The Three Piece Suit - The Past and Today

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Indochino Tweed 3-piece Suit

Updated: July 2016

3 piece suits are an interesting topic and for some reason one that I never fully paid attention to. Most of my Indochino suits so far have been 2 piece suits and the main reasons I stayed away from 3-piece suits are simple: they are a bit more expensive and I didn't really know what to do with that vest. Generally, I prefer understatement when it comes to business clothing. I want to stand out with an impeccable fit and good fabrics, but not necessarily by overdressing. Not saying that three piece suits in general are too much, but at least in my work environment people only wore them for very special occasions. As a result, my only three-piece suit is a nice tweed suit from one of Indochino's 2011 collections. The suit itself is not available anymore, but there are a number of great alternatives.

Men's 3 piece suits - a short history

The evolution of the three piece suit also marks the evolution of the concept of suits itself. Men have been wearing suits for a long time, in different varieties and designs and fabrics. It was once regarded as the dress of the royals and the lords. Over time, suits became a customary garment for men during special occasions, events and festivities and simply as everyday business wear. Suits have undergone numerous transformations since then - the fit has changed throughout the centuries and across countries. The general status today is interesting too - there are some people that will just believe a suit is a uniform for the mindless and for others every real man should be wearing suits. 

Fashion plate from Sartorial Arts Journal, 1891,
Gladys Marcus Library, FIT. Taken from
The Tailor's Art
The three piece suit itself has been around for many centuries, but obviously it did not remain the same. The differences between 3 piece suits about two hundred years ago and now are the types of materials and fabrics being used, stitching patterns and the length and cut of the fabric. Usually, the jacket or what is also known as the blazer or coat of three piece suits used to be long and almost to the level of the knee and at times down onto the level of the calves.

Gradually, the length of jackets got trimmed and the modern day version became popular wherein the jacket covers the torso and ends at the lower waistline. Most models on Indochino's website actually wear an even shorter jacket, but it does not look good from every angle and it's definitely not the best choice for every type of body shape.

A men’s 3 piece suit comes in the following pieces: There is a jacket, trouser and a waistcoat or vest. The vest and especially the length is a matter often discussed in online style & fashion forums. The general consensus is to keep the bottom button undone (just like with a suit). As for the length, the vest should just cover your belt when standing upright. Furthermore, the vest should not be too loose around the torso, there is a strap that you can use to further adjust the fit if necessary. As for accessories, one specific item often used with three piece suits is a pocket watch.

The original three piece suit was for lords, royals and special occasions but the modern 3 piece suits of course don't have these limitations. Depending on your personality and work environment 3 piece suits can be great for dressing up and down, layering and can be used for a variety of occasions. Just as with any other suit, the versatility is also determined by the fabric and colour used for your 3 piece suit.

Indochino Essential Charcoal 3-piece suit - $519
The fabrics can be anything from polyester (stay away from those), to a blend of silk and cotton. Woolen suits are also not uncommon, particularly in cold weathers. Tweeds, cashmere and other natural fabrics are very popular and Indochino usually has a great selection available, depending on the season.

Gray, charcoal and navy 3 piece suits along with variants of these hues can be worn to any place and for any purpose. Black 3 piece suits are best for specific occasions and evenings and as with black suits general, a rather controversial topic - read more about black suits here.

How to wear a three piece suit

Wearing a three piece suit is not an easy task. Unlike in the old days, three piece suits for men are not mandatory business attire anymore. We used to see high power attorneys and CEOs donning 3-piece suits as their go-to outfit. But now, two piece suits are a lot more common attire for both business and when you want to dress up.

But that doesn't mean you should just ignore your inner voice telling you to start wearing one. Only thing you have to keep in mind is that if you are thinking about putting on a three piece suit and stroll into your corporate office, you really should hold off on that thought. Unless, of course, if you are the CEO of your company, or some hotshot lawyer.

Now if you still feel like wearing a three piece suit, there are a few things you will need to consider before putting on one.

A three piece suit itself draws a lot of attention. It announces itself loud and clear. So you really should pair that with a relatively subdued combo of shirt and tie. If you are still new to this look, forget about accenting your outfit with a unique tie or pocket square. Stick to the basics and minimalistic looks until you get the hang of it.

If you are going to dress up for a fun night out in town, then you should consider wearing a different color vest from our jacket and trousers. Remember Justin Timberlake in Victoria's Secret fashion show in 2006? It is not difficult to pull off this look. For starters, you can pair ash grey (or any other shades of grey) vest with black suits, or vice versa.

If you don't feel like dressing up all the way, you can ditch the jacket and just wear your vest with trouser over a shirt. Heck, you can even just wear the vest with simple plain v-neck tee and jeans for a casual yet structured look. 

How to customise a men's three piece suit

Indochino offers a number of customisation options for 3-piece suits. As for what you choose depends very much on what you feel comfortable with and what you need the suit for. I personally go for 2 vents and notch lapels, 2 buttons and a ticket pocket for my "standard" suit.

On the vests, there are quite a few things to consider as well. First of all, very often vests are lined in the back, so you have the suit fabric in the front and whatever lining you chose on your back. I personally don't really like that style, so I chose to go with a fabric back.

You can also customize the number of buttons on your west. 5 or 7 buttons are a general standard, but you can also go for a double-breasted look. The collar can then be further customised with a lapel or you can choose a rounded version instead of the usual v-shape. 

Indochino Three Piece Suits - a selection

Indochino suits generally fall in 3 categories:
  • Essential Suits: these are always available and available as three piece suits as well. A good point to start if you don't have that many suits yet. Men's 3 piece suits are available from $519. Shop here.
  • Premium Suits: most of these will be available all-year-round as well, with a few new additions every once in a while. Premium suits are also premium priced and fabric quality is superior to the Essential Suits. 3-piece suits from $749.
    Shop here.
  • Seasonal Collections: Indochino introduces new suits at least for every season each year. Most of these seasonal collections are limited, so if you are looking for a nice e.g. summer men's three piece suit, make sure you get yours in time. Priced around $600.
    Shop here.