If you were to open a history book or perhaps a tabloid magazine covering the latest Royal Wedding you would notice that the men in the photos are often wearing suits that resemble a butler’s uniform from a film or perhaps a BBC miniseries. However, the ensemble is not merely a “penguin suit” but the near-extinct morning suit. Once a mainstay in men’s fashion, the morning suit was the pre-eminent costume for men to wear when conducting business, attending a wedding, or even attending school and to which even GQ has lamented its fade into obscurity. Today it has been almost entirely replaced by the standard two-piece and three-piece suits which are a more simplified style of formal wear. Nevertheless, its history from ubiquitous day-wear to today’s very fancy occasions only the morning suit survives and remains a stylish option for men looking to dress to impress.
Photo: Masters of the morning suit, Prince William and Prince Harry
Many people are unfamiliar with the morning suit and may ask now, how exactly was the morning suit worn? In answer, the morning suit was a much more complicated affair than today’s suits but when the ensemble is worn it provides a striking appearance of nobility and aristocracy. The morning suit is comprised of four components: the shirt, the coat, the waistcoat, and the trousers.
The coat (or jacket) is typically single breasted with either one button or a chained-closure and two pointed lapels. The coats possesses tails that descend to knee length and cuts away from the front. Typically the coat is either black or grey and is made of wool. The waistcoat is always made of the same fabric as the coat but the colouring often differs with choices being pastel shades of tan, grey, pink, or blue; the exception being that a black waistcoat worn with a black coat for use at very formal events for funerals or civic engagements. The waistcoat is either single-breasted with no lapels or double-breasted with lapels with the lapels more commonly being a shawl collar design versus the peak lapel. The trousers are always pleated (one or two on each leg) and with suspenders only. Wearing a belt with a morning suit is a faux-pas along with any three-piece suit. Importantly, the trousers again differ from the fabric design of the coat and waistcoat as they are grey with striping but modern fashion has introduced houndstooth check as an option. Underneath everything is the shirt, with a turn-down cutaway collar and normal tie. A wing collar may be substituted for those feeling especially vintage as wearing it with a tie is considered rather Victorian but an Ascot may also be used (although modern Ascot designs have degraded the look). The shirt should be white when wearing a morning suit for formal occasions but a coloured or striped shirt can also be worn so long as the collar and cuffs are contrasting white.
Lastly, but most importantly to imprint a piece of character on your outfit are accessories. While the top hat has almost entirely faded to history it was traditionally worn with a morning suit although only in very rare circumstances is it worn as its very difficult to find one, let alone look good in it. A pocket square is usually put in your chest pocket with a plain white design but you can experiment with patterns to truly add a modern flair. Cufflinks and a boutonniere are the finishing touches and Four Fifty Five offers a wide range of compliment-attracting styles. With all of these aspects combined, the morning suit is an impressive collection of patterns, colours, and cuts to create a formal outfit worthy for any occasion or audience.
Photo: The Kennedy Family in morning suits at the funeral of President Kennedy, Washington D.C., 1963 © Henri Dauman/daumanpictures.com
While the morning suit may sound like a rather complicated affair to wear, rest assured that it when worn, it is striking in its vintage and posh style. The decline of the morning suit in favour of more simplistic two and three-piece suits is saddening but an understandable one given the effort required to wear one. Even today as wedding grooms make the mistake of wearing tuxedos before six (it’s called evening wear for a reason) or opt for a rather mundane two-piece that looks like they walked out of the office with it, the morning suit is the perfect choice for special occasions where you want to truly wear something special. While you may not be attending the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle or even the Royal Ascot, you can most certainly find a reason to wear one and raise the bar on fashion.