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Suits from the 1937 Chicago Woolen Mills catalogA suit, also known as a business suit (US) or lounge suit (UK), comprises a collection of matching clothing consisting of:
a coat (commonly known as a jacket)
a waistcoat (optional) (USA vest)
for men, a pair of trousers (USA pants), or for women, a skirt or trousers
A suit is generally accompanied by, for men, a shirt and tie, or for women, a blouse. A Hat for men, such as the fedora and the bowler hat, in Western countries, used to complete the outfit, but over the course of the 20th century they have largely fallen out of fashion and are no longer worn with suits.
The suit is the traditional outfit of men in the Western world. The modern suit did not appear until the late nineteenth century, but its origins can be traced back to the revolution in men's dress set by Charles II, king of Great Britain in the 1660s. Charles, following the example of the court of Louis XIV at Versailles decreed in 1666 that at court, men were to wear a long coat or jacket, a waistcoat (originally called a petticoat, a term which later became applied solely to women's dress), a cravat (ancestor of the modern necktie) a wig, and breeches or trousers gathered at the knee, as well as a hat for outdoor wear. Although it is hard to see the outline of the modern business suit in the elaborate and brightly-coloured court dress of the seventeenth century, the basic pattern outlined above has survived for more than four hundred years with some adjustments, notably the abandonment of wigs and knee breeches after the French Revolution, the invention of the modern necktie in the late nineteenth century, and the gradual disappearance of waistcoats and hats during the last fifty years.
What we call the modern suit was originally a nineteenth-century American innovation in dress: seeking a casual alternative to the long, heavy frock coats then considered appropriate business dress, men began to wear lighter coats cut just below the waist when not engaged in business. This "sack suit" (now called a "lounge suit" in Great Britain or a "business suit" in North America) would be worn for formal occasions by lower-class men, and for casual occasions by upper-class men. Gradually it replaced the older frock coats until it became accepted as appropriate business wear after World War I. A formal version of the suit, called a tuxedo or dinner jacket was popularized at the same time, helping to doom the older tailcoat and morning coat worn as parts of formal wear (see evening dress, tailcoat, morning coat). The waistcoat or vest was worn regularly with the suit until World War II, but is rarely seen today.
As women entered the working world in large numbers over the past fifty years, business suits for women have become increasingly popular. These are imitations of the male uniform and have become common in formal attire for females in the workplace and elsewhere: in this case a matching skirt may substitute for trousers.
Over the past half-century, the wearing of men's suits has become far less common than it once was and is now restricted almost entirely to formal and business activities. During the 1990s, many businesses in North America adopted casual dress codes, beginning with "casual Fridays" and then extending to the entire business week. Although many workers have applauded the relaxation of dress codes, suits are still required wear for formal business events such as board meetings. As well, the abandonment of an uniform dress code has led to considerable confusion over what is considered appropriate business wear. More recently, some business have reinforced the wearing of suits, although they will never be as common as they once were.
Like the frock coats they replaced, business suits seem to have become too formal for an age of casual dress. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that they will disappear entirely, and even the most casually dressed man typically owns one for such occasions as weddings, funerals, court appearances, and job interviews.
According to Anne Hollander's book Sex and Suits (ISBN 1-56836-101-7), the origin of the suit was in European medieval armor, which "replaced the naked human frame with another one that made a close three-dimensional, line-for-line commentary on it in another medium." Furthermore, "plate armor required an undergarment made by a linen-armorer, a close-fitting padded suit that outlined the whole man".
The uniform impression of a suit, often appearing in standard configurations such as pinstripe suit or suit and tie, can carry numerous connotations. In business settings it can communicate respectability and taste. In different milieus, the connotations of corporate life that the suit represents conveys unadventurous conformism. Extreme variations on the suit can convey the opposite (for example, many pimps wear exaggerated versions of suits containing various hues, patterns, etc.).
An alternate use of the word as a synechdoche in references to management staff in corporations as "suits" may express contempt for the perceived absence of autonomy seen as imposed on members in a uniform elitist bureaucracy. It may also be a comment on the perceived amorality or even immorality of those who work for corporations.
The political and social dominance of Europe in the world during the last century has led to the adoption of the suit as appropriate business and formal wear in almost every part of the globe. Refusing to wear a suit, therefore, can be a symbolic rejection of European dominance in some cases. For instance, some political leaders reject wearing business suits in order to send a message that they do not conform to Western patterns. The most notable example was probably the late Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung, who usually appeared in public wearing a suit of his own devising, nicknamed the Mao suit. Other alternatives to the suit include national or tribal dress for African and Middle Eastern leaders, or military fatigues like Cuba's Fidel Castro. In more recent years, however, Mr. Castro has taken to wearing business suits in public appearances in lieu of his iconic revolutionary fatigues.
(Note: The following is a general guide for wearing a suit in a professional or respectful manner. Casual wear is at the discretion of the individual.)
Double-breasted suits are always kept fully buttoned. For single-breasted suits, when standing, all buttons except for the bottom one are fastened. In the case of three-button suits with lapels that roll over the top button, the top button should not be fastened. Under no circumstances fasten the bottom-most button of a single-breasted suit jacket. To prevent "bunching," the single-breasted jacket should be completely unbuttoned while the wearer is seated.
Ties should be darker than the wearer's shirt. The bottom of the tie should just touch or just go over the top of the belt buckle. The shirt collar should not be the button-down variety, although this guideline is frequently ignored. It is also advised that all buttons of the shirt, including the top one are buttoned for a tidy appearance.
Acceptable colors for belt and shoes are brown and black. The belt and shoes should match one another. The belt's buckle should be silver or gold. Other metallic objects worn with the suit (such as cuff links, tie bar, tie tack, watch) should match the belt buckle. Where watches are concerned: the more formal the occasion, the thinner the watch. Analog watches are more formal than digital watches. In the most formal situations, a pocket watch should be worn. Shoes should not have rubber soles. Rather, they should be made of leather. Some companies also make dress shoes with wooden soles.
Socks should match the pant leg. This makes the leg appear longer, as well as minimi