Similar to any debate worth its weight, the question of the British vs American vs Italian Suit has long dominated sartorial circles, and with adequate reason to boot. Which one merits more attention, and most importantly, which one is best for you, the wearer? In this detailed guide we compare the British vs American vs Italian Suit, so hopefully you have a clearer indication of the type of cut your proclivities lay towards when you are purchasing your next dapper outfit.
Courtesy of www.garmany.com
So the time has come. You’ve decided to splurge on a custom (or made to measure) suit.
As you rummage through your wardrobe and gaze at your clothing with a sense of pride and admiration, you can’t help but wonder how all those years elapsed without consideration being given to the fit of your clothes. You finally replaced baggy tees and jeans with more fitted variants. Your off the rack dress shirts went out the window, swiftly replaced with dress shirts that fit – like a glove. Fitted perfectly at the shoulders, tapered at the waist, with the perfect sleeve length to go with, it was almost as if these dress shirts were created to fit you and you only –wait they were. And yet, this nagging feel starts creeping up on you, bringing on a much feared sense of dread, apprehension, and worst of all regret. You look through the grand daddy of your items – your suits, and realize that absolutely no consideration had been given to how they fit. And moreover, you were not even aware of the type of cut that you wanted.
In a professional capacity, or any capacity where sartorial sensibilities reap immediate benefits such as a great first impression, and above all else, an unrivalled sense of self confidence and pride in one’s wardrobe choices, the suit reigns supreme in its signaling power. Like walking into the Met or Guggenheim Museums in New York, a disappointing choice of suit, with respect to fit, cut or style is akin to gazing at an unimpressionable painting the second you set foot through those doors. The type of suit one adorns speaks volumes to your sense of style and how you choose to represent yourself in the world. As cliché as the old axiom ‘how you do one thing is how you do everything’ may appear, it’s pertinence with relation to your choice of suit cannot be overstated. Demonstrate to the world that you’ve given strong consideration to your choice of suit, and it will convey all the right messaging.
Which brings us to the topic of this article. Which modern suit style – British vs American vs Italian should we opt for? Which suit cut do we feel is aligned with our sartorial and personal ideals?
History of The British Suit
The sense of reverence typically conjured up with a British cut suit almost always traces its origins to the esteemed Saville Row, thanks largely to the innovative designs of legendary designer Henry Poole. Mr. Poole, who frequently rubbed shoulders with UK’s rich & famous, was purported to have been commissioned by the Prince of Wales with a short, tailless evening jacket. This ended up being history’s first tailless dinner jacket, and paved the way for the modern tuxedo as we know it.
By the mid 19th Century, Saville Row, in London’s Mayfair District, had become world famous for its distinct brand of Bespoke Tailoring. True ‘bespoke tailoring’, in which every suit detail is made from scratch to a customer’s specifications, is reserved for the world’s finest at their craft. These skilled craftsmen were attracted to the wealthy Mayfair area but its affluent residents, primarily its surgeons and officers in the British Military. As a consequence, London’s wealthy flocked to Saville Row, and soon enough, the British Suit as we know it today was born.
So what constitutes a British Cut Suit? When trying to understand their construction, it is imperative to note that historically, British suits (like in many parts of the world) were meant to signify status and were originally worn by military elites and nobility. British Suits were purportedly required to be close and snug fitting given the strict requirements of formality. This strict, detailed standard has flowed through to modern tailoring over the years.
Courtesy of blogs.tailor-m.com
In addition to the above, because British Suiting has evolved with strong roots in Bespoke Tailoring, traditional British suiting has a far more fitted look than mass produced styles associated with American formalwear (more on that below).
