Today, we would like to introduce you to the combined suit, its history and looks, as illustrated by two fashion plates from the 1950s Herrenjournal, a German men’s fashion magazine. This campus style suit is technically not a suit, but rather a combination of an odd jacket and contrasting trousers.
The History of the Combined Suit
Historically, the combined suit first appeared in Europe in the first decade of the 20th Century as a beach suit stroller suit. Back then, you would occasionally see gentleman wearing patterned trousers in Shepherd’s Check, Cheviot and Glencheck. However, this was only temporary and soon the plain colored trousers prevailed.
The combined Body Coat
Prior to this trend, in the mid 19th century in Europe trousers had been the focus of attention. As such, the rather subdued, plain colored body coat was worn with checked or striped trousers. However, it would be premature to describe this as a combined suit since the lounge suit was not really established at that time, and the body coat had a distinctly different cut and look than the lounge suit.
The Combined Suit with Trousers in the 1920s and 1930s
In the 1920s, suits with contrasting patterned trousers for daywear had found their way into men’s wardrobes and by the mid 1930s, the combined suit was widely accepted and seen regularly. For the odd jacket, Tweed – especially Shetland, Homespun and Cheviot – were rather popular. But even at that time, the combined suit usually consisted of a plain or patterned coat and plain colored pants with the exception of the Stresemann Stroller suit. Compared to the suit with matching trousers and coat, the combined suit really increased the variety of men’s outfits, however it was still somehow limited by the plain trousers and only occasionally would you see a gent in patterned trousers. One of the reasons for this limitation was probably the fabric. Back then flannel slacks were quite popular and these often came only in plain colors.
The Combined Suit with Patterned Trousers
In the following years, sports coats were combined with gabardine trousers, which added a certain kind of texture to the trousers. Eventually, in the 1950s, the combined suit with patterned trousers became popular and so you could see vivid coat fabrics in plaids and checks, as well as conservative Tweeds. The latter ones were sometimes combined with patterned trousers to create a more fashionable look.
The swatch books in the 1950s often had Pepitas, Houndstooth, Gunclub and Twill patterns, which were ideally suited for the trousers of a combined campus style suit.
Our first fashion illustration shows two gentlemen each wearing a combined suit. The gentleman on the left is dressed in a sporty, light brown single-breasted coat with 4 patch pockets with just a single cuff button. The pants are slightly lighter in color and feature a Pepita pattern. The shirt has a light pastel color as well as a rounded club collar. The horizontally-striped knit tie is supported by a collar pin and harmonizes well with the hat.
The gent to our right pulls off a double-breasted jacket in a 4×1 button configuration which has quite a bit of drape. Due to the low buttoning point, the lapels with a slight belly form a large V-shape. In order to lend the generally more formal double breasted coat a more casual appearance, it features three patch pockets, a single sleeve button and it is tailored from a fantastic light blue plaid fabric. Especially for casual summer events, I think this is a perfect fabric choice.
The trousers are navy blue with a light chalk stripe. Since it is combined with a light blue shirt, a red polka dot tie, red and white pocket square as well as a straw hat we end up with fairly classic and conservative colors that really make for a unique appearance in this combined suit ensemble.
The Combined Suit with plain Twill Trousers
While Pepita, Houndstooth and brown Gunclub fabrics were quite en vogue and rather flashy, the more conservative gentleman opted for a pair of textured trousers.
In the second illustration, we see two gentlemen wear exactly that: a combined suit with twill trousers. The gent on the left wears a single-breasted herringbone twill sports coat with 3 roll 2 buttons in a brown base color with a red overplaid. The pants’ fabric has the same base color and herringbone weave without the red plaids. In combination with the beige-yellow shirt, a red tie as well as a light brown snap brim hat, he achieves a very harmonious outfit. The green overcoat adds a little bit of excitement to the otherwise brown heavy ensemble.
The gentleman on the right wears a single-breasted 2 button coat with blue and yellow checks. The lapels are notched and the flap pockets are angled towards the closing button. In this illustration, the men look unnaturally tall and so the jacket seems very long. Back then, most fashion illustrators idolized tall, thin and elegant men which often times led to fashion illustrations with disproportionally tall protagonists.
The light brown trousers do have a wide twill structure and harmonize exquisitely with the rather loud jacket. The pastel green shirt and pocket square would not have been my first choice, but this is simply a matter of personal preference. In any case you should take note of the tie with a single group of patterns on top as well as the brown and white wing tip spectator shoes.
Today, the combined suit with patterned trousers is the ideal form of dress, especially during the summer months. On the one hand, a combination is generally less formal than a full suit and hence preferable for casual occasions and on the other hand, you only need a few suits, trousers and coats to create a considerable number of different combined suit outfits. Instead of flannel or tweed, you should focus on fresco, linen and cotton fabrics during the warmer months of the year.
In any case, we hope to inspire you to wear a more unusual combinations with patterned trousers in the future! And if you happen to take a picture – please send it to us.