Even more so than the double-breasted suit, the three-piece suit is the most intimidating form of formal daywear. And it was invented in Britain, first adopted by Charles II and then described by Samuel Pepys as “a long Cassocke close to the body, of black cloth, and pinked with white silk under it, and a coat over it, and the legs ruffled with black riband like a pigeon’s leg”.
The three-piece was a business staple during the Eighties, when it was sported by a generation of young bankers who wanted to dress as well as act the part. Most wore boxy off-the-peg numbers, although those who really knew what they were doing had theirs made, sometimes by a Savile Row tailor, but often by “a little man I know in the East End“.
One of the fundamental mistakes that men make when buying a three-piece-suit is not making sure that the waistcoat fully covers the top of the trousers.
Modern practitioners of the suit include Giorgio Armani, Zegna, Tom Ford and Richard James, although all Savile Row tailors have noticed a return to the three piece. For years the suit gave way to the two-piece, as customers opted for a more casual type of dressing, but recently, as an antidote to the effect of Dress Down Friday, those who care about such things have been wearing more and more three-pieces.
As the Wall Street Journal said recently: “The three-piece suit has been asserting itself with increasing frequency on designer runways, as well in the collections of traditionalists. They’re now a fixture of men’s fashion magazine spreads. And they’re popping up more in pop culture, on celebs including Bradley Cooper and Usher, and on TV characters such as Roger Sterling (played by John Slattery) of Mad Men and Patrick Jane (played by Simon Baker) on The Mentalist. They’re even showing up on gangsters in HBO’s period show Boardwalk Empire.
Take a look at our London Menswear Map to explore the evolution of men’s fashion in London during the past 300 years.