The Return of the American Suit

Although current references to the American Suit evoke images of a red, white and blue three piece polyester suit with a bald eagle tie to match, there was a time not too long ago when the American Suit was held as the epitome of traditional elegance. At the start of the 20th century, the vast majority of American men wore suits not only as a sign of respect but a sign of dignity. The tailored suit was the American man's uniform, both in the office and out on the town.    

Starting in the late 1950s, the American Suit was embraced and shaped by the Ivy League style that was sweeping across college campuses. Not confined to the greens of Harvard and Brown, the Ivy Style suit was a product of the time period as demonstrated by Jack Lemmon in the 1960 Academy Award winning comedy classic, The Apartment. Popularized by domestic men's haberdasheries J.Press and Brooks Brothers, the natural shoulder, 3-to-2 buttoned, straight legged, single breasted suit was the most sought after suit in the market. It is said that in the late 1950s, 90% of all men owned a suit and 70% of all suits sold were in the "Ivy League" style.  

Jack Lemmon with Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder director)

Jack Lemmon with Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder director)

Out of the 1970s and into the 1980s, two distinct style trends undid the American Suit. The first trend was the casualization of the menswear consumer. Office attire went casual, khakis became the man's modern uniform and the American suit was lost in translation. The second trend was the rise of Italian styled tailored apparel. The Italian silhouettes were not only slimmer, but the color palettes were more creative. Throughout the 1990s, those well-heeled American menswear consumers who valued impeccable dress ditched the American suit for the elegance of Italian dress.  

Since the Great Recession, a convergence of trends has led to the revival of the American suit. First, younger consumers are seeking out clothing and other goods defined by their quality, authenticity and craftsmanship.  They place value on heritage and local flavor.  Second, after decades of dressing down, men have taken an interest in dressing up again. In a tight job market, a well-cut suit is one way to distinguish yourself from a pool of candidates.  Third, Americans from Kansas City to Austin to Pittsburgh are eschewing the suburbs and moving back to urban areas, and tailored clothing complements city life.  In short, today’s menswear consumer wants his wardrobe to reflect his values and lifestyle.  While he may appreciate European refinement, he identifies with the American attitude and has an affinity for authentic American heritage whether he's a Hollywood leading man or an urban pioneer. The American suit is back. 


/ Jacob Harrison Long, CEO American Woolen Company /