The last time you went out shopping for a custom suit or did any of your own online research about the tailoring process, you may or may not have come across mentions of different suit styles, and whether they fall into the American, British, or Italian categories. Even if your tailor or local clothing store never mentioned any of these different styles, the suits they sell likely fall into one of these three categories, with some degree of overlap. For example, the term slim-fit gets thrown around quite a lot, and one would think that what this term denotes is usually pretty self-explanatory. But just like anything else in the fashion world, this is not always the case. A slim-fit suit could be a synonym for a British or Italian one, but it could also be used to describe an American-style suit that is more contoured to the shape of the body than is usual in that particular category. In this article, we aim to clear up any confusion that may circulate about these suit categories, and how to spot the differences yourself as you may come across them in the wild.
The origins of the modern suit can be traced back to the 19th century, as formal wear tended to shed the full get-up of breeches, multiple layers, and rigid jackets in favor of more breathable and lighter items such as trousers that were less constricting to body movement. While fashion trends tend to ebb and flow over time, what we typically consider a suit today can be traced back to British fashionista Beau Brummell, a prominent figure of high society during Britain's Regency period. In British court, he ditched the extravagant formal wear of the time in favor of a subtler ensemble that emphasized darker colors, full-length trousers, and fewer components. Many of his acquaintances followed suit, and his particular more modest look caught on in other regions of western and southern Europe as well as in America. And while each region's formal wear was conceived from the same roots, each one still underwent its own separate evolution, giving way to variations in American, British, and Italian suit styles.
The American-style suit in its current form rose to prominence in the 1920s when it was popularized by students of Ivy League colleges in the northeast. These sack suits, as they were sometimes called, had almost no shoulder padding, trousers that were not pleated, and single-breasted jackets. As a result, these suits were seen as very baggy for the time, but the tradeoff was superior comfort. This comfort aspect still holds true today. American-style suits are still very popular in the business and professional worlds, as they tend to be the most comfortable in environments where a suit is required for extended periods of time.
The added comfort is also a benefit for people looking for a suit that has a little more breathing room, as you'll still be able to look good in one without rushing to the gym every day for a month before you decide on your final purchase. And because of this breathing room, American-style suits are sometimes easier to alter than their British and Italian counterparts. Adjustments to tailoring can be made without significantly altering the appearance or structure of the suit, and this is the perfect choice if you want to get the most mileage out of your suit. The possible drawback is that it will look boxier than the other types, but if you have to be in a suit five days a week for more than eight hours each day, this is a reasonable tradeoff.
The American suit is available in an array of colors, but its particular style and contours go best with subdued classic colors like black, grey, olive, and navy blue. Bright pastel colors or heavily saturated vibrant selections such as red sometimes have the tendency to make one's body type appear larger than it actually is, whereas a classic black can easily take off 10 to 20 pounds of someone's frame. All in all, the American-style suit is certainly the most versatile choice, as it is appropriate for a wide variety of functions and won't ever feel too constricting. It is definitely an item of clothing that all professionals should keep in their wardrobe, as you will be prepared for whatever the world decides to throw at you.
But oftentimes people will favor style over versatility, and this is where the British-style suit comes into play. The British-style suit existed close to 100 years before the American-style adaptation and is closer to Beau Brummell's fashion sensibilities that were popular in the 19th century. British suits are easily distinguished from their American counterparts, as they are more contoured to the shape of a person's body. The armholes on a British suit are noticeably higher than those on an American-style suit, and the pants usually have single or double pleats. The canvas of the suit tends to be rigid, the gorge lines are lower, and the waist is set higher than its American spinoff. Another notable feature is the presence of a surgeon's cuff, a small slit at the end of the jacket sleeve that is a relic from when doctors performing surgery would need to roll up their sleeves. For most men of average build, there isn't too much of a noticeable difference in comfort, and while a British suit at first may feel a little more snug than an American one, this sensation goes away with time and the payoff is in the enhanced style it can bring.
As the British suit is more contoured toward the shape of the body, you will notice a sharper, more refined appearance as you look in the mirror. One of the biggest pet peeves people have with American suits is its perceived boxy shape; with British suits, this apparent square-like outline is completely absent and will allow the shape of your body to shine through and project your own style that is unique to you.
This noticeably cleaner look is also evident with less of a break in the pant legs, and this can sometimes have an effect of increasing the perception of one's height from afar. In short, the British-style suit is a good balance between style and comfort, and its more contoured appearance gives you a wider range of color options that won't look out of place. Pinstripes can look particularly dashing in a British suit, and your coworkers will be mistaking you for Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, and Roger Moore in no time at all.
Italian-style suits go a step even further, and the fit contoured look is more prominent and sharp than it is with British suits. The Italian-style suit was born out of the post-World War II era, as many Italian designers were looking for something more comfortable in warmer weather and sleeker in its fit, style, and overall aesthetic. The biggest noticeable difference in an Italian suit is its cut, tapered look. This is an ideal fit for slim athletic men who have no qualms about showing off a bit, and you'll be sure to stand out in a crowd—in a good way—if you can pull off the look. Although the suit does have a slimmer fit than its American and British counterparts, in some cases it actually may be more comfortable to wear as the suit canvas is not nearly as rigid and the shoulders are unstructured; this is one of the reasons why the suit can so easily fall into place to the shape of your body.
Another prominent feature of the Italian-style suit is the noticeably higher waistline, and this has the effect of increasing the perception of height even greater than British-style suits. There is also zero break in the pant legs, and this neat and polished look will further accentuate your own personal style. The higher gorge lines and higher button placements are additional features that will draw attention to your upper body, and the flapless pockets are preferable for breezier environments.
In many cases people opt for bright vibrant colors when it comes to Italian-style suits, but they can look just as stylish in more classic colors like black, charcoal grey, and dark navy blue. The Italian suit is somewhat of a harder look to pull off, but when done properly you will be certain to outshine others in a large crowd.
As fashion trends continue to evolve and the ease of availability of suits proliferates in both brick-and-mortar and online stores, there is much more overlap between all three suit styles and as a result, a more global suit standard is falling into place. Custom suits especially can be tailored to virtually anyone's liking, and in many cases it is best to combine elements of each style into a suit that will meet your specifications with the utmost precision. At Enzo Custom, we strongly believe in a high standard of quality as well as a high bar for personal customization, and our expert clothiers will help you find the perfect suit that complements your personal style above all others available on the market.
Don't hesitate to call us, visit one of our physical showrooms, or make an appointment online so we can get started in selecting a suit that you can truly call your own. Enzo Custom offers a variety of materials, styles, and accessories, so the next time you have to show up for a formal event or business meeting, you will be able to do so with the perfect balance of comfort and style in mind.