The sharkskin suit is often called vintage men’s wear. They were really big in the 1960s and 70s but have faded away somewhat. Unlike the leisure suit though, many major fashion labels are still cranking out some styles with this fabric. It also still gets around on the celebrity circuit.
If you look at old pictures of the Las Vegas ratpack, you’ll see Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Joey Bishop, Dean Martin, and co. often rolling in these. They have a cool sheen. Nowadays, you don’t see as many celebrities rolling in these. Tom Welling has been spotted out in sharkskin. Robert Pattinson also rocked it in a blazer at the MTV movie awards. Brad Pitt has also been spotted out on the red carpet with these. So the cache is definitely there.
The way these suits are made are to combine two different colors alternating in the weave. It often ends up giving the fabric a sheen and with different lighting angles can make the colors change in appearance. Usually you’ll get black and white or a grey combined as a tight worsted. You can find them in wool, mohair, and silk/wool combos in some cases. This gives the look of a “shark’s skin”, hence the name. It gives a nice finish and tends to keep its shape. English and British fashion houses may call this “pick-and-pick”.
They tend to be a little lighter and thus good for warmer weather, say April to October. Some makers have moved away from straight grey to browns and olives. Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Perry Ellis all carry these. Nordstrom also used to have a style with their house brand. Most of the higher end makers have stayed away, although Armani has been known to produce this type every couple of years or so. They are typically two-piece but you may find the occasional 3-piece-version.