Britain’s colonial past has a new villain. Step forward the lounge suit. At a regional summit this week Uruguayan President Jose Mujica aired a surprising grievance: “We have to dress like English gentlemen. That’s the suit that industrialisation imposed on the world.” Mujica, who donates about 90% of his monthly salary to charity and is sometimes called the world’s poorest president, was rocking a crumpled striped shirt when he launched his broadside. He went on: “Even the Japanese had to abandon their kimonos to have prestige in the world.”
But is he right? The suit has its roots in the French court’s matching jacket and breeches. But it was Regency London where it evolved into what we wear today through dandies like Beau Brummell, says Tony Glenville, a creative director at the London College of Fashion. The look was neck tie or cravat with perfectly fitted shirt and crisp suit. Clothes were not thrown away but handed down from aristocracy to the less well-to-do. By the 1890s the suit was becoming common attire, according to the Victoria & Albert museum. How it was propagated around the world remains more sketchy.