When adding a blazer, suit or tuxedo to your wardrobe, foremost among your considerations tend to be its cut, colour, the material it’s made from and the overall style, such as single-button or double-breasted.
Of course, you’d be perfectly correct to assume that these variables are indeed the most important when it comes to how a jacket looks on you – but how many of you have ever honestly considered the lapel in all its nuances? Not many, we imagine.
And why would you? It’s merely a redundant affectation from the 1800s, right? Like the human appendix, it’s completely without purpose, but you’d rather it was there than not since you’ve spent many a school-uniformed year growing up with it.
In actual fact, the humble lapel is vitally important to the shape of the blazer and how it sits on you. That there has only ever been three distinct styles of lapel in the entire history of menswear suggests that it isn’t something to be tinkering about with too much. But within these three styles, the size, positioning and geometry can vary massively. So to help you navigate the minefield you never knew even existed (ignorance is bliss but knowledge is better), the following guide will ensure you pick the right lapel every time.
The Peak Lapel
So called because of the pointed cut, the peak lapel can be traced back to the frock coats of Louis XIV’s reign in the sixteenth century. Historians believe they came about simply out of a necessity to keep cool by folding back the outermost part of the coat or, similarly, out of the need to keep the neck warm and dry in inclement weather.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the peak lapel found its way onto many single-breasted suit and dinner jackets. Yet it is most at home on a double-breasted blazer since it’s an extension of the line of the jacket and thus gives the impression of broader shoulders.
Saying that, Gieves & Hawkes and Dunhill both included peaked single-breasted jackets in their recent SS15 collections as if to prove that exceptional tailoring can always break the rules and get away with it:
Due to their association with morning coats and tailcoats, the peak lapel is by nature a more formal style and will instantly take any outfit up a notch. They also make an unapologetic statement and are guaranteed to have you standing out from the notch-lapelled crowd, so they need to be worn with confidence.
Just how ‘peaky’ your peaks should be depends on your own physical dimensions. If you’re slim and narrow shouldered then you should opt for small peaks, and vice versa. Furthermore, it’s important to consider where in the lapel the peak is positioned. Hardy Amies’ SS15 showcase, for example, featured gorgeous double-breasted jackets with peaks that finished on the collar bone, giving the appearance of height – perfect for shorter gents or those carrying a few extra pounds who desire a lengthening effect. Pick a dark coloured suit and this illusion is amplified further.
Canali was another brand that had some fantastic examples of classic peak blazers in their latest collection, while Brioni revealed a peaked tuxedo jacket to die for, proving that Italians are always right on the money when it comes to the double-breasted cut:
Modern Lookbook Inspiration
- Topman Blue Skinny Fit Tuxedo Lapel Blazer
- Topman Navy Jacquard Contrast Peak Skinny Suit Jacket
- Topman Light Grey Suit Jacket
- River Island Light Blue Double Breasted Blazer
- He By Mango Double-breasted Unstructured Blazer
- He By Mango Double-breasted Jersey Blazer
- Ovadia & Sons Slim-fit Woven-wool Double-breasted Blazer
- Reiss Peak Lapel One Button Blazer Navy
- Massimo Alba Aston Slim-fit Unstructured Corduroy Blazer
- Reiss Garda Peak Lapel Three-piece Suit Grey
- Reiss Mayfair Peak Lapel Dinner Suit Black
- Reiss Sackville Peak Lapel Suit Airforce Blue
The Notch Lapel
Easily the most common lapel type (it’s much simpler and cheaper to cut than a peak), the notch lapel has long been de rigueur on single-breasted jackets. Nevertheless, as times have changed, and trends with them, the notch varied greatly both in lapel width and the size of the notch itself. The angle of the notch can also differ but tends to be between seventy-five and ninety degrees – whether it points up or down is a matter of personal taste.
Much like the peak, the width of the notch lapel should complement the physique of the wearer, although these days you would be hard pushed to find anything other than a slim lapel, given designers’ fancy for sinewy models. As such, large notches have almost become extinct, leaving the small ubiquitous ‘fishmouth’ notch the run of planet menswear.
Nevertheless, seek and ye shall find – or in other words look to Gucci’s SS15 striped blazers which featured short, wide, piped triangular lapels with notches larger than we have recently been accustomed to. Another designer who took a more unique approach was Jil Sander, who contrasted short lapels with big billowy suit trousers within her latest collection, giving a casual twist to formal attire:
With variations generally limited, the good news is that it’s very difficult to get the notch lapel wrong. However, don’t become complacent – the position of the notch can still trip you up. As a rule of thumb, look for notches that line up with (or just below) the shoulders. There isn’t a better measuring stick for great lapels than the aforementioned Gieves & Hawkes SS15 collection.
