Morning suit v lounge suit

Morning suit at cricket match and Oswald Boateng fashion show

David Cameron has moved to squash speculation and confirm he will wear a morning suit to the royal wedding, but what's the story behind this distinctive mode of dress?

Since becoming Conservative leader Mr Cameron has largely avoided appearing in formal dress and some commentators had suggested he might be minded to make a political move to avoid drawing attention to his privileged background.

But what is the difference between wearing a morning suit and a lounge suit and where did they both come from?

The Morning Suit The Lounge Suit
Eton school boys

The traditional full morning dress, also known as top hat and tails, is made up of a morning coat, waistcoat, trousers and often a top hat as seen in this etiquette guide. Simon Andrews and Richard Pygott, historical fashion advisers, explain that the most common morning dress is made up of "a standard black morning coat matched with cashmere striped trousers and dove grey single or double breasted waistcoat. Neckwear in silver or grey tones."

Jon Hamm

A lounge suit is a set of garments made from the same cloth, consisting of at least a jacket and trousers but can include a waistcoat and can be worn with a tie. It has had only subtle changes in style - in lapel width, button fastening, shoulder width and fabric weights. Since the 1960s, fashion designers have tried to revolutionise the man's suit by introducing more vibrant colours and innovative ways of cutting the jacket and trousers.

A quick history lesson

Men's formal morning dress evolved in the late 18th Century. Fashion historian Caroline Cox explains: "After the French revolution, men looked for a way of dressing that was not connected to the aristocracy. It evolved out of men's sportswear as it was masculine and not over-embellished." The tailcoat started out as a riding coat that fell to the knee. In the mid-18th Century it is believed an English country squire had had enough of the fabric getting in the way of his saddle and asked his tailor to cut into the coat creating the tails that went over the horse's flanks. Andrews and Pygott explain: "A lot of fashion history is based on what the most fashionable and richest people were wearing at a point in time and it was the predominant formal dress until around 1910."

It has been the standard wedding hire outfit from the 1930s to the present day and has also found a home at the races.

"The lounge suit emerged only a short time after the morning coat and by the mid-1870s it was a fairly common sight," say Andrews and Pygott. "The lounge suit is named after the jacket that is worn with it - a lounge coat, which is tailored to a much simpler pattern than a body coat with a much freer fit."

Like the morning suit, the lounge suit originated as sportswear. Cox says it developed from the riding jacket and breeches. She explains: "It emerged from the rise of the middle classes in the 19th Century as they did not have male codes of dress which the aristocracy had." She says the lounge suit became ubiquitous after World War I "when the old established order of dressing etiquette seemed petty and the lounge suit seemed egalitarian".

The rise of American business culture at the end of the 19th Century is also credited with its rise in popularity.

When to wear it

young race goer

Today morning dress is commonly worn by male members of a wedding party - the groom, fathers of the bride and groom, best man and ushers.

Morning wear is also worn at other formal social events such as Royal Ascot, royal garden parties, Trooping the Colour and other royal events. It may also be worn at society funerals and memorial services. It used to be worn at social occasions like cricket matches and the theatre (hence the dress circle). Pupils at Eton still wear morning dress to school every day.

Pete Doherty, Kate Moss

Lounge suits can fit in with most social occasions and are the uniform of everyday office life. They have had surges of popularity in the 1960s and recently the TV show Mad Men, set in the 1960s, has been credited with another surge in popularity. But Cox believes it started before then. "Sports casualwear has been popular since the 1980s so there was bound to be a reaction. I would say in the last 10 years there's been a re-emergence of popularity of the lounge suit with the rise of Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme, modelled by Pete Doherty, and the skinny Helmut Lang suit."

Modern weddings

Bernadette Chapman, from the UK Alliance of Wedding Planners, says: "No matter what the budget of the wedding, from £10,000 to £100,000, they want the groom, ushers and parents in morning dress." But she says only very high-end weddings would have guests in morning suits and that would be indicated in the dress code on the wedding invitation.

She reports a new trend for more casual weddings and black tie weddings where all the wedding guests will wear black tie "because no matter how scruffy the male guest is, put him in black tie and he'll look elegant".

Dapper.co.uk morning dress hire company point out the popularity of personalising the morning suit today. "For weddings, where the individual bride and groom can determine just how conventional their dress code should be, alternative colours can be selected for the morning suit. A more colourful and expressive waistcoat is a very popular way of complementing the conventional morning suit."

"The reason lounge suits have become so abundantly and enduringly popular is that they have a lot to commend them," say Andrews and Pygott. "They're very versatile, they're smart and they can suit a wider variety of figures than morning dress." But as for the David Cameron debate, "it can be seen as failing to show due enthusiasm for a wedding if one wears nothing more than what one would wear any other time. Certainly for a man in Mr Cameron's position, who probably owns a fairly good selection of suits, one would hope for an outfit with features not typical of his day-to-day work wear."

Cox says she has actually seen a reversal in style with the upper classes dressing down. "It's ironic it's people like those in [TV show]The Only Way is Essex that are hiring morning suits in crazy colours from Moss Bros. They have taken the morning suit to heart and the aristocracy are wearing their moth-eaten tweeds."

In praise of

Fred Astaire Leslie Caron

"In the world of men's clothes, nothing is more beautiful or useless than the tailcoat," says Nicholas Antongiavanni, author of The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style and an article entitled Tailcoats: An Elegy. "One of the few garments of which the sartorial cliche is actually true: that it makes a man, any man, look his splendid best. If it fits and is well cut, the tailcoat can turn any man - short or gangly, fat or lanky - into an Adonis. No one looked better in tails than Fred Astaire, who was short, wispy, and not particularly handsome. But when we see him dressed to the nines, we hardly notice his deficiencies. Astaire, never forgetting how much tails did for his appearance, donned them in movie after movie."

David Beckham

Savile Row tailor Thomas Mahon, from English Cut, made his own lounge suit for his wedding. "It is becoming more popular for weddings as people want a lovely lounge suit that you can keep and wear again. If you have a morning suit it's likely you will have to hire it so it's less sincere, it's not personal."

"British lounge suits should be celebrated," says Cox, "We have led the way around the world, from Tommy Nutter in the 1960s [who reinvented the Savile Row suit] to the 1960s Mod clothing, Oswald Boateng in the 1980s and Paul Smith - all taking a twist on the English country look."

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