The King Cole Suit
By Sean Longden
The ‘King Cole’ suit is Cathcart Heritage’s most popular and versatile suit. Inspired by the suits of the 1920s and 1930s, the suit is tailored in a style that – in an era of growing global mass popular entertainment that allowed fashions to rapidly spread around the world – was a worldwide hit. This was the young man’s suit, a casual and sporty look that was seen around the world, worn by everyone including Hollywood stars, the wealthy social elites, well-dressed students and working men with an eye on glamour and elegance.
The suit’s silhouette – with its broad shoulders, pinched waist and wide trousers – became a distinctive feature of menswear in the late 1920s and remained popular right through to the 1940s.
This was a versatile smart-casual style, often referred to as a ‘sports suit’, that was targeted at young men and displayed features that distinguished it from the more formal suits favoured by the older generations. The patch pockets and belted ‘fancy backs’ were the descendants of the features seen on the sporting suits of the period, updating the features that were regularly seen on golf suits and transplanting them from the countryside to the streets of towns and cities worldwide.
These suits featured the wide-legged trousers that had followed in the wake of the popularity of ‘Oxford bags’, the ground-breaking wide trousers that had emerged in the UK in 1925. Back in 1925, wide trousers were generally worn as part of a casual outfit of contrasting jacket and trousers. However, once the look had become popular, it was soon reimagined as a full suit.
Whilst the belt-back and pleated pockets that made the original look – and the King Cole suit – so popular are most widely associated with American jackets of the period, we recommend a British style trouser with a wide leg, turn ups and two forward facing pleats. The use of British style trousers was a popular trend among many of the era’s best dressed Americans, who appreciated the high standards associated with Savile Row tailoring.
The versatility of the ‘King Cole’ suit can be seen by how easily it can be re-styled to give the customer a wide choice of features, whilst still looking good and remaining period accurate. Both notch and peak lapels are an appropriate choice for this suit, with differing lapel widths allowing the customer to fine-tune their favoured look. Whether that’s the narrower lapels of the late 1920s or the wider lapels that emerged as the 1930s progressed.
For the back of your jacket there’s a range of looks, from plain to belted backs, or action-backs, multi-pleats, vented or unvented, with all of our styles taken from original 1920s and 1930s tailoring manuals.
The most traditional look is the three-button front, but for those looking for something else, the King Cole is also offered with a two-button or single-button closure. Again these were features that are period-correct and allow the customer to find their ideal style.
For a truly casual, ‘sporty’ suit, select pleated patch pockets, a belt-back with pleats, wide trousers and a wild fabric – think multi-stripe fabrics, bold checks highly contrasting herringbone weaves or a flecked Donegal tweed.
After all, it’s your suit. If you want to go wild … go wild!
Or for a more formal look, just select welted pockets, a narrower lapel, slimmer trousers and a plain back. Select a more subtle – but no less exciting – cloth: maybe a plain worsted, a narrow herringbone with little contrast in the weave, an elegant Prince of Wales check, a pinstripe or a plain barathea. We recommend Standeven's Heritage Twists available in all suit customisations. It may be less spectacular than a bold suit but it’s something that can be worn in the office or to formal events without sacrificing any period authenticity.
Another popular variant is to select plus-fours in place of – or in addition to – regular trousers. This distinctive look, especially when styled in a bold patterned tweed, helps to take the casual city suit back into the countryside and onto the golf courses that were such a popular destination during the 1930s. It’s an option that will make you the best-dressed man on the golf course.
The country -look can also be enhanced by selecting a contrasting waistcoat, made in luxurious doeskin cloth, in a style most associated with the English country gentleman. The additional waistcoat adds choice to an outfit, changing an entire look simply by changing the waistcoat.
Of course, the versatility of the style can also be shown through the choice of fabrics. Whilst wool is the most obvious of choices for a suit of this style, it might not be ideal for all occasions. After all, who wants to wear 16oz wool in the height of summer? Therefore we have a selection of summer weight wools, breathable wool-twists and beautiful Irish linens (Spence Bryson's Tropical Linens) to help create a smart alternative for that summer wedding or for sipping cocktails in a luxurious hotel bar.
By adding buttoning pockets, you can create a travel-suit that will keep your tickets and travel documents safe whilst negotiating your way through the never-ending queues of the modern airport.
So, what else can be done to display this suit’s versatility?
By selecting the right fabric and details you can create one of the most distinctive British outfits – the so-called ‘Wide Boy’ suit. During the 1930s, if a filmmaker wanted to show that a man was of bad character, one method was to put them in a suit with distinctively bold stripes. For the boldest of all suits, fabric usually used for morning suit trousers was made into a full suit. Often made with exaggerated peak lapels, and combined with a double-breasted waistcoat, the suits suggested a certain type of status for the wearer. Richard Attenborough’s suit worn for the stage and film versions of ‘Brighton Rock’, in which he played a teenage gang leader, was a prime example of the style (see our ‘how to create …’ guide).
Another legendary suit of the period was the one worn by Bela Lugosi in the 1934 film The Black Cat. Made from a light-coloured flecked Donegal tweed, the three-piece suit had a belted back and four patch pockets. The combination of the cloth and the distinctive pockets made for a fine example of a ‘sporty’ 1930s suit (see our ‘how to create …’ guide).
So, now that you know the options, there’s only one thing to do … get designing!