Style Guide: The different types of suits

For decades upon decades, the suit has become a wardrobe staple for business men. They even have their preference in which type of suit they wear. In fact, there are three different types of suits out there.

Let’s see which ones and their distinct characteristics.

The British suit

The British or English suit style can trace its origins to one of menswear’s most hallowed grounds: Savile Row. This famous London street is just about synonymous with bespoke tailoring, thanks in large part to the innovative designs of one of its legendary tailoring houses, Henry Poole.

Henry Poole, its eponymous founder, served countless members of high society in his day, but perhaps his most famous client was the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) who, in 1860, commissioned a short, tailless evening jacket to wear at informal dinner parties. That was history’s first tailless dinner jacket and the modern tuxedo can trace its mysterious lineage directly to this moment. The tailless jacket style and its countless descendants, went on to change menswear in Britain and throughout the world.

The characteristics:

  • Higher armhole than the American suit
  • Tapered waist
  • Side vents
  • 2-button stance
  • Flap pockets
  • Bonus: a ticket pocket(placed above the main pocket)
  • Tweed is a popular fabric

On the bottom, British suit pants take a comfortable middle-of-the-road stance — not too tight, not too loose. The pants are slim with a high waist and pleats, and usually worn with a quarter or half break.

British suits are characterized by their tailoring foundations, thus, they resemble a classic, understated and handsomely structured look. While it’s no longer ground-breaking as it was in the day, it’s not stuffy or dated. In fact, the British suit style still lands many a man on the best-dressed list. A British suit has the ability to project authority and attention to detail. You can wear it to work, to a wedding, or to a fancy venue on the weekend. This suit style will serve you well when a suit is the expected dress code.

Who is this suit for?

Average

Average men look good in anything, and an English cut suit will make you look your best. A resounding “yes’ for this body type.

Heavyset

Heavyset men benefit from the superfluous cloth that allows the garments to drape as beautifully as they do, and the gentle nature of the waist suppression won’t hurt them either.

Thin

Skinny guys will have their appearance transformed in a British suit: they’ll look more muscular, thus drawing attention away from their thinness. Note that the fit must be exacting for this body type, otherwise the Thin man may look as if he’s swimming in his clothes.

Tall

Tall men do wonderfully in English suits. The longer coat is very sympathetic to tall men, and the not-overly-slim silhouette will help to balance out the tall man’s stature.


The Italian suit

The Italian suit style hit its stride in the 1950s when the first fashion show held at the Palazzo Pitti showcased the Italian suit for the first time. The venerated fashion house Brioni is widely credited as originating the Italian tailoring style when they debuted their “Roman Style” suit in 1952. Actor Gregory Peck sent the look worldwide when he wore Brioni suits in the 1953 movie Roman Holiday. Some of the most recognizable fabric mills and fashion houses are Italian and it should come as no surprise that Italian suits have maintained their popularity in Europe and across the world today.

The characteristics:

  • 2-button stance that sits higher than the British suit
  • No pocket flats
  • No vents
  • No trouser break
  • Piped pockets

Italian suits, much like the men who wear them, represent their flair, flamboyant nature, and aesthetic value. They tend to be less stiff and structured than their British alternatives and more fashion-conscious than their American alternatives. Though an Italian suit might look out of place in a conservative work environment, it will shine at an occasion that calls for a little extra flair. The Italian suit wearer is effortlessly stylish and fashion-forward.

Who is this suit for?

Average

Average men look good in anything, so if your preference is for a slimmer fit with modernized details, a continental suit would work very nicely for you.

Heavyset

Bigger guys should, generally speaking, avoid Italian suits. Their cut is not sympathetic to heavier frames.

Thin

Skinny men do well in Italian suits, as their slim-to-begin-with cut suits a thin man perfectly (pardon the pun).

Tall

Tall men are better served by British suits than Italian ones. The shorter jacket and higher gorge of Italian suits emphasize height, which the tall man doesn’t need.


The American suit

The American suit style traces its origins back to the 1920s, a prosperous, roaring time when American economic power was ascendant. This is thanks to the expansive economic boom from the ongoing industrialization of the decade. During this period, two major things happened that facilitated the spread of suiting across America:

  1. Men of various social classes had more disposable cash to invest in their wardrobes.
  2. Mass-production methods enabled suits to be made cheaper, straying away from the time consuming and expensive bespoke tailoring methods.

While number one does address the increasing buying power of many Americans at the time, the second point is arguably more impactful as it significantly lowered the cost of producing a suit and made it more attainable. This furthered demand, and eventually Brooks Brothers delivered the most iconic suit of the era – the sack suit. The sack suit quickly became the unofficial calling card of America’s businessmen and the preppy Ivy League set.

Another large part of its success is attributed to the fact that its looser fit accommodated more varied body types and was easier to mass-produce and sell off-the-rack.

Who is the man in an American suit? In the pros column, he is likely more comfortable than his British or Italian suit-wearing colleagues who wear trimmer fits. An American suit offers plenty of room to breathe. In the cons column, he risks looking baggy, shapeless, and unkempt. It’s called the “sack” suit, after all. This is furthered by the fact that American suits have little room for individuality due to their mass-produced nature. Though there are men who get it right (and you can fix many things via alterations, the American suit is often seen as the least stylish and most dated of the three styles.

The characteristics:

  • Lower armhole than the British and Italian suit
  • Loose, boxy fit
  • Center vent

Average

Average men, who look good in anything, will look just fine in a sack suit.

Heavyset

Heavier guys benefit from the straight fit of the sack suit’s jacket and the looseness of its trousers. If tailored properly, it will turn out neat and clean, which is what you’re looking for.

Thin

Thin men will look like they’re swimming in a sack suit and should generally avoid them or get them heavily tailored.

Tall

Tall men of average weight will look fine in an American suit, but they won’t look great. Opt for a new American or British suit instead.


There you have it! Which is your favorite suit style? What do you like about each style?

Let me know with a comment below!

Cheers, Jackie xo


Published by Jackie M.

Fashion stylist. Image consultant. Romance author. Entrepreneure.

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