An interesting trend to come out of the SS15 fashion weeks was contrast lapels. A.Sauvage, Dior Homme, Paul Smith, Casely-Hayford and Balenciaga all experimented with different tones and fabrics to create bold looks that improvised on the satin lapels of classic black tie – all proof that the lapel is not just a useless affectation but actually an effective means of delivering design panache and personality:
Finally, if you’re only ever going to own one suit, make it a notch lapel, two-button version in navy or mid-grey. It’s the most timeless and versatile style you can buy and suitable for everything from job interviews and your first day at work to weddings and upmarket restaurants.
Modern Lookbook Inspiration
- Asos Slim Fit Blazer In 100% Wool
- He By Mango Textured Blazer
- Topman Selected Homme Grey Suit
- He By Mango Slim-fit Suit Blazer
- Asos Slim Fit Blazer In Cotton
- Burton 2 Piece Fcuk Light Grey Textured Slim Fit Suit
- Reiss Garth B Notch Lapel Blazer Grey
- River Island Brown Check Slim Suit Jacket
- River Island Light Blue Blazer
- River Island Navy Blue Slim Suit Jacket
- Richard James Prince Of Wales Check Worsted-wool Suit
- Reiss Fairline B Two Button Blazer Black
The Shawl Lapel
The promiscuous shawl collar falls in and out of vogue regularly. This is probably due to its rather fusty traditionalist past, given that it was the lapel of choice for gentlemen’s clubs where the smoking jacket was the required uniform.
However, now and again, certain designers revisit said smoking parlours and after-dinner reveries of the Victorian upper classes to quite rightly reinstate the shawl collar on tuxedo jackets in favour of the marauding peak.
In fact, a shawl-collared tuxedo is hard to beat since its smooth curving lines hint at just the right amount of decadence behind the veneer of well-behaved formality. Just about the most beautiful rendition of this form we saw in the SS15 collections came courtesy of a blue wool and mohair cocktail suit by Chester Barrie.
The shawl collar is once again stretching its legs and attempting to break free from the confines of black tie, as evidenced by Casely-Hayford’s electric blue lounge suit with contrasting black shawl. Sir Paul Smith was busy in Paris too, adding a shawl to free-flowing sports-inspired lounge suits and single-breasted jackets.
Back in London, we loved Gieves & Hawkes’ use of the shawl on a cream polka-dot blazer paired with brilliant white trousers, a shirt and bow tie – hats off to Jason Basmajian, the brand’s creative director, he killed it this season:
If you had your eyes peeled at LC:M you would have also noticed a certain Mr Gandy rocking a windowpane check blazer with a shawl collar by Marks and Spencer (he later revealed in his column for Telegraph men that is was a custom made piece):
Considering all the collections showcased in London, Milan and Paris, there’s good reason to believe that the small-waisted, tight-fitting three-piece suit that has been so popular with contemporary dandies in recent years is giving way to a much more relaxed and laid-back attitude, one which befits the loose lines of the shawl collar well.
At any rate, it’s certainly an option your wardrobe shouldn’t be without.
Modern Lookbook Inspiration
- Topman Burgundy Flannel Tux Blazer
- Asos Slim Fit Tuxedo Jacket
- Noose & Monkey Skinny Suit Jacket With Shawl Collar
- Topman Charocal Fleck Shawl Skinny Fit Blazer
- Topman Grey With Black Trim Blazer
- Next Grey Shawl Collar Skinny Fit Suit: Jacket
- Reiss Heart Shawl Collar Tuxedo Jacket Midnight
- Topman Grey Jacquard Skinny Suit Jacket
- River Island Navy Leather-look Shawl Collar Blazer
- Etro Slim-fit Faux Suede-collar Cotton Blazer
- Mcq Alexander Mcqueen Black Slim-fit Twill Tuxedo Jacket
- Austin Reed Nick Hart Blue Mohair Jacket
The three lapels showcased above are firmly engrained in the very fabric of menswear, with each bringing its own unique characteristics and personality to any modern gent’s tailoring collection.
But it’s important to remember that excluding true formal occasions, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to picking a lapel style – experiment and find what works best for your wardrobe and body type.
Make sure you let us know what type of lapel you prefer and for what occasions, in the comments section below…