For over 400 years the tailored suit has dominated wardrobes the world over. Its simple forms, inspired by royal, military, religious and professional clothing, have provided a functional and often elegant uniform for modern life. But whether bespoke or tailor-made, on the street or in the office, during times of celebration or of crisis, we typically take the suit for granted, ignoring its complex construction and many symbolic meanings.
The Suit unpicks the story of this most familiar garment, from its emergence in western Europe at the end of the seventeenth century to today. Suit-wearing figures such as the Savile Row gentleman and the Wall Street businessman have long embodied ideas of tradition, masculinity, power and respectability, but the suit has also been used to disrupt concepts of gender and conformity. Adopted and subverted by women, artists, musicians and social revolutionaries through the decades – from dandies and Sapeurs to the Zoot Suit and Le Smoking – the suit is also a device for challenging the status quo.
For all those interested in the history of menswear, this beautifully illustrated book offers new perspectives on this most mundane, and poetic, product of modern culture.
Christopher Breward has been interviewed on BBC World Service’s World Update:
‘Christopher Breward’s intelligent consideration of the suit is an antidote to all the bombastic “how to” guides written by fashion journalists and bloggers whose idea of cultural context is to speed read a Wikipedia page . . . a rich, deep and satisfying study.’ – World of Interiors
‘The Suit has its own spare, modernist elegance. It presents a decisively uncluttered history of menswear, cutting a clean line through eighteenth-century French military uniforms to dandies, Pasolini films and twentieth-century Italian tailoring, all the while insisting on the suit’s “all-pervasive influence in modern and contemporary cultures” . . . Breward takes unmistakable pleasure in his subject.’ – Financial Times
‘Expertly shows how the adoption of the suit was a manifestation of societal change as the great European wars of the 17th and 18th centuries morphed into the Industrial Revolution and thereon into the modern democratic world. Indeed, it would be hard to name another facet of our modern culture that has so effortlessly and variously expressed the cross-purposes of, say, Baudelaire, Le Corbusier, and Mao Zedong. The suit is the perfect signifier, and as Mr. Breward shows, it carries all the noble, artistic, economic, and perverse impulses of our culture.’ – Wall Street Journal
‘Christopher Breward offers a compendious account of the evolution of the suit from the gaudily decorated outfits of the Elizabethen court, through the luxury textile trade, to the genesis of something like the modern idea of well-dressed manhood (essentially, expensive understatement) in the nineteenth-century Parisian cult of the dandy . . . when Breward ventures beyond just telling his story to speculate a little on the cultural resonances behind it, he does so with a sharp, laconic intelligence.’ – TLS
‘Breward has an eye for detail and is to be congratulated for nosing out such truffles of tailoring lore that might have escape others. He is knowledgeable about his subject, insightful in his analysis and imaginative in the connections that he makes. The result is a thoughtful and at times lively riffle throught the male wardrobe from Restoration England onwards.’ – Nicholas Foulkes, Literary Review
‘Christopher Breward’s book on the history and culture of the gentleman’s suit is a handsome, hardback volume with a generous number of large-format illustrations . . . his is not a straightforward object-oriented interpretation; what makes the book such a clever and rewarding read lies in how Breward assumes the position of a tailor in tackling a cultural history of the suit, as if fashioning a garment in material form. This is a book crafted by the measuring, marking, aligning, fitting and shaping of evidence. Just as the seam allowances of a bespoke suit allow its proportions to be altered to fit a body modified by the regimes and excesses of life, so Breward appreciates that cultural and material histories are also malleable, with margins that can be redrawn and reassembled.’ – Journal of Design History
‘A scholarly history of sartorial style, a dialectic between peacock fashions and their renunciation.’
– Metropolis Magazine
‘Christopher Breward climbs into every armhole and measures every inside leg. He stops at nothing to decode the enigmas of men’s tailoring.’ – Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador for Barneys New York and author of The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion
‘Spirited and well researched, The Suit: Form, Function and Style is a thoroughly informed examination of the ubiquitous garment that is a staple in every man’s life. Combining both substance and style, it provides a journey into the evolution of the suit and its cultural influence through the ages.’
– Ed Burstell, Managing Director, Liberty
‘In its long history the suit has been both a symbol of adherence to mainstream authority as well as a weapon of rebellion. In this book Christopher Breward masterfully traces the suit's influence in modern and contemporary cultures with thorough scholarship and vivid writing. The Suit is a magical tour of the corporeal terrain of the garment that continues to intrigue us as it reflects the ever-changing economic and cultural contexts in which it is found. A triumph of scholarship and a joy to read.’
– G. Bruce Boyer, author of True Style: The History and Principles of Classic Menswear, Rebel Style, and Gary Cooper: Enduring Style
‘An attractively illustrated history unpicking the story of the gentleman’s tailored suit from its emergence in Western Europe at the end of the 17th century to its fate in the 21st century.’ – The Bookseller
Christopher Breward is Principal of Edinburgh College of Art and Professor of Cultural History at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of The Hidden Consumer (1999), Fashion (2003) and Fashioning London (2004).