Thursday, January 12, 2012

On the Drape Suit, Part 2: a Short History

In On the Drape Suit, Part 1 we learned all about what makes a drape suit a drape suit: a correctly sized, well-fitted jacket with a full-cut chest, often with telltale vertical waves next to the armholes.

Now we're going to take a short look at the history of the drape suit.

The drape cut of a suit is believed to have begun during the early 1930s when cutter Frederick Scholte observed the drapey officer overcoats of the London's Brigade of Guards: full in the chest while being well-cut through the waist.

Before Scholte's moment of genious, suits were cut very close to the body. This type of close cut suit came, surprisingly, from the First World War.

click images to enlarge

Tailors of the post-WW1 era wrongly figured that the returning Doughboys would want tight fitting suits just like their tight fitting military uniforms. Tight chest, tight waist, tight sleeves, tight hips and narrow trouser legs. And pretty much up until the "Dawn of the Drape Suit" that's all they had.

But then came Frederick Scholte who spent several years perfecting the drape style and then made it his own at Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row where it became popular with clients. Called at that moment in time the "London Cut", the drape style spread beyond Savile Row and most famously made an important stand in America where it influenced suit styles for the next 20 years.

In America during the late 1930s to the early 1940s the drape suit was often called the "Hollywood Drape suit", the "Contour suit", the "Blade suit", and just the plain "Drape suit", among others.

There were other unique styles that fall under the drape category such as the pleated front suit shown below.

Sears, Roebucks catalog, spring and summer, 1940:

Notice how the pleats accentuate the 'chestiness' of the jacket while still allowing the waist to be well suppressed. Below are modern photos of a pleated front sports coat that recently sold on Ebay for big bucks. Note the back pleats even while the jacket lacks a belted back. Also note the verticle chest waves.

The following photos via Marc Chevalier, 1930s sports coat:

The iconic Zoot Suit might also be considered a drape suit but that's for a different blog post.

Like it often does with many things, America took the drape suit to the extreme from the mid-1940s through to the early 1950s with the Bold Look. During the Bold Look the drape suit became a joke of itself: enormous shoulders and lapels, hugely full chest and baggy jacket body and skirt.

Boxy, top heavy, disproportionate. A far cry from the nicely proportioned drape suit of the late 1930s.

A joke of itself.

Once the Bold Look ran its course by the mid-1950s the drape suit finally died a quiet death with the invention of the sleek and clean-cut "Mr. T" suit and the "Mod" look, both topics for different posts.

Today the drape style has made a popular comeback in what is called "Neapolitan tailoring", a very confusing tailoring style that differs from tailor house to tailor house and even confounds the experts. I myself am confused as to what it is exactly, its characteristics ever-changing like the blowing sand dunes of an endless desert. One hapless trend at the moment seems to be pairing natural shoulders with a full-cut chest and a flaring jacket skirt. In other words, a hideous pear-shaped jacket with weak, sloping shoulders. Gnashing of teeth and heated arguments are sure to spring up at the very mention of its name and because of these issues I will go no further to attempt to explain Neapolitan tailoring.

What started as a bold statement and an exciting more casual style has now become a tired, much debated, often misunderstood and usually badly tailored debacle. It's sad to see the influential Drape Suit become such an enigma to so many iGents and tailors throughout the world.

1 comment:

Horatio said...

Thank you so much for this great post. That green jacket is incredible! I wish I could have something made out of that material.

I like Bold Look-inspired striped ties, but other than that, I find the look a bit too much to wear, yet still enjoy it.


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