London: the original menswear capital
- Ahead of London Collections: Men, the British Fashion Council commissioned the V&A to write a report on men's fashion, which uncovers London as a trend-setting capital since 1528.[an excerpt from a report]
London: Home of Menswear The History and Heritage
In its more than 300 year history British menswear has been a well-source of style and innovation. Its spectrum of achievement has provided the clothes and the attitude to dress every sort of gentleman. Kings, aristocrats, rebels and bohemians; all have fulfilled their sartorial destinies in the showrooms and fitting rooms of London's tailors and retailers. This legacy of excellence continues to resonate across the globe. Its influence can be seen today on city streets, catwalks and stylish men the world over.
The origins of the three-piece suit
London has been a cultural hub and a centre of luxury trade since the sixteenth century. When Henry VIII granted a Royal Charter to the Clothworkers Company in 1528 it joined a group of prestigious merchant companies which represented London's community of mercers, drapers, haberdashers and tailors.
In the 1660s Paternoster Row, in the area behind St Paul's in the City of London, housed the mercers, tailors, silkmen and lacemen who supplied the richly ornamented clothes of London's wealthy political classes and aristocratic elite. The diarist Samuel Pepys was the son of a tailor and a discerning and frequent customer of London's mercers. In 1666 he recorded that he had bought himself a 'velvett for a coat, and Camelott (camlet) for a cloak' in Paternoster Row.
The earliest origins of the three-piece tailored suit can be traced to the same year. It was Pepys who recorded Charles II's adoption of 'the new fashion' which was intended to replace the male uniform of doublet and breeches with a new combination of tunic, breeches and vest. It was described by Pepys as 'a long Cassocke close to the body, of black cloth, and pinked with white silk under it, and a coat over it, and the legs ruffled with black riband like a pigeon's leg'. Fellow diarist John Evelyn commended the King for his rejection of the French mode which he noted had been 'hitherto obtain'd to our great expense and reproach.'