Choosing Your Perfect Suit Jacket, Pt. 1: The Fronting (Buttons and Lapels)


The first in a series exploring the many details of tailored jackets.

Whether you are looking to purchase a suit or a sport jacket, there are many variables to consider. In this series, we will cover all of these; in this opening instalment we will examine single and double breasted jackets (and their different options), in addition to different lapel styles and your jacket quarters.


Single and Double Breasted Jackets

The difference between single breasted and double breasted jackets is simple; it is relative to the number of columns in the button formation. If you think of it in the analogy of a spreadsheet table, a single breasted jacket has one vertical column of buttons, while a double breasted jacket has two.


Single Breasted Jacket

Single breasted jackets commonly have two or three buttons, with some (usually tuxedo) having just one button.

Two button jackets always have the lapel roll (the point where the lapel folds) end above the top button. Three button jackets – on the other hand – have an option; you can have the lapel roll start above the top button as you would normally see, or you can have what is known as a three roll two formation which means the lapel roll actually hides the top button. You will still have three functioning buttonholes, but the lapel will roll like a two button suit normally would; this adds an extra bit of choice for you when you decide how you want to style your outfit.

An example of a 3 roll 2 arrangement (Brand: Brunello Cucinelli). The visible buttonhole is the signature of this style.

Two button jackets are currently the most popular arrangement for single breasted jackets. Three button jackets were more popular in times gone by, but are still present in menswear. I personally like three button jackets as I like having less of my chest exposed when my jacket is buttoned up. That being said, two button is popular for good reason; it slims and elongates your figure more.


Double Breasted Jacket

Double breasted jackets have a number of different options for buttoning, which are named with more complexity since there are two columns of buttons. The naming convention for these options starts with the total number of buttons on the jacket, followed by the number of these that can actually be fastened; for example some common patterns are 6×2, 6×1, 4×1, 4×2 and 6×3 (6×3 is most often found on peacoats rather than tailored jackets).

The double breasted jacket has recently begun trending in the mainstream eye once more, after spending much time relegated to – when mentioned – conjuring up mental images of haughty bankers and lawyers from the 1980s and before.

Photo credit to Marco Marroni (http://marroniphoto.com) for the 6×2 and 6×1 photos above. Make sure to check him out; super talented behind the lens!


Lapels

There are three common styles of lapel; known as notch, peak and shawl.

Glossary fact: The seam line where the top collar meets the lapel on a jacket is known as the gorge.


Notch:

Named for the notch shape created by the cut where the gorge sits. The notch lapel is extremely common on single breasted jackets and is a good look for them. It is very rarely seen on double breasted jackets, simply because it looks rather out of place on them. The notch lapel is a classic look that makes no bold statements.


Peak

Rather than indenting like the notch, this style of lapel juts out to form a peak. It was historically a more formal style, always seen on double breasted jackets and overcoats. These days, you can also find some single breasted peak lapel suits. The peak lapel is perceived to be a more authoritative and/or expressive look, meaning that wearing one is either an expression of power or a bold stylistic statement. If you choose to wear one as a stylistic statement or because you think it suits your personality better, do be aware that others may perceive it as a statement of authority. For example, a double breasted suit with wide peak lapels and a chalk-striped pattern has long been a popular choice with power dressers.


Shawl

This style of lapel follows a smooth sweeping line down the jacket, showing no deviations from the flow like a notch or peak lapel. It is almost exclusively seen on tuxedo jackets and smoking jackets, being the most formal of lapels. The reason it is not seen on a more casual jacket is simple; it looks glaringly out of place when placed with a non-formal ensemble. If you wear a jacket with a shawl lapel outside a formal setting, you risk looking and feeling silly.


Lapel Details: The Boutonniere

Present on many jackets but not all, the boutonniere is the name given to the buttonhole situated high up on the left lapel. It is a relic from many years ago when a button was situated on the right lapel to allow for the closing of a jacket against the weather. The boutonniere survived as an aesthetic choice, and carries a functional benefit; the use of lapel pins (also referred to as boutonnieres too). A tasteful lapel pin can be a good way to add a bit of flair to an outfit.


Quarters

The quarters are the flaps at the jacket front that hang below the bottom button enclosure and meet at the waistline. There are two options for these; open quarters, and closed quarters.

The difference is important to note as it has a subtle but very noticeable implication on the overall appearance the jacket will give:

An open quarter means there will be a gap between the quarters, which is best suited to men who would like their belt to be displayed. If you have a belt you love or is an eye catching part of your outfit, open quarters may be your preference. A closed quarter – on the other hand – means the quarters will meet and your belt line will not be shown. It gives off more of a traditional vibe.
Furthermore, open quarters may visually widen your silhouette; whether this is something you want will depend on your unique body and taste.


How do you choose the right combination for you?

The desired combination mostly boils down to personal preference, as many men will look good in various combinations. However, there are some rules of thumb you can use to guide your decision:

Lapel Width:

As a general guide, lapel width should be in reasonable proportion to your body width. Extra wide (think 1970s) or super skinny (think recent skinny lapel trends) can look disproportionate; for example a stout man with skinny lapels will look strange. Buying a suit with lapels that match current trends may also minimise its usefulness to you as you may find yourself wanting to throw out that suit with skinny lapels when the fashion changes again.

This being said, how you wear your lapels really boils down to your self-expression and your confidence. If you want super wide lapels, there is no reason you cannot do so and rock it. Just look at Hugo Jacomet from Parisian Gentleman/Sartorial Talks:


Single or Double breasted?

A single breasted jacket is the most versatile, but also the most common (at the moment). It will always be a safe choice as it tends to look good on everybody.

A good double breasted jacket can look absolutely phenomenal, and it is a look that I really like. Be warned however, a double breasted jacket may serve to widen your proportions; so that is something to bear in mind if you already consider yourself to look stout. If I just described you, I must add that you should not write off the double breasted jacket without trying a well-fitted one on first.

Which button combination to choose?

This one is best to decide by trying different jackets on. With single breasted jackets, a two button will expose more of your chest and serve to elongate your silhouette. A three button will expose less, and have a different effect on your proportions.

With button layouts on double breasted jackets, it is largely a matter of trying them all on and deciding which is the most aesthetically pleasing to you.

Which lapel style to choose?

This is also mostly a matter of choice. The only rules of thumb are not to have notch lapels on a double breasted (though you are welcome to buck that trend if you would like!), and to keep shawl lapels for tuxedos and smoking jackets.


Fin!

This concludes part 1 of the series on choosing a suit jacket. You can walk away better equipped when it comes to choosing lapel styles and discerning between single and double breasted jackets.

Remember: if you are not sure which choice to make regarding any of these options, try before you buy!

To read part 2, click here.

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