Men have typically been wearing suits much longer than women because it was a staple of the corporate "culture" wardrobe. Women's fashion, however, developed suit options later on due to the career shift--indicative of leaving the home for an outside job.
In some circles suits are so strongly related to image they have been called "power suits" and have helped to establish hierarchy and position. A suit--which is derived from the French word "suite" (because of matching the pants to jacket), has often been worn as a sign of respect, such as would be seen at a wedding, graduation or funeral.
The parts of a suit coat are typically the same for men and women, consisting of collars, lapels, gorges (where the collar meets the lapel), pockets, vents, pleats and cuffs. The cut or "silhouette," of a man's jacket will be decidedly different from that of a woman's jacket. Men's jackets are often boxy in shape with only minor detailing through the midriff, whereas a woman's jacket will often be more fitted with princess seaming, a design element that curves in at the midriff shaping the figure. Only very expensive Italian men's suits follow that convention. Women's suits will also have smaller lapels, darts for more fit closer to the body in the pants or skirt, and varied sleeve length.
In men's pants there are generally two types, pleated and flat front. Women have the additional option of choosing either a skirt or pants.
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Men's suits adhere to stricter style decisions and can be considered "evergreens"--mainstay patterns lasting through time.
Women's suits are more fashion-forward and often feature a whole host of trimmings, some of them being embellishments of fringe, cord or ribbon around the lapel and on pockets; flourishes such as lace, extra buttons or even embroidery.
The only standard design feature on a man's lapel is a buttonhole for a boutonnière, a place to add a decorative flower. The special design element specific to a man's suit coat are mostly hidden on the inside, where he has a host of silk pockets built into the lining to hold all his papers, accouterments and carry-on wallets, identification and other necessities.
Fabric Pattern and Color
Fabric choices also differentiate a man's suit from a female's. High twisted fabrics with draping or "hand" such as wool worsteds and silk blends, or sometimes a "microfiber" on a more casual suit, are the main choices for men. Women's suits however, can be mismatched color wise and texturally--meaning the jacket is different from the pants or skirt--and the fabrics embrace a variety of materials from jacquards, to boucle and tweeds, or even rough silks. The two sexes do have linen in common, a wrinkly, casual and summery fabric.
The color palette for a man's suit is generally subdued and follows conformist standards such as black, navy, brown, charcoal, tan or deep olive. Sometimes there will be a slight woven pattern such as a thin pinstripe, a small herringbone, or a muted plaid for the jacket. Women's suits dig deeper for richer hues and the color choice is unlimited as there are pink jackets, buttery yellow blends and more. Plus, women's suits can tend to be more textural with color using fabric slubs, thick woven tweeds or other heavy elements in combination with decorative fabric.
Andrea Campbell is the author of 12 nonfiction books on a variety of topics. She is also an e-instructor, editor and columnist who has been writing professionally since 1991. Campbell, the daughter of a builder, writes frequently about home improvement. She uses her degree in criminal justice to write about forensic science and criminal law.