When should I wear a three-piece suit?
When is it appropriate?
What situation would call for a three-piece suit instead of just trousers and a suit jacket?
The quick answer is that there are very few occasions nowadays in which you need to wear a three-piece suit.
I can't think of one except black tie, in which technically it is a three-piece because you should have a waist covering.
Besides that, black tie, white tie, but with regular business attire, 99.9% of men in the Western world use — your two-piece is going to be fine, but let me go ahead and break this out for you.
4 Categories of Formal Attire
- White tie
- Black tie
- Business attire
- Business casual
Double-breasted vs. Single breasted suits
Business wear because this is where the double-breasted suit lies, although you do see the double-breasted in black tie as well.
Within business wear, we've got double-breasted as the most formal. And then over on the other end are the more casual business wear suits and these are going to be in colors that are less than traditional.
They've got maybe a few style features that make them a less traditional suit. It would still be business wear because you're wearing a suit, but because of that, it's going to be more casual.
The single-breasted is what we see most men are wearing nowadays. The double-breasted kind of lost its place in World War II.
It was just something that a lot of men stopped wearing when they came back from the war. It used more fabric, so a lot of factories stopped using it because of rationing.
Before World War II, there was a time that the double breasted was purchased and worn as much as the single-breasted, but the double-breasted was considered more formal.
How could you take a single-breasted suit, which has the deep V, and a double-breasted usually that buttons up like that small distinction actually made the double breasted appear to be more formal, more buttoned up.
How you could you take a single-breasted suit and get more miles out of it and make it appear to be more buttoned up? You put it on the same level as the double-breasted. Introduce the vest.
What is a Vest or Waistcoat?
The vest or waistcoat, it was originally used by messengers who rode horses. It was something that you're outside all day riding on a horse in the wind, in the weather, and you need extra layers, so vests were developed.
They initially started off as big pieces of cloth. They eventually became their own type of garment, but it was meant to be worn under a jacket and to add warmth.
It eventually made its way into formal wear after enough use in multiple wars. Men began to like it. They find that they could contrast the colors.
It added a bit of style to the wardrobe without having them to go out and purchase an entire new suit. Jackets were really expensive; vests, less expensive.
You saw that by wearing a similar colored vest, you could actually get the same buttoned up look as the double breasted suit.
That's where I would say that if you want to wear something that is about as formal as you can get in business wear, then that's when you could look at wearing a three-piece.
A lot of lawyers put this to good use because they realize that they're not going to go in dressed in black tie like “My Cousin, Vinny”, a great movie. When the judge tells him, “Go get a suit,” yeah, he looked for a suit that he ends up wearing.
A lot of lawyers realize that that small visual makes them just look more sophisticated, makes them look smarter, and they use that to their advantage.
There's a lot of interesting case studies out there in law schools and they talk about how even when you're choosing jurors and the way you present yourself — just look at someone that is up for murder or is up for assault. Look at the way they dress.
They're wearing a suit in that court room when they're defending themselves. They're not usually wearing a three-piece, but it is one of those things that give a lot of attorneys the chance to separate themselves.
What situation calls for a three-piece in today's society? Very few situations, but if you want to dress to the nines, if you want to look as formal as you can look without going into black tie, that's when you can wear a three-piece if you don't own a double-breasted jacket.