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What is a Leisure Suit?

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  • Written By: Dana Hinders
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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Leisure suits are one of the most memorable fashions from the 1970s. Consisting of pants and a matching shirt-like jacket, the leisure suit was typically made from double knit polyester. It often included features such as wide lapels, contrasting stitching, bell bottom hems, and bold geometric print fabric.

Since the suit was relatively inexpensive, comfortable, and easy to care for, it quickly became a favorite among men who hated the stuffy formal wear associated with the previous generation. It was quite common to see men from all walks of life wearing the suits while working, dating, shopping, or playing golf. In the 1970s, every mall in the country carried the suits for adult men, as well as smaller versions made for children and teenagers. Macy’s even ran a series of television commercials urging doctors, lawyers, and businessmen to adopt this revolutionary fashion trend.

The leisure suit reached the height of its popularity in 1977, when John Travolta wore a white version of the suit for his role as Tony Manero in the hit movie Saturday Night Fever . The movie made Travolta one of the most talked about stars in Hollywood and led millions of young men to try to emulate his look.

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Leisure suits fell out of favor in the early 1980s when the business environment began to demand more formal attire. In many industries, the polyester suit was replaced by power suits with wide shoulder pads and stiffer cuts.

The suit earned its place in popular culture by making frequent appearances in popular television shows as an iconic reference to the 1970s. These suits are also prominently featured in the Leisure Suit Larry video game series in which a balding, slightly dorky middle-aged hero tries to seduce young and attractive women.

Today, it’s quite difficult to find a genuine leisure suit available for purchase. If you want to own this piece of fashion history, you’ll need to get one from an older relative or sort through the merchandise at garage sales, thrift shops, consignment stores, and auction sites such as eBay. However, you may have difficulty finding a vintage suit if you wear a larger size. In the 1970s, most men’s clothing was designed to accommodate a 30 inch waist and would be considered small by today’s standards.

If you are lucky enough to find a leisure suit that fits your needs, you can show off your new outfit at the annual convention in Des Moines, IA or one of the many other 1970s inspired events held regularly throughout the United States.

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anon298389
Post 9

Polyester, being the main fabric of leisure suits helped keep people thin. It does not stretch. So wearing those pants every day one would realize when you put on one or two pounds and it was easy to cut out what you ate for a week and drop back down.

Stretch materials today allow a person to put on 5 to 10 pounds and hardly realize it. The fashion industry helped keep people thin and in control by their fabric choices. It was easier to stay thin than to go out and buy a new wardrobe. Also the higher waistline contributed.

StarJo
Post 8

@Oceana – It does seem crazy, doesn't it? I remember how stick thin many men looked back then.

However, many young men today are still that skinny. We just don't notice it as much, because they wear looser fitting clothing. If they still walked around in leisure suits, we might see that sizes are not so different these days, after all.

My teenage boy is healthy and fit, but he still has a narrow waist. He could probably fit into one of those suits easily, but he chooses to wear loose t-shirts instead. I think that's a good thing, because what man would want to flaunt his skinny waist?

OeKc05
Post 7

My husband and I went to a costume party as 1970's people. We found matching his and hers leisure suits online, and we even won the grand prize for our getup.

Our suits had a pattern that reminded me of skin cells all linked together. There were squares with rounded edges that had red centers and a couple of brown stripes around the inner edges. We both wore red shirts underneath, and we even found matching wigs of long hair.

The suits were very weird looking, and we sold them after the party. That was the only yearly costume party we ever made it a point to go to every year, and I knew we wouldn't want to wear the same costume twice.

cloudel
Post 6

Most of the leisure suits I have seen do have a jacket and pants, but it seems that men always wore a patterned or bold colored shirt with wide lapels underneath the jacket. They folded the lapels out across the edges of the jacket so that they could be seen.

I saw a picture of my uncle in a leisure suit. He was at his high school reunion, and what he was wearing was very stylish for the time.

His suit was red and white plaid. He wore a button-front red shirt with huge lapels under the jacket. Of course, the pants had wide hems.

It was a little funny to see him out on the dance floor in such wild clothing. He was actually very popular in school, and even at the reunion, he seemed to be the star.

Oceana
Post 5

Leisure suits were made for men with 30 inch waists? That's crazy! I'm an average sized female, and my waist is 28 inches across!

From every old sitcom or movie that I've seen featuring guys wearing leisure suits, they all do seem extraordinarily skinny. Why were men so lean back then?

I'm aware that we have an obesity epidemic today, but aside from that, even average sized, attractive men today have waists much wider than 30 inches. I'm glad that my husband could not fit into one of the vintage leisure suits!

Mykol
Post 4

The youth pastor at our church, and his wife, dress up and play the part of 2 specific characters from time to time. Most of their wardrobe they find for this part is based on clothes from the 70's.

You never know what color of leisure suit you will find him dressed up in. Many times he will mix and match some of the patterns and colors for a look that is quite eclectic.

I know the leisure suit seems to get a bad rap these days, but back in the day, it was the thing to have. Someday the particular styles of clothing we wear will look just as outdated as the leisure suit does for us today.

SarahSon
Post 3

When my son and his date were going to their homecoming dance, they dressed up for a 70's theme. There is a vintage clothing store close to us and they had a lot of fun finding clothes to wear to the dance.

My son ended up renting a leisure suit complete with the wide lapels and bell bottom pants. He also found a pair of black platform shoes that had about a 3-4 inch heel on them.

Even though they had no concept of what it was like to dress up during this time period, they had no trouble finding something that was perfect for the occasion.

I had a lot of fun browsing the store myself, and found that it brought back many memories.

sunshined
Post 2

I grew up in the 70's and was a big fan of Saturday Night Fever. One thing I remember most about the leisure suits are the wide bell bottom legs. Many times these were worn with platform shoes that really made the legs look even wider.

I remember how cool I felt when I wore bell bottom pants, and can see why there was such a craze for these suits.

It can be quite expensive to buy a suit today, and your cost just begins with the purchase of the suit. Once you add in the cost of dry cleaning it on a regular basis, that can add up in a hurry.

Even though there were some disadvantages to this type of material, I bet there were many men who were reluctant to give these up.

bagley79
Post 1

I remember the leisure suits but had no idea they actually had a leisure suit convention! It would be interesting to see what that was all about and I imagine could be a little bit entertaining.

My dad was a business owner and he wore a leisure suit to work every day. These were inexpensive, comfortable, yet looked dressy at the same time.

I don't remember when he stopped wearing them, but know he hasn't worn a suit in a long time since he sold his business.

He might even be interested in knowing they have a convention for leisure suit wearers. He had some bright, bold leisure suits that might have won some kind of prize.

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