As fashion and tailoring information and imagery have become more accessible between countries over the past few decades, styles around the world have become more standardised, or at least aren’t as neatly defined by geography. Whilst there are still distinct suit looks to be found, these are often preferred on the basis of individual style or influence, rather than the traditions of a particular country’s tradition of tailoring. Whilst we like to honour the heritage of British tailoring and work with this basis most often, we’ve regularly incorporated styles from different tailoring practices into the suits we cut, when a client requests. Here’s a closer look at the differences in the style and look of suits between the three main schools of tailoring: British, Italian and American.
The British Suit
As you know, there’s a long tradition of fine tailoring in the British Isles. British tailoring has its roots in several areas, such as the country wear of the upper classes and the creation of formal military uniforms over centuries. Modern tailoring has evolved gradually from this combination of influences into the smart bespoke contemporary outfits created in the present day.
The British suit jacket has typically been very formal and controlled in its shape. More stiffness in the fabric of the jacket body means that the rigid shape of the garment is held despite movement. The notch lapel is the most common option in this tradition, with the single or double button fastening also being standard. The double breasted suit jacket has also been a facet of British tailoring which has come in and out of style periodically, which is usually accompanied by a peak lapel. The jacket is fitted quite closely to the body using darts in the construction of the jacket and the sleeves are closer around the arms with higher scyes. At the back of the suit, the double vent is the most common option and often suit jackets will feature a ticket pocket, sat just above the regular pockets which will generally have flaps.
Another feature of the British tradition is the use of the surgeon’s cuff. With a functioning three button fastening on the jacket arms, the sleeve of the jacket can be rolled back to the elbow, just as the shirt. This was originally so that surgeon’s wouldn’t get their shirt sleeves dirtied during procedures- hence its name.
The suit trousers are normally pleated in the British tradition, with the high waisted fit being the most typical. There is normally some break allowed in the trousers, with some bunching of the fabric at the shoe being typical in a well fitting suit from this tradition, rather than being too long. The British cut of suit is now one of the most popular internationally, with the bespoke fit of the suit jacket considered the most flattering and personal. The attention to detail and careful consideration given to the shaping of the body of the jacket are now widely recognised as essential qualities in a suit.
The American ‘Sack’ Suit
The American suit cut is also commonly known as ‘The Sack’. This might not sound like a very flattering name, but it has its origins in the looser fitting shape of the suit. With mass production of suits being an earlier development in the States, this looser fit was also a more versatile option, fitting more body types than a closer more ‘fitted’ look offered by the British suit look.
With a looser fit all over the suit, the trousers are typically slightly baggier and have a longer leg, with more break. Generally these will be flat front without the pleated look of the British trousers.
A wider, looser, less ‘tailored’ look to the fit of the jacket is also more common in this tradition. The arm scyes are lower, and the sleeves of the jacket much wider as a result. This bigger and looser fit of suit probably peaked in the 1990s, with big jackets with long jacket ‘skirts’, longer wider legged trousers and a generally baggy look of suit came to typify the ‘Sack’. Because of the wide shape of the suit jacket, darts aren’t typically used to control the shape as closely as in the British tradition. Flap pockets are usually the more popular choice and because the jacket generally covers a larger area, a third button is also quite common.
Brioni and the Italian Look
Certain elements of the Italian look have proliferated into the popular suit looks of contemporary tailoring internationally. Especially in the cut of trousers, with the closer slimmer fit of trouser leg combined with the tight cut around the hips and the lack of break at the bottom of the leg being quite a standard choice of trouser fit for a look. This has become common-place across European, British and American suits, both in high street fashion outlets and in bespoke tailoring. As a sharper silhouette has become more popular, the lack of break has been preferred as it prevents the contact between trouser fabric and shoe from distorting the form and shape of the trouser.
Typically in the Italian tradition, the fastening of the jacket is higher than in the British and American suits. The body of the jacket is more tailored, coming in at the waist. Like with the British jacket, this is controlled by the use of darts in the body of the jacket. The scyes are again higher in the jacket, with the sleeves being closer around the arm of the wearer. Jacket pockets are ‘jetted’ rather than flapped, adding to an overall slicker look, with as few elements as possible protruding from the garment.
Another conspicuous difference is the ‘ventless’ suit jacket, which controls the silhouette of the suit more when standing, but means that the suit doesn’t adjust as well to changing to a seated position. This is a subject we covered in our Language of Tailoring blog a few months back. The qualities we see in suits which are now recognised as Italian or continental are attributed largely to Italian fashion house Brioni (named after the Brionian Islands) in the 1940s and 1950s who introduced this look to the world from Rome, where the company was founded. Whilst some elements of the Italian suit have become the norm internationally, these are now often incorporated into suits from other traditions of suit cut and style, with many suits featuring a hybrid of preferred elements from different traditions.