The difference between British and American suits

Choose the best suit to flatter your body shape

Choose the best suit to flatter your body shape
Image source: Shutterstock

Existing outside the ephemeral confines of fashion, the suit is a timeless companion for discerning gentlemen. Evolving through centuries of domestic and foreign influence, nowadays, suit style has been refined down to three broad templates: British, American, and Italian.

Here, Charles-Philippe of Bespoke Unit explores the main differences between each style, and explains how choosing one over the other will change your appearance.

What is a British cut suit?

The British cut suit from Samuel Windsor features structured shoulders and a tapered waist

The British cut suit features structured shoulders and a tapered waist
Image source: Blue summer suit from Samuel Windsor

The fruit of Savile Row’s centuries of heritage, British tailoring is renowned for high-quality cuts and understated details. Inspired by military and equestrian fashion throughout the 19th Century, the British suit is designed to improve posture and denote elegance.

Although British suits are subtle in their tailoring, that doesn’t make them any less recognizable. Generally, a British suit can be described as structured by using delicate tapering for a measured appearance.

British suits often feature the following elements:

  • Two button jacket
  • Roped shoulders
  • Tailored waist
  • Double side vents
  • High armholes
  • Pocket flaps

British suit features

Although two-button jackets are typical of British tailoring, you may occasionally come across some with a third button.

You can expect higher armholes on a British suit, which improve the sleeve’s fit. As a result, most British suits will feature a roped shoulder, which implies the use of canvassing rather than padding. This creates a defined shoulder that is slightly raised and appears as a ridge for a regal finish.

Similarly, the use of elaborate canvassing as opposed to a cheaper fused construction tends to result in a slightly tapered waist, which improves the overall form. Moreover, British suits will often feature double vents on the rear as a reference to their equestrian heritage. Greater in detail, side vents also help improve the behind’s silhouette!

Finally, British suit trousers are sometimes made with a slight taper and a pleated waistband. However, this is usually a question of personal preference. In the same light, the trousers are usually designed to have a mild, half-break above the shoes.

What is an American cut suit?

The American cut suit has a less tailored and more relaxed fit

The American cut suit has a less tailored and more relaxed fit
Image source: Stephen Coburn

Sometimes endearingly referred to as the “sack” suit, American tailoring was actually inspired by a traditional French construction technique. Rather than using four curved pieces of fabric, the “sacque” coat was made from just two straight panels. As a result, the American suit has developed its distinctively boxy appearance.

Interestingly, the American suit has largely developed from economic considerations rather than aesthetic. This is because the garments were designed to be manufactured at low cost to facilitate industrial-level production.

As such, the American suit can be perceived as the antithesis of British tailoring, as you will see with the following features:

  • Three button jacket
  • Natural shoulders
  • Relaxed waist
  • Single vent
  • Low armholes
  • Pocket flaps

American suit features

Firstly, American suit jackets are often associated with three buttons. While this isn’t always the case, it tends to be the standard. Meanwhile, the shoulders are more natural with much less padding. As they have less structure, they tend to drape from the jacket.

The armholes on an American jacket are also much lower, which may improve comfort but leads to a looser fit. Therefore, if you raise your arms, the entire jacket will likely lift with your gesture. Similarly, the waist is quite relaxed and tends to drape naturally. Additionally, you’ll unlikely see any darts sewn into the jacket, which reduces not only the cost but also the structured appearance. Consequently, the construction is often fused as opposed to canvassed. Also, like British suits, you can expect pocket flaps.

Only a single vent will be present on the rear of an American jacket. This is a result of only using two pieces of fabric. Unfortunately, larger than average buttocks may cause the single vent to poke out!

Finally, the trousers will often be quite relaxed and considerably less tapered than those in a British suit. They will often finish with a full break, which accentuates their slightly looser appearance.

What is an Italian cut suit?

Italian cut suits have padded shoulders and a slim, streamlined silhouette

Italian cut suits have padded shoulders and a slim, streamlined silhouette
Image source: Pavel Gulea

Also known as the Continental style, Italian suits aren’t exclusive to Italy. In fact, much of their construction and influence comes from France. However, it’s largely thanks to the Italians that it was introduced to the American market when Brioni released their Roman Style in 1952.

An Italian suit can be identified by its highly-tailored silhouette, which was designed to create a sharp, clean aesthetic.

Expect to see the following elements on an Italian-style suit:

  • Two button jacket
  • Padded shoulders
  • Slim, tailored waist
  • Ventless jacket
  • Jetted pockets

Italian suit features

With padded shoulders, an Italian suit jacket creates presence and stature. However, these are challenging to craft well without appearing comical.

Furthermore, the jacket’s waist is extremely slim and tailored. In order to create such a lean, pure form, the jacket rarely features vents. Similarly, there are no flaps on the pockets, which are instead jetted to accentuate the neat silhouette.

Finally, Italian suit trousers are usually cut very slim, with no pleats and no break (or only a very slight break).

Which suit is best for your body shape?

The difference between British, American and Italian cut suits

The difference between British, American and Italian cut suits
Image source: Bespoke Unit

Having discussed the different suit styles, let’s explore how they may affect or improve your appearance.

British suits:

Thanks to the militaristic cut of their tailoring, British suits are the most versatile and flatter most body types. Their defined features will offset any rounder areas and create a muscular appearance.

Quintessentially cut British suits reduce the appearance of sloping shoulders and make any slouch appear regal. Whether you’re athletic set or a little rotund, a well-constructed British suit can work wonders.

Italian suits:

Ideal for men with smaller frames, the Italian suit can create presence and improve your stature. If you’re shorter than average, the short jacket and high button stance of an Italian-cut suit will enhance your build.

Meanwhile, the jacket’s slim cut and well-defined shoulders will help slim men appear sharp and tapered rather than swimming in fabric.

American suits:

With their characteristically boxy and generally loose fit, American suits are difficult to wear with elegance. However, they can be ideal for heavy-set men. The panels’ straight lines drape nicely from the shoulders and help reduce the appearance of roundness.

Slim or athletic men may struggle to wear an American suit without it appearing baggy.

Charles-Phillipe adds a contrasting waistcoat to his British cut Border check tweed suit

Charles-Philippe adds a contrasting waistcoat to his British cut Border check tweed suit
Image source: Bespoke Unit

What next?

Now that you’ve discovered the main differences between British, American and Italian suits, learn more about them with our full guide to suit styles. Not sure what coat would look best with your new suit? Read our guide for more information.

Posted in Men's Style Guides.

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