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A Brief History of British Tailoring

Posted on July 02 2018

When it comes to getting suited and booted, Britain is known the world over for its style and trend setting innovation. It was all the way back in the 1800s that the first stores opened in London’s famed Savile Row supplying bespoke tailoring to the capital’s well-heeled and to this day it remains central to global fashion.


In the early 19th century, there was little more to suits than a matching pair of trousers and a jacket, which came in a rather limiting range of colours; just brown or black. Of course, nowadays suits are available in a range of colours, paneling, cloths, designs and more.


Given Britain’s role as an Empire and major global trading partner, suits soon began to spread around the world and became synonymous with class and social standing. They became popular far and wide, across Europe and reaching all the way out to the Far East. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the Japanese word for suit ‘sabiro’, which – as you might have guessed – is a truncation of the words ‘savile’ and ‘row’.


At the beginning of the Victorian period, the frock coat was common and considered standard everyday clothing for gentlemen. Subsequently, the morning coat, which had a cut away front to allow for riding a horse, became the coat of choice. The dinner jacket, which remains a fixture of formal events to this day, was also invented during this era.


It was shortly after this that we began to see the media play a role in boosting the popularity of the suit. The Prince of Wales at the time, who would later go on to become Edward VII, was a huge proponent of the attire and travelled the world promoting British tailoring. As he began to appear in the papers back home he became an icon for many to follow. His successor, Edward VIII also became an icon for American actors that would try to imitate the fashion of British aristocrats in their films, before it would then seep into wider pop culture. In fact, it is many of these fashions, such as tuxedos, waistcoats and dinner jackets, which are making a re-emergence today.


The role of the suit has changed dramatically over the course of history too. Whereas they were once worn as an everyday item, styles have become considerably less formal. The general public would often wear work clothes suitable for manual labour through the week, which meant a suit was the outfit of choice for the evening or weekends. And, whilst it remains unlikely that suits will become a mainstay of high street fashion they certainly still have a place. The rise in affordable suits from retailers has made them accessible to many and, as with all fashion, these things follow a cyclical route. We’ve already seen an upturn in the popularity of suits increase, so here’s to hoping it’s a trend that continues to gather momentum!


It’s a fact that quality British tailoring remains a hallmark of success.