Leisure suits, which gained popularity among men during the 1970s, were casual suits consisting of matching jacket and trousers. They were made of polyester fabric, often in bright colors or earth tone plaids. The leisure suit jacket was distinctively styled, with an open front with large collar and lapels, large patch pockets, and stitching in a color that contrasted with the fabric. Beginning in the early 1960s, fashion designers experimented with stylish and casual suits for men in an effort to modernize men's fashions to keep pace with women's changing styles. French designers Pierre Cardin (1922–) and Yves Saint Laurent (1936–) both introduced modern looks for men. Cardin's collarless suit, made famous by the British pop band the Beatles, and Saint Laurent's "safari suit," were both forerunners of the leisure suit, which offered men casual, stylish looks that soon developed into the distinctive styling of the leisure suit.
In 1970 American designer Jerry Rosengarten (c. 1945–) invented a new style of suit that paired a shirt jacket with matching pants to demonstrate the usefulness of a new double-knit polyester fabric. Pants maker Lee Jeans marketed Rosengarten's design in a line for men and boys called LEEsures. Influenced by the extremely informal style associated with the hippies, a group of young people who rejected conventional values and dress, men of the 1970s wanted to be able to dress more casually. Leisure suits were marketed to these buyers as comfortable business suits. Though they were never really accepted as business dress, they did become popular for parties, discos, and other social events. Mothers especially liked the new suits for their young sons, because the polyester fabric was extremely durable and easy to care for.
Often worn with brightly patterned polyester shirts, gold chains and medallions, and vinyl platform shoes, leisure suits were briefly very popular. Perhaps the most famous leisure suit was worn by actor John Travolta (1954–) when he starred as a disco dancer in the film Saturday Night Fever (1977). Before too long, however, there was a backlash against the suits. Some upscale restaurants began to post signs forbidding the suits, and they gradually fell out of fashion. Leisure suits have endured, however, as a symbol of 1970s fashion extremes. In the twenty-first century fans of retro fashion gathered for leisure suit conventions to show off the bright polyester costumes that they would hardly dare to wear anywhere else.
Adato, Allison, and David Burnett. "A Leisure Suit Convention." Life (February 1996): 18–21.
Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.
[ See also Volume 4, 1930–45: Men's Suits ]