The Henry Ford
Henry Ford Museum Greenfield Village IMAX Theatre Benson Ford Research Center Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Explore & Learn

pic archive  

Leisure suit on mannequin. Polyester double-knit leisure suit with original shirt, about 1975. Made by Michael’s Clothes for Men, Detroit.
ID 88.444.1. Gift of John Rogers

June 2004

Leisure Suits: Getting the Respect They Deserve

The leisure suit is a much-maligned garment in men’s fashion history. Today, we shake our heads at the wide lapels (with contrasting stitching if one is lucky), bell-bottom hems, gaudy colors and nubby-textured double-knit polyester fabric of the leisure suit of the 1970s. What were they thinking? Who would dare to wear such a garment? And why?

In its heyday during the mid-1970s, the leisure suit was truly a groovy kinda thing. The innovative, comfortable, and inexpensive suit was brightly fashionable and was worn to just about anything and everything imaginable. After all, a gent did not have to be fitted for it. He could just buy it off the rack. Many men bought them in a number of colors and wore them in clubs, at work, out for dinner, or on a stroll.


MORE: Leisure Suits: Getting the Respect They Deserve

The leisure suit, defined as a casual suit with a shirt-like jacket and matching pants, was developed as casual wear for men. Around the time of World War II, casual suits became more popular. The casual suit--of cheaper cottons or synthetics, less formal, easier to clean--was the forerunner of the leisure suit. Then, about 1974, the leisure suit burst on the scene with lapels open and chains dangling. Soon, not only were men wearing leisure suits, but teenagers, young boys, and toddlers were being outfitted to look just like dad in leisure suits of their own.

In September 1974, fashion writer Nina S. Hyde of The Washington Post proclaimed that the leisure suit was “the menswear industry’s most innovative suit.” Her article, entitled “At Your Leisure,” described the leisure suit as “comfortable, practical and a lot less expensive” than most men’s suits. Ms. Hyde observed that the leisure suit was the first choice of young, sports-minded men who preferred the casual and comfortable. She also noted that the suit could be worn with the jacket open or closed, and the shirt (often bright and patterned) open (perfect for peace symbols and revealing hairy chests). Ms. Hyde finished with a prediction: “Look for [the leisure suit] to score its biggest success this fall as a weekend or after-work suit, although the comfort of the leisure suit will no doubt encourage some more men to try it for work, too.”

Author John T. Molloy, who wrote Dress for Success in 1978, was likely horrified by Ms. Hyde's suggestion that the leisure suit might be appropriate for the workplace. He thought that bright colors and informality were wholly inappropriate for the office. “Fads are for fools,” proclaimed the author in a 1977 article, likely addressing those gaudy leisure suits. Others thought leisure suits were in bad taste as well. Lutece, the famous four-star French restaurant in New York City, warned in a posted sign near their front door: “Please! No leisure suits!”

No respect at all.

Nancy E.V. Bryk, Curator of Domestic Life



Copyright © 2015 The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford is an AAM accredited institution. The complex is an independent, non-profit, educational
institution not affiliated with the Ford Motor Company or the Ford Foundation.