This page is part of our series on suit nationalities. In this article, we’ll discuss the country that’s home to the Mecca of bespoke tailoring and has easily contributed the most to men’s tailored clothing over the course of history: England.
Though a suit is a suit, not all suits are created equal. Though there has been much melding of styles since the advent of globalization, suits are a bit like wines and cheese insofar as every country that makes them seems to have its own style.
We encourage you to read this entire page, but click any of the links below to jump to the particular section that interests you most:
- What Makes A British Suit “British”
- English Cut Suits Vs American Suits
- British Suits Vs Italian Suits
- Will A British Suit Fit My Body Type?
- History Of English Suits
What Makes A British Suit British? Drape.
The devil is in the details. Here’s a quick list of the nuts and bolts of British suits:
- Two-button single-breasted jacket
- Side vents
- Tapered waist with a flared skirt
- High armholes, unpadded / lightly padded shoulders
- Draped chest, inch of extra material in chest and blades
- Muscular, military-like appearance
English Cut Suits Vs American Cut Suits
While both American and British suits are known for their softness and comfort, the Brits have the Yanks beat hands down when it comes to shape. English suits are defined in part by their waist suppression, whereas American suits either don’t have as much or lack this entirely. It’s also quite rare to see British suits with three-button stances, while this is common on American ones.
British Suit Vs Italian Suit
British suits and Italian suit jackets are both shaped nicely at the waist, and both countries have a certain flair for style that you don’t often get with classic American suits. The Italians, though, are obsessed with slimness and cleanliness. Jackets are shorter, gorges are higher, overall fits are slimmer, and pocket flaps don’t exist.
British suits are steeped in the military sartorial tradition. Italian suits offer a sexier take on that aesthetic.
What Is Drape?
When we talk about different national silhouettes for suits, the word “drape” is associated with British suits. While all the other details mentioned above are certainly important, they are not uniquely British, at least not in the present day. A British suit’s drape is really what gives it its national character. So, what is “drape?”
Many suit aficionados argue that Drape suits are the apex of suit silhouettes because their construction is soft like the classic American sack suit, but it’s still shaped at the waist. But the “drape” actually comes from something you would never think would be acceptable on a suit:
It’s true: traditional British Drape suits are cut with an inch or so of extra cloth in the chest and across the shoulder blades. It is said that this extra material “drapes” naturally from the shoulder as opposed to being stitched to a layer of padding or canvas. When we say that these suits offer a muscular, military-like appearance, this is where that look comes from.
It may seem that additional material might make for a sloppy presentation. But when it’s strategically used only in the chest and across the blades, it creates a muscular look when contrasted against the jacket’s tapered waist. An added benefit of this drape is that the jacket becomes roomier and more comfortable, with greater freedom of movement.
Will A British Suit Fit My Body Type?
Generally speaking, yes. British suits in the classic Drape style are great at accentuating the body’s positives and mitigating its negatives and works beautifully on most body types. If you’re unsure of yours, our body type guide will help you determine yours quickly!
The one exception to this would be heavyset men, but only in certain cases. The extra material runs the risk of further accentuating a bigger guy’s girth. By all means, wear a British suit, but you will want to emphasize cleanliness (that is, no excess material) above all else.
Budget is the other factor to consider. Beautiful as British suits are, they tend to be rather expensive, even when found off-the-rack (many bespoke tailoring houses now offer limited RTW lines that are similar to bespoke cuts but obviously cheaper).
Generally, you’ll have to have a Drape suit made for you. This is going to be expensive enough if you’re on the Row, and there are a couple of American firms that make a good facsimile but are still high-quality and thus high-priced.
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 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.
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 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.
Big & Tall
Guys who are big all around look great in British suits. The emphasis on drape and not being overly tight keeps a big, tall man comfortable while allowing him to look tailored.
Tall & Thin
Skinny, tall men don’t have it easy with clothes, but a British suit will work wonders for him in the same way that it does for tall men of average weight and thin men of average height.
Short men will look good in British suits, as the cut will not make them appear any shorter (as an American suit would, for example). The shorter coat of an Italian suit, though, will make him appear taller, so this must be taken into account.
Short & Heavyset
Short, heavyset men will do well with British suits. The silhouette’s drape will enable him to be comfortable, while the overall cut will not make him appear any shorter than he is.
Short & Thin
History Of English Suits: Savile Row & Its Significance
Savile Row, formerly known as “Savile Street,” saw its first house built in 1674. Named after Lady Dorothy Savile, the wife of the Third Earl Of Burlington, the street was traditionally home to nobles and other members of the British aristocracy. Interestingly, Phileas Fogg, the main character in Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, resided at 7 Savile Row.
By the late 18th century, enterprising bespoke tailors opened their premises on the Row, with Henry Poole being the oldest continually operating tailoring house on the street. By the mid-19th century, the Row had become world-famous for its bespoke tailoring, with a clientele consisting mostly of surgeons and officers in the British military.
It’s currently located in what is known as London’s Mayfair district. This is in central London and is known for its beauty, affluent residents, and correspondingly high-end businesses. That some of the most luxurious (and expensive) bespoke tailoring houses have lived on the Row for generations should come as no surprise.
Why Is Savile Row Important?
When we think of bespoke menswear, our minds immediately go to Savile Row. As is evidenced by both the work and firsthand accounts of tailors (such as Richard Anderson), the quality of the work was simply unparalleled for centuries. Even though the Italians have done a great job of replicating the Row’s work, there is still a level of prestige that comes with a suit from, say, Anderson & Sheppard that you can’t get anywhere else.
Savile Row is all about the pursuit -and occasional achievement of- perfection.
Prince Charles & The Drape Cut
Prince Charles is one of the best-dressed men in the world, as he should be.
Savile Row’s Anderson & Sheppard has been his personal tailor for years, and it’s not like he doesn’t have the funds to have a wardrobe stocked full of incredible clothing. Being a British royal, it makes sense that he would want his clothing to exude a British character, as he is in many ways a cultural ambassador.
The history of suits itself is tied up in the history of Savile Row. We can thus conclude that the bedrock of men’s bespoke tailoring is British, despite the fact that other countries such as Italy have adapted the tailoring trade and done so quite well.
The Drape cut is widely considered the best silhouette available for men, with the exception of larger guys. It lends softness, muscularity, and shape all in one package, which isn’t easy to find.
For more information on national suiting styles, click any of the links below: