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The Suit: Form, Function and Style

Christopher Breward








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(Hardback | ISBN 9781780235233 | 240 pp + 97 illustrations, 57 in colour pages)


For over 400 years the tailored suit has dominated wardrobes the world over. Its simple forms, inspired by royal, military, religious and professional clothing, have provided a functional and often elegant uniform for modern life. But whether bespoke or tailor-made, on the street or in the office, during times of celebration or of crisis, we typically take the suit for granted, ignoring its complex construction and many symbolic meanings.

The Suit unpicks the story of this most familiar garment, from its emergence in western Europe at the end of the seventeenth century to today. Suit-wearing figures such as the Savile Row gentleman and the Wall Street businessman have long embodied ideas of tradition, masculinity, power and respectability, but the suit has also been used to disrupt concepts of gender and conformity. Adopted and subverted by women, artists, musicians and social revolutionaries through the decades – from dandies and Sapeurs to the Zoot Suit and Le Smoking – the suit is also a device for challenging the status quo.

For all those interested in the history of menswear, this beautifully illustrated book offers new perspectives on this most mundane, and poetic, product of modern culture.


‘Christopher Breward’s intelligent consideration of the suit is an antidote to all the bombastic “how to” guides written by fashion journalists and bloggers whose idea of cultural context is to speed read a Wikipedia page . . . a rich, deep and satisfying study.’
– World of Interiors

The Suit has its own spare, modernist elegance. It presents a decisively uncluttered history of menswear, cutting a clean line through eighteenth-century French military uniforms to dandies, Pasolini films and twentieth-century Italian tailoring, all the while insisting on the suit’s “all-pervasive influence in modern and contemporary cultures” . . . Breward takes unmistakable pleasure in his subject.’
Financial Times

‘Expertly shows how the adoption of the suit was a manifestation of societal change as the great European wars of the 17th and 18th centuries morphed into the Industrial Revolution and thereon into the modern democratic world. Indeed, it would be hard to name another facet of our modern culture that has so effortlessly and variously expressed the cross-purposes of, say, Baudelaire, Le Corbusier, and Mao Zedong. The suit is the perfect signifier, and as Mr. Breward shows, it carries all the noble, artistic, economic, and perverse impulses of our culture.’
– Wall Street Journal

‘Christopher Breward offers a compendious account of the evolution of the suit from the gaudily decorated outfits of the Elizabethen court, through the luxury textile trade, to the genesis of something like the modern idea of well-dressed manhood (essentially, expensive understatement) in the nineteenth-century Parisian cult of the dandy . . . when Breward ventures beyond just telling his story to speculate a little on the cultural resonances behind it, he does so with a sharp, laconic intelligence.’

‘Breward has an eye for detail and is to be congratulated for nosing out such truffles of tailoring lore that might have escape others. He is knowledgeable about his subject, insightful in his analysis and imaginative in the connections that he makes. The result is a thoughtful and at times lively riffle throught the male wardrobe from Restoration England onwards.’
– Nicholas Foulkes, Literary Review

‘A scholarly history of sartorial style, a dialectic between peacock fashions and their renunciation.’
Metropolis Magazine

‘Christopher Breward climbs into every armhole and measures every inside leg. He stops at nothing to decode the enigmas of men’s tailoring.’
– Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador for Barneys New York and author of The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion

‘An attractively illustrated history unpicking the story of the gentleman’s tailored suit from its emergence in Western Europe at the end of the 17th century to its fate in the 21st century.’
– The Bookseller