Celebrating the Double Breasted

The double breasted jacket is a little more obscure these days. It tends to get many second looks. But everyone who wears suits or sport coats should consider adding one to their wardrobe. The closure and peak lapels have a flattering, empowering effect on the wearer. It may be the stereotypical costume of gangsters, but by following the same guidelines as other tailored clothing and pairing with a tasteful shirt, tie, and shoes, anyone can pull it off.

An exquisite Savile Row bespoke suit by tailor Timothy Everest.
This was made especially for Ralph Fiennes as M for Spectre.


Style and Fit

The last time they were in fashion was over two decades ago, complete with baggy pleated pants, wide, heavily padded shoulders, and a very low fastening that closed with just one button at the bottom. This style has not aged well compared to more classically tailored examples due to the way it places the fastening button low in relation to the wearer's natural waist. Ideally, it is at the natural waist or slightly higher, about the same place as the jacket nips in. Compounded by a rather boxy fit, it is not flattering to anyone.

'80s model Jeff Aquilon looks oddly proportioned in a then-trendy 4x1 suit.

The modern double breasted has been updated with a trimmer fit, higher fastening, and flat front trousers, but designers have still found it difficult to gain much traction. It may be the trend towards minimalism or simply how they are associated with being "old fashioned". In any case, the best results are achieved when style details are kept relatively timeless.

Colin Firth sports a tastefully updated 6x2 by bespoke tailor Martin Nicholls.
It is very similar to his suits in Kingsman: The Secret Service by the same tailor.


Etiquette

The double breasted jacket should remain fastened all day, unlike a single breasted where it can be unbuttoned sitting down. Technically one needs to fasten both the inner and outer buttons, so it will look fussy and be a bother to do this every time one stands up. Always get double vents in the back. A single vent will not work well and lacks the symmetry the front has. Previous to the mid-20th century, English tailors made double breasted suits with two vents and single breasted with one vent. The non-vented ones are hopelessly dated and will only ensure the back becomes more wrinkled during the day, so stay clear of them unless it's a dinner jacket. Even then, it is permissible to have double vents on semi-formal attire now.

As always, I advise getting side adjusters for suit trousers. The jacket should remain on most of the day anyway, so wearing them with braces is perfectly fine too. There is no risk of looking like an '80s Wall Street banker if the fit and style are hitting the marks.

Who Can Wear Them?

Six buttons with two to close (6x2) is often the best way to go, but those of shorter stature may consider four buttons with two to close (4x2) like Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor. He also wore the top button undone for a longer lapel on his 5'4 frame. This should only be attempted if the construction is soft enough, allowing it to roll down to the bottom button.

Edward VIII sporting one of his signature 4x2 suits, made by bespoke tailor Anderson & Sheppard.

Contrary to the misinformation shared on the internet, men of any height or build can wear a double breasted jacket and look good. The thin, tall crowd merely benefit by looking more substantial. Like any other tailored clothing, it just needs to fit well. Made-to-measure and bespoke will of course net the best results if one has a less "ideal" body type.

Michael Keaton in bespoke Brioni. Note how he also fastens the bottom button only.



Misguided Updates

The 6x3 style was last popular in the 1970s, but can still be worn within reason. The button spacing and height should look flawless on your body. However, the 8x3 style is a little too much. Like a button four single breasted suit, it can look equal parts dated and trying too hard. Make sure the peak lapels are a decent width, about halfway to the shoulder or a little more, since the very narrow ones of today can make the style look flaccid and lifeless.

The further one strays from classic proportions, the less impact a double breasted suit will have.

By the same token, never wear a double breasted suit which has notch lapels either. The two styles are incongruent with each other despite numerous attempts by designers over the last few decades to make it work. And of course, avoid the shrunken suit fit at all costs. Trim fit is one thing, but it's quite another to look like one is wearing a suit two sizes too small.


Notch lapels lack the necessary boldness of peak lapels and a skinny fit looks good on no one.

Comments

  1. All good examples but no criticism of you particularly but we need to move away from using the DoW as an example all the time. He was kind of a cad and a racist mother****er on top of it. Censorship is my own, but there's no other way to say it! He also neglected his duty as king just to marry an American woman. He had some good looks but I don't know that he's worse celebrating as a style icon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, Edward VIII was certainly no saint. I recall him saying some rather nasty and stereotypical things about "negroes" as Governor of the Bahamas, but he did try to combat poverty at least. Still, I'd advise people to more closely model his clothing style than his personality! He did innovate or help popularize some clothing styles we take for granted now, such as trouser pleats and cuffs, backless waistcoats, and midnight blue for evening wear among other little things. His outfits also hold up pretty well considering their time period. Make the fit slightly closer and I think they would look fantastic now.

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  2. I own, wear, and enjoy several 6x2 suits (and two such navy blazers) routinely during the winter months. Strange for a college professor at a large state university in the U.S. -- and I'm sure it garners the wrong sort of attention -- but I like them very much.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich von B.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What do you mean by wrong sort of attention? One should tread carefully in a professional environment wearing three-piece or double breasted suits. They can get more attention than a pocket square. But if you've already established yourself as reliable, knowledgeable, and generally good at your job there hopefully shouldn't be an issue with your students, colleagues, or supervisors!

      But I understand your concern. At one of my previous jobs my supervisor -- once promoted to general manager -- painted me as some sort of self-absorbed peacock even though I performed my duties well and was within dress code. Only two-piece single breasted suits and the dress code stated that anything from business casual to professional was acceptable.

      I'm curious though, why double breasted only in the winter months? Double breasteds can be slightly warmer in the front, but wool or linen in plain weaves will wear cooler. The only significant difference I've noticed is on double breasted overcoats where the fabric is far more dense and thick.

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