An Overview of Suit Silhouettes by Era

One of the most important things that I’ve learned in my menswear journey, is that every era has a specific silhouette.  Vintage, for most people, is all encompassing, but there really is a distinct style and shape for suits that sets the 1930’s apart from the 1940’s, and the 1920’s from the 1960’s. One of the best ways to differentiate the eras is by looking at the shoulders, the lapels, and the amount of waist suppression.  


Early suits from the 1900s-1920s definitely carried an influence from the 1890s due to their predilection for high button stances, odd jacket wasting, and slim “high water” pants.  Jacket shoulders weren’t as padded as you would think, but it’s a combination of other details that make for this archaic look.  

The 1930’s and 40’s

Next we have the 1930’s and 1940’s, which is my favorite era.  To contrast the form-fitting nature of the early 1900s, this era gives us the quintessential classic look that emphasizes the masculine physique.  Padded shoulders, wide lapels, drape cut, waist suppression, and a moderate button stance help place the 1930’s as the golden era of menswear; pants became wider, but were still tasteful as they were mainly flat front.  The overall styling of striped shirts and foulard ties also help hammer in the classic look.  If you look at some of the illustrations and photographs, it doesn’t look too far off of what we see in the WAYWT thread today (excepting the trouser width).  The 1940’s added to the classic look by increasing shoulder padding, lowering the button stance, widened trouser legs, and added pleats  Shirts remained the same while ties became much more bold, with abstract designs and crazy colors.  

Gallery: the 1930’s

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The post-war period was a prosperous one for America,  so suits kept going with what was learned in the 1940’s.  Button stances dropped even further and padding was again increased, to emphasize broad shoulders and long torsos.  Worsted wools stepped down from the pedestal as twilled gabardines and atomic fleck suits were used for comfort and standing out, respectively.  To add to this “bold look,” ties began showing off vertical designs, which when worn with a low-buttoning jacket, visually elongate the torso.  

Gallery: the 1940’s

Gallery: the 1950’s


The 1960’s

suit silhouettes by decade styleforum

A 1960’s herringbone sack suit.

The 1960’s were a direct response to the bold era that preceded it.  For the “Mad Men” era you can expect slim lapels, a roomier, un-darted front, natural shoulders, and a 3-roll-2 stance.  Trousers returned to a flat front but became slimmer.  While moderate lapels came back into fashion in the mid to late 1960’s, you’ll find that slim lapels were the norm.  







Gallery: the 1960’s

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The 1970’s

If you look closely, you’ll see that the 70’s looked toward the 1930s and early 1940s for inspiration with jackets that featured padded/extended shoulders, an extremely slim waist, and overly wide lapels.  However, lapels from this era cut a high-sitting notch (compared to the lower ones from the preceding decades) which only emphasized the V shape figure.  Trousers remained high rise, but opted for a slim thigh and slightly wider ankle.  Crazy bell bottom suits did exist, but most suits were much more moderate.

The 1980’s and 90’s

1980’s and 1990’s decided to make changes to throwback looks, which is why it seems that they adopted the 1940s and 1950s and made them look even more oversized. Shoulder padding and wide lapels (with low notch) was brought back while the button stance got even lower, perhaps to further emphasize the excess top half. Trouser pleats returned, but having a sharp fit was never on the table; wearing trousers at your hips grew more popular while breaks began to reign supreme.  It’s almost as if the more excess fabric you had, the more stylish you were.  

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The mid 2000s to early 2010s fought back against the excess of the previous two decades.  Slim fit everything seems to be the name of the game, as jackets began to be tighter with slight padding in the shoulder.  To combat the elongation of previous eras, jackets began to be cut shorter with a higher button stance and slim lapels. No doubt, this was partly influenced by Thom Browne. Trousers were also cut with a higher hem as a protest against breaks.  


Current Suit Silhouettes

suit silhouettes by decade styleforum

A modern suit by Camoshita.


Today,  we are seeing a lot of the older details come back in updated, versatile ways. Jackets as a whole are returning to older designs, with wide lapels and longer length. However, it seems that soft tailoring is the current trend.  Drake’s is a good example, as they have made ivy style 3-roll-2 jackets that are completely unstructured/unlined that work for a variety of situations.  

Trousers have widened up, and some even feature pleats after a decade of being a sort of sartorial pariah.  This style of relaxed yet elegant suiting has defined classic menswear in recent years and is one of the reasons why brands like Eidos and Ring Jacket have become popular.  




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I hope this overview of suit and jacket silhouette helps you learn more about vintage style and how to incorporate them into your wardrobe!  

You can keep up with Ethan’s thrifting and vintage adventures on his Instagram (@ethanmwong) or on his blog Street x Sprezza.



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Ethan Wong
Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.
Ethan Wong

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  1. colco

    October 14, 2017

    Great read. Thank you!

    • Ethan Wong


      October 15, 2017

      It’s no problem! Thank you for reading!

  2. Dave

    October 15, 2017

    Wonderful, concise post. Thanks!

  3. Carl G

    October 15, 2017

    Well done simplified overview.
    I am a custom shirtmaker. I am often asked to make period specific shirts. As with suits, styles changed over time.
    While working on “wolf of wall street”, I assisted the costume associates, in dating suits. Armani changed it all by lowering gorge lines and widening suit shoulders and pants legs. The same way Thom Browne changed shapes in the oughts.

  4. Lullemans72

    October 15, 2017

    What a beautiful very informative post thank you so much for writing.
    A few questions where did you come up with all those pictures? And where did you find all those sources for your information?

    • Ethan Wong


      October 19, 2017

      Thanks for reading!

      The pictures were taken from either tumblrs that I follow and a Google Image search. The sources come from careful analysis of illustrations of dated catalogues, seeing pictures of people from each era (Clark Gable has a consistent flow of pictures as he was a star from the 1930s-1950s) and from actually inspecting garments from each era!

      When you collect vintage, you can pick up on the differences between the eras. Union tags (for American clothing) and CC41 labels (for U.K) also help place an era. Obviously there are some overlap (a late 40’s suit will be similar to an early 50s one), but the eras are pretty distinct.

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