the evolution of the suit continued again.
If you think about the power suit worn by the children of Thatcher,
the people who worked in the City, double breasted, big shouldered,
big status symbols, worn by self-styled masters of the universe.
This was the era when greed was good
and that became synonymous with what they wore.
And of course being a banker today is not such a popular profession.
I would love to know whether the suit is still something
that's worn with pride here in the square mile of the City.
I feel like my quest to find the perfect suit,
this is my Attenborough moment.
I've hit the mother lode, this is the watering hole
for the species of men who wear suits as a matter of course.
It's a natural thing. How long have you worked in the City?
So the '80s were quite a different time to be...
You had to wear a suit.
There was no other possibility.
-So in those days you always wore a suit?
It meant power.
If you were bold in what you wore, it meant you were powerful.
-It sent a signal.
-It's interesting, now you don't wear a suit.
Have you gone underground? Incognito?
It's not good to show that you're conspicuously a banker,
But isn't it important, when you're in the City,
to kind of dress as other City people do?
Not unless you're meeting a client.
It's the impression you give to the client that's most important,
so when they see you, they want to see you in a suit.
In the '90s, influenced by American trends from Silicon Valley,
the dominance of the suit in the workplace was challenged
by the smart-but-casual revolution.
Dress Down Friday had arrived.
I've done Dress Down Friday
and sometimes there might be something important going on,
and really, I'm not switched on enough, you know.
I just feel like I'm an interloper really, not ready for work.
I feel better, I feel more able to perform, somehow,
when I'm wearing a suit.
People coming in in their Bermuda shorts and t-shirts
doesn't reflect well.
It seems to encourage sloppy behaviour.
The conclusion was wearing a suit, clothes maketh the man -
that was resonating, I think, within the industry.
It's almost a uniform for work.
It's where I feel the most comfortable round the workplace,
dressed like this.
Some people don't like it, but it's an easy way to dress,
you don't have to think about it too much.
Just get a shirt and get a tie and you go to work.
Someone said to me a long time ago don't dress for your job,
dress for the job you want.
You don't find top brass wearing jeans and a T shirt on a Friday, do you?
It seems to me that the suit has come to a really interesting place.
Without losing its essential qualities,
it has evolved into something versatile that means
many different things to many different men.
And that subtle flexibility is the secret of its survival.
It successfully straddles two worlds.
It remains a uniform, making men feel ready for work,
but it continues to fascinate designers, whose innovations ensure
that, however subtle, the look of the lounge suit never stands still.
I'm going to finish my voyage of suit discovery
by meeting Britain's international king of menswear, Paul Smith.
Oh, it's perfect, sir!
So this is bespoke service, eh?
'Paul Smith began selling menswear
'from his first shop in Nottingham, in 1970.'
We do 26 collections a year.
'The potentially boring combo of a jacket and trousers
'of matching cloth has helped build a glamorous empire
'that now exports to 56 countries around the world.'
This is the design studio here.
This is where we work on our future collections.
You're like a whirlwind, I'm just trying to keep up.
So this is how it all works.
That's a suit that's got a knitted cuff
and that will be slashed with some stitching.
-I've never seen that before.
-A cuff like that.
Don't show it!
-I think it's too late.
Anyway, this is where we create fabrics which are going to be printed,
often they'll get used as linings.
For instance, you get a classic suit like you've got on,
and then it'll have probably a lining like this.
It'll be a completely classical suit and then you'll get a bit of fun.
We had the band Green Day and they wanted some suits
for the Mercury Awards.
So we made them some suits,
and then I photographed a mixing desk and then that became the lining.
When they got the award, the suit was just hanging out
so you just saw a bit of that.
Since I was 18 I've been working with people like Led Zeppelin
and Bowie and Jagger and now with Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, etc.
Amazingly, a lot of these young bands want to wear suits
but they don't want to wear a more formal suit.
They want a suit that's got a bit more of an unusual approach to it.
So it'll be the way it's constructed or the fabric or the colour.
Do you think the suit will just endure for ever?
I do, yeah, because it does a job and, you know,
if you get into it, it's actually quite a nice thing to use.
What's the job?
If you had to like boil it down, what's the job a suit does?
Makes you feel good. Elegant, important, sexy, tall.
Do you think you'll ever become bored with the suit?
No, because I like to... I think you can wear a suit in so many different ways.
With tennis shoes, a floral shirt,
chambray shirt, just a jacket... No, never.
A good suit is almost like,
you know when you close a car door that's a nice car,
it's got this sort of solid sound about it?
Or you have a knife and fork in your hand
and it's got some weight about it?
A good suit just has that solidity
and that sort of importance about it that equals craftsmanship.
So, I'm still in Paul's office, he's gone,
a complete dynamo of energy and before he left,
he allowed me to try on the full suit and in fact he chose the tie,
and he's done it up on me and everything.
And it is quite amazing what it does.
Where I think Paul's bang on is that a suit shouldn't be about
all the codes and conventions, the number of buttons,
the type of lapel, the vents, the drape,
just for their own sake as a ticket into high society.
A suit should be about quality,
it should be about making you feel confident, giving you stature,
transforming you so that you can play the role, if you like,
of being a man.
This is part of the machinery of the modern man,
even 160 years after the lounge suit was first made.
I just wish that I didn't have to give it back.
# Heaven loves ya
# The clouds part for ya
# Nothing stands in your way when you're a boy
# Clothes always fit ya
# Life is a pop of the cherry
# When you're a boy
# When you're a boy
# You can wear a uniform
# When you're a boy
# Other boys check you out
# You get a girl who says your favourite things
# When you're a boy
# Boys keep swinging... #
A witty exploration of the evolution of the gentleman's suit. Alastair Sooke only owns one suit, but he is fascinated by how the matching jacket and trousers has become a uniform for men. Over the last 100 years the suit has evolved from working man's Sunday best to the casual wear of royalty.
For many 'the suit' is synonymous with all that is dull. But tailor Charlie Allen, Top Man chief designer Gordon Richardson and Sir Paul Smith show Alastair that the suit can be a cutting-edge fashion item and 'armour' to face the world.