Defining Your Jacket Style
How do you choose a new jacket, I wonder?
There’s nothing quite like putting on an impeccably fitted suit jacket; indeed, the confidence an expert cut can give you is not to be underestimated. But what should we be looking out for when we buy a suit jacket?
If you’re fortunate enough to have a good tailor, they’ll no doubt be your first port of call for sound advice. If, on the other hand, you’re hitting the high street, then beware of overbearing sales associates who are far more interested in securing a transaction than offering guidance. In both instances, you’ll better your chances of finding quality for money if you’re armed with some tailoring savvy.
A tailor will have a ‘house style’ and my fundamental advice on this is to simply go with it. If you find you are asking for jacket details that aren’t in sync with the house’s signature cut, then you’re probably with the wrong tailor. Your best plan of action is to first select the tailor and house cut that you like, and work closely with them from there on in.
But whether you’re with a tailor or buying ready-to-wear, always consider the following:
Single-breasted suit jackets and blazers typically have two or three buttons and a notch lapel. You might also come across a single button with a peak lapel, though this is more a hallmark of the classic dinner jacket.
The main advantage of opting for a two-button jacket is that it guides the eyes along the lapels to a lower point on your frame. This, in turn, elongates the ‘V’ shape and will give you a more elegant line to your silhouette, while also revealing more of your – hopefully well thought-out – shirt and tie combination. Think of a two-button jacket as the safe yet stylish decision for any body type.
Alternatively, there’s the three-button jacket. It’s worth bearing in mind that this style is most certainly not for everyone, with the reason being that if you are over six foot tall it can make you appear lanky and tubular. It might seem, following this line of logic, that this type of jacket would be ideal for more rotund gentlemen. Not so. If anything it only draws the eye to what you’re trying to conceal.
It may not be the easiest style to pull off, but if the fit is right, a three-button design can give your look an enviable mark of distinction.
Doing Your Buttons Up? Listen Up
If you’re wearing a two-button jacket, button the top button only – never the second button.
On a three-button jacket, feel free to do up the middle button, followed by the top button if you wish, but never all three.
Once known for its rigid, boxy cut, the double-breasted jacket has been re-interpreted in recent seasons, with tailoring brands now providing slimmer, more flattering takes.
Originating from the naval reefer jacket, the double-breasted coat or jacket features wide overlapping front flaps and two parallel columns of buttons or snaps. For most modern double-breasted blazers, one column of buttons is decorative (i.e. non-functional), while the other is functional.
Additional buttons, placed on the outside edge of the jacket breast, are either decorative or functional, allowing the overlap to fasten reversibly, right lapel over left lapel. To strengthen the fastening, a functional inner-button, also known as the jigger, is usually added to fasten the over-lapped layers together from the inside.
When it comes to styling, this is one jacket that doesn’t work with a waistcoat. Adding one would only result in undesirable bulkiness and likely become uncomfortably hot to wear.
When it comes to lapels, it’s crucial to pay particular attention to width. The widths of suit jacket lapels have changed dramatically over the years from the bold, barely containable styles of the 1970s to the narrow, slim widths that have started to dominate since the early noughties.
To my mind, the skinny lapel is a style reserved for those of a smaller, slighter frame. You’re looking to achieve a sense of balance with your tailoring, and pairing a broad frame with a slim lapel width is going against the grain. To minimise mismatches, follow this simple rule: balance the width of your lapel to the width of your shoulders to the width of your tie.
A quick note on lapel styles: if you’re looking to lend your suit an unconventional elegance, it’s worth considering a peak lapel jacket. Another trademark of the classic dinner jacket, it can make for a bold and powerful statement when applied to an everyday suit.
Straight Or Slanted Pockets?
Another detail that often goes unnoticed is pocket style and construction. Or more to the point, should you opt for straight or slanted pockets?
All you really need to know is that straight pockets are classic, while slanted pockets are sportier and more often found on ready-to-wear jackets. The slanted pocket’s origins lie in the hacking jacket, a wardrobe staple for sporting pursuits. They are arguably easier to get your hands into, and there’s even a theory that slanted pockets help to make you look more shapely, though personally I think a few trips to the gym is far more effective.
As well as deciding on a pocket style, it’s worthwhile considering whether or not an exterior ticket pocket is a priority. First engineered to allow gentlemen to conveniently stow a train ticket, this subtle addition can be desirable from both an aesthetic and practical stand point.
Jackets that don’t have a ticket pocket tend to be more formal. For instance, you’d never see one on a dinner jacket. If you find a suit you like and that fits well, go for it, and don’t let the fact that it has or hasn’t got an outside ticket pocket sway your opinion.
One last pointer on pockets: don’t overfill them with chunky smartphones, wallets, keys etc. Doing so often leads to unsightly creases and bulges that will ultimately ruin the lines of your silhouette.
Subtle yet all-important, vents are up next. Unless you’re investing in a dinner jacket (which shouldn’t have any vents at all), you’ll need to elect for one of two styles: a single (centre) vent or double (side) vents.
Allowing for a greater range of movement, double vents can make your waist appear thinner due to the jacket splaying out a little wider at the hip, optimising your silhouette.
The alternative – the single vent – was invented for riding on horseback, with the idea being that the back of the jacket would splay and fall nicely either side of the horse’s back. While it is a matter of preference, it’s worth remembering that the single vent won’t do your shape as many favours as side vents.
Lastly, a few parting words on fit. If nothing else, remember these three things:
- Shoulder width: make sure your jacket is neither too narrow, nor too wide. As a rule of thumb, the line down the arm from the top edge of the shoulder should fall to the ground without bulges.
- Jacket length: avoid buying what’s affectionately dubbed ‘the bum freezer’, otherwise known as a jacket that’s inappropriately short. Equally, don’t opt for a jacket that’s too long. The ideal length finishes at the top of your legs and below your seat.
- Sleeve length: too short and you’re showing more than the advisable quarter inch to half inch of cuff; too long and you run the risk of looking like you’ve inherited your older brother’s hand-me-downs.
Keeping these essential points in mind should help you in defining your perfect jacket style.
Stay tuned for more advice on sourcing the perfect suit – in the next part of our guide we’re set to tackle trouser choice.