All in the Details: Understanding Suit Silhouettes

eHow Style Blog


A suit is a suit, right? Not exactly. While it may be true that the standard men’s suit has changed very little in nearly one hundred years, different suits convey different attitudes. A suit’s silhouette, or overall shape and cut, can vary quite a bit between different countries, manufacturers and time periods, and can mean different things. It’s all in the details.


The American “Sack” Suit

The American “sack” suit is easily the most casual and easygoing of any of the major silhouettes. Characterized by a natural shoulder line containing little or no padding, the straight-cut front without darts gives it a looser fit with very little shape at the waist (hence the name “sack”). This model was first popularized by Brooks Brothers at the turn of the twentieth century, and quickly became the standard of American business dress through the late 1980s.

When done as a suit, the trousers will almost invariably be straight cut with a flat front. It’s a comfortable style that works best with “preppy” accessories like button-down collar oxford shirts, striped ties, and penny or tassel loafers. Many Europeans still consider this distinctly American style too casual for business dress.


The Updated American Cut

Sometime in the 1980s, fashion and designer brands first began to make their mark on American men’s clothing options. The response from American clothing manufacturers was the updated American cut. Drawing on the same basic traditions as the sack suit, this cut features a more structured shoulder and a darted front (darts are the partial seams on the front that add more shape at the waist).

This is the suit shape still most commonly found in American stores today. As a suit, it will usually have pleated trousers with a medium-cut leg. Always correct, it looks good with either button-down or point collars, and loafers or lace-up shoes.


The European Cut

The European cut originates from the Italian tradition in tailoring. Characterized by a stronger shoulder and a more suppressed waist, it’s a bolder look. As a suit, this cut generally has dual side vents and more fashionable flat-front trousers with a trimmer cut. A sleeker shape, this cut tends to work best for taller, thinner men and is more fashion-forward.


The Drape Cut

The drape cut originally hails from England in the 1930s. This cut features a broader shoulder that extends just past the natural shoulder and a fuller chest that “drapes” on the wearer, creating soft folds near the armholes. It’s a shape meant to accentuate a masculine physique and is considered by many to be the most flattering and elegant of all the cuts. As a suit, this style usually has a fuller-cut, higher-waisted trouser with deep pleats. At once dramatic and classic, the drape cut has been the only choice for many of the world’s best dressed men since its introduction.

Choosing the right suit is about more than picking the right color. The shape of your suit can communicate without words, so remember to consider your body type and the situations where you’ll likely wear it. It may seem like all this makes picking the right suit more difficult, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find these different cuts actually open a range of options that make it more fun to dress well.

Photo credits: An Affordable Wardrobe

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