In this article we will discuss the parts that make up a man’s suit. Although off the rack suits afford you little flexibility in adjusting these parts, the man who goes with a bespoke or made to measure suit has the freedom of choosing the option that best compliment his body. In any case, all men should understand the basics of the suit and its parts so that they buy a garment that accentuates their most positive traits.
Single or Double Breasted
The first and perhaps most noticeable element of the suit is whether it is single or double-breasted. Single-breasted suits have a single row of buttons down the front, and the jacket flaps only overlap enough to permit buttoning. A double-breasted suit has two rows of buttons, and the front overlaps sufficiently to allow both flaps to be attached to the opposite row of buttons. The choice between single- and double-breasted is a matter of personal taste, though the vast majority of American men choose single breasted suits as that this is what is readily available to them; also a lack of familiarity with the double-breasted option may account for the single-breasted suit’s dominance. Thin gentlemen, particularly those who are somewhat taller, can benefit greatly from double-breasted suits, as they will give a fuller appearance to the figure; on larger men, double-breasted suits can have a tendency to draw attention to the midsection, so careful attention and an expert tailor should be employed.
Lapels come in a variety of styles with a number of options. The lapels’ width is perhaps subject to the most variance, with the extremely narrow lapels of the 1950s standing in stark contrast to the excessively wide lapels of the 1970s. As is the case with much of classic fashion, the most timeless lapels are of a moderate width. In addition to different widths, suit lapels come in two styles: notched, which has a wide V-shaped opening where the lapel and collar join; and peaked, which flares out in a sharp point with a very narrow deep V at the join. Notched and peaked lapels are equally classic, though the latter are most commonly found on double-breasted jackets. A peak lapel on a single-breasted jacket is an excellent way to raise its level of formality, but is almost impossible to find on anything but a custom made suit
A suit jacket has either one row of buttons or two, depending on whether it is single- or double-breasted. A single-breasted jacket has a single row of buttons, numbering anywhere from one to four, though two and three are the most common. The three-button jacket is the most traditional configuration, taking its cue from English riding jackets; properly worn, it gives the illusion of height. Traditionally, only the middle or second button is fastened when standing, though the top two buttons may be fastened to produce a slightly more formal appearance. Two-button suits are a slightly later innovation, and because they show more of the shirt and tie, can produce a slightly more slimming appearance. Only the top button of a two-button jacket is fastened; with the exception of a jacket with only one button, the bottom button of a single-breasted jacket is never fastened.
Double-breasted jackets most commonly have either four or six buttons on each side – where there are six buttons, only the lower four are for buttoning, though due to the design of the suit, only two will actually be buttoned at any given time. There is also an extra hidden button on the reverse of the outside flap of a double-breasted suit, onto which the inside or “hidden” flap attaches. Contrary to the habits of certain celebrities, a double-breasted jacket is never left unbuttoned when standing, permitting it to flap around wildly; it is always securely buttoned upon standing and remains buttoned until one is again seated. Additionally, while the bottom button of a single-breasted jacket is always left undone, both of the operable buttons on a double-breasted jacket are fastened. As with the gorge of the lapel, the height of the waist buttons can been altered slightly to accentuate or diminish height, but this must be done carefully.
There are numerous historical reasons for jacket sleeves bearing buttons, from encouraging the use of handkerchiefs to allowing a gentleman to wash his hands without removing his jacket, a traditionally grave social offense in mixed company. Whatever the reason for their arrival on jacket sleeves, they now form an important part of the detail work or trimming of the jacket. Most traditionally, jacket sleeves bear four buttons, though it is not uncommon to find three. Regardless of number, there should be at least as many of them as there are buttons on the waist, and they are always placed within a half-inch or so of the hem. On bespoke suits, and even some of the higher-quality made-to-measure jackets, the sleeve buttons are functional. When the buttons are functional, there is some temptation to leave one button undone in order to draw attention to the feature – and by extension, the quality of the suit – though this is a matter of personal taste.
The most formal are jetted pockets, where the pocket is sewn into the lining of the jacket and only a narrow horizontal opening appears on the side of the jacket. These pockets, being nearly invisible, contribute to a very sleek, polished appearance, and are most frequently found on formal-wear. The next style, the flap pocket, is slightly less formal, though it is perfectly acceptable in all the circumstances where a gentleman is likely to be found in a suit. Flap pockets are made identically to jetted pockets, but include a flap sewn into the top of the pocket, which covers the pocket’s opening. These are the most common pockets on suit jackets, and in the very best, are fabricated so that the wearer may tuck the flaps inside, mimicking the jetted pocket. There are also diagonally-cut flap pockets known as hacking pockets, though they are somewhat less common; the hacking pocket is derived from English riding gear, and is most prominent on bespoke suits from English tailors, particularly those traditionally associated with riding clothes. The least formal are patch pockets, which are exactly what the name implies: pockets created by applying a patch to the outside of the jacket. Patch pockets are the most casual option; they are frequently found on summer suits that would otherwise appear overly formal, as well as on sports jackets.
Some jackets, particularly bespoke and finer made-to-measure offerings, include a small ticket pocket above one of the side pockets, generally on the same side as the wearer’s dominant hand. This pocket is rarely used in modern times, and serves more as an indication of the suit’s quality.
Moving up the jacket is the breast pocket, which is always open, and into which only one item is ever placed: the handkerchief or pocket square. The reason for this is twofold: First, like the side pockets, any items placed in the breast pocket create lumpy projections which distort the sleek appearance of the suit, and second, the breast pocket and the inside left pocket share the same space in the jacket’s lining, meaning that objects in the breast pocket tend to force items in the inside pocket into the wearer’s ribs, which is quite uncomfortable.
Moving on from pockets we find the vents, flap-like slits in the bottom of the jacket which accommodate movement and offer easy access to the trouser pockets. Jackets have three styles: center, side, or none. Ventless jackets, just as the name implies, have no vents, and are popular on Continental suits; they provide a very sleek look to the back of the jacket, though they can lead to wrinkling when the wearer sits down. Center-vented jackets, very popular on American suits, have a single slit at the back, allowing the jacket to expand at the bottom when sitting. Because of its placement, center-vented jackets have a habit of exposing the wearer’s posterior, though most seem not to mind, as center vents remain the most popular style. A side-vented jacket has two vents, one on either side, generally just behind the trouser pockets, to provide easy access. Side vents also facilitate sitting more easily, moving as needed to prevent the rumpling of the jacket