British Suit Characteristics
The British Suit’s emphasis on structure and concise tailoring can be reflected in the below:
- Higher armholes made for closely fitted sleeves
- Elaborate and expensive construction lent the British Suit a tapered waist
- Padded shoulders evolved from highly stylized military uniforms
- Double Vented Jackets were initially created in more of a functional realm, to assist with military in an equestrian capacity
- Functional Sleeve Buttons as we know them evolved from their original label of ‘Surgeon’s Cuff’s’ for self explanatory reasons
- The front of a British Suit Jacket is often adorned with a ticket pocket
- Stiff Canvas
- Abundance of trouser fabric
Courtesy of www.realmenrealstyle.com
The structure of the British Suit Jacket is emphasized by defined shoulders, which also features thick padding. The canvas of the jacket is stiff, providing the jacket with a more controlled look, as opposed to a lighter canvas that allows the jacket to flow more naturally.
British Suit Jackets are tailored close to the body, with closer fitting sleeves (supported by higher armholes) ending with functional working buttons (also known as ‘surgeon’s cuffs’. Furthermore, the jacket is usually accompanied by ticket pockets, and as mentioned above, side vents that dates back to functional purposes during British Military’s equestrian riding days.
Courtesy of www.zorket.com
British Suit Jackets are typically constructed with heavier cloth, allowing for a more rigid and formal look.
As mentioned above, it is imperative to note that the British Jacket was meant for the military elite and British nobility of the 19th century. In conjunction with this, jackets were tailored to appeal to requisite levels of formality.
An abundance of fabric was not misplaced with regards to British Suiting. These suits were often characterized by pants with a high waistline and up to three pleats each – a fold created by doubling fabric on itself and securing it in place.
Courtesy of www.permanentstyle.com
British Suits are distinguished by their strong tailoring foundations and are thus emblematic of a classic, structured and clean look. With padded shoulders, a strong canvas and tapered fit, a British Suit has the ability to project authority, confidence and attention to detail. Whether you are dressing for work or a wedding, a British Suit will ensure that you are always dressed your best.
American Suit History
The American Suit traces its origins to the roaring 20’s in the United States, a time of economic prosperity. This period was largely identified by two prevailing factors (1) increase in the American consumer’s disposable income and (2) Mass production methods enabled cheaper production of the suit, allowing the American suit industry to largely bypass the more elaborate, higher cost bespoke tailoring model employed by their counterparts across the pond.
Courtesy of www.vintagedancer.com
This second point in particular, lowered the production cost of the American Suit, and resulted in the proliferation of the iconic Brooks Brothers Suit, the pioneer of the American Sack Suit, which quickly became the unofficial go to of America’s businessmen and preppy crowds.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Sack Suit had its name derived from the French garment popularized in the 1840’s, the saque coat. Compared to traditional formal wear garments constructed of four pieces, the saque coat was constructed of two pieces. Similarly, the sack suit in America in the 1920’s was constructed of two pieces. A subsequent looser fit accommodated more varied body types, lending to even more mass production.
American Suit Characteristics
The American Suit’s focus on wider accessibility and lower production cost can be reflected in the following:
- Straighter, looser fit
- Lower armholes, resulting a looser sleeve fit
- Light shoulder pads
- No darts on the canvas
- Near universal single breasted jacket with single vents
Courtesy of www.realmenrealstyle.com
As mentioned above, the jacket is constructed from two panels – a technique perfectly suited (no pun intended) to the mass production of clothing.
The American Suit Jacket is accompanied by virtually no padding and a softer silhouette. The jacket is typically constructed as single breasted with two or three buttons. Additionally, the suit jacket features no darts.
An example of an American Sack Style Cut from Brooks Brothers
The Dress Pants of American Suits feature a full cut with no pleats, resulting in less fabric usage and hence a more profitable enterprise with respect to mass production. Unfortunately, the full cut of these pants means they extend all the way to the ankles, often resulting in the unsightly full break (versus the half or much preferred quarter break that are seen in better fitting pants).
Gotta love the full break of the American Suit! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
While wearing an American Suit is often considered a highly comfortable affair, these suits are often defined by a baggy, looser fit that carry the hallmarks of mass production, and ultimately, less individuality. Though there are many a gentleman who get it right (often with alterations), the American Suit is often deemed as the least stylish of the three styles.
The Italian Suit emerged in post world war 2 (very shortly after) 1945, Rome, in the distinguished Via Berberini – another influential street in modern men’s formalwear. The Italian Suit was subsequently popularized in 1952 after the first fashion show held at Palazzo Pitti in Florence.
The venerated fashion house Brioni is widely credited with having popularized the Italian Suit in the 1950’s. Actor Gregory Peck sent the suit into worldwide renown after strutting it in the 1953 movie Roman Holiday.
The Italians obsession with aesthetic resulted in a suit style that focuses on silhouette prominence and lightness. Subsequently, in addition to being highly tailored and well fitted, Italian Suits are first and foremost lightweight. This is largely due to the suit’s canvas and cloth being light enough to match that warmer Mediterranean weather, in addition to the Italian’s proclivity towards sprezzatura, alternatively known as effortless or nonchalant style.
Italian Suit Characteristics
The Italian Suit’s focus on impeccable tailoring and fit can be reflected in the below:
- Minimal shoulder padding resulting in a softer drape
- Higher armholes creating a fitted jacket sleeve
- Unstructured jacket emanating from a lack of a canvas allows for a free flowing suit that naturally hugs contours and demonstrates exquisite fit
- Piped Pockets
- Higher placed two or three buttons
- Single and often double breasted with flapless, piped pockets
Courtesy of www.realmenrealstyle.com
The Italian Suit Jacket looks light, feels light and most importantly, wears light. The suit jacket is cut relatively short and fits tight and close to the body. The suit jacket is considerably less structured than its British counterpart, and as a subsequence, the cloth follows the natural contours of one’s body, allowing for a streamlined silhouette. The jacket’s shoulders are lightly padded, with the overall padding significantly reduced from its British counterpart.
The Italian Suit Jacket often results (depending on the wearer!) in a pronounced V-shape that is tight at the waist.
Courtesy of www.moderngentlemanmagazine.com
The Italian Jacket is often constructed as single breasted, with high gorge lines (the seam that separates the collar and the lapel) and flapless pockets.
The sleek silhouette of the Italian suit jacket extends down to the pants, resulting in a flattering look that tapers around the waist and carries a single break. Contemporary pants are often accompanied without a trouser break.
Courtesy of www.hawesandcurtis.co.uk
Italian Suits are attitude and flair personified. Given Italian’s focus on aesthetics, fit, flair and flamboyance, strutting around in an Italian Suit will reflect the aforementioned traits! While an Italian Suit may look out of place in a more traditional work environment, they are perfect when trying to make a statement.
Which Suit Cut Is Best?
Courtesy of www.gentlemansgazette.com
As with any form of comparison, the human proclivity towards asking the question ‘which one is best’ occurs as a natural extension. The ideal and pragmatic response is to opt for the suit which suits your needs, from both a functional and aesthetic perspective. If you are opting for a suit within a conservative setting, such as a traditional office, a British Suit may be your best choice. However, if you are looking to dress in an environment that is perhaps not as stiff lipped, or requires a more fashion forward aesthetic, an Italian Suit would be your defacto choice.
With regards to physical stature, Italian Suits would work with best with shorter men with slimmer builds, as the higher gorge lines and shorter jackets will help increase perceived vertical lines. Alternatively, while a slimmer frame can be flattered by an Italian Suit, the perceived need to increase perceived horizontal lines and broadness in stature can be complemented by a British Suit.
While it may be tempting to ascribe American Suits to men with a broader build, the generally looser fit of an American suit makes it the lead ideal choice of the three. Thankfully, contemporary tailoring practices and the globalization of the suit have made the differences between the three cuts of suit less discernable, leading to more overlap in style between the English, American & Italian Suits.
And that's a wrap for this one! We hope that you have enjoyed reading it as much as we did writing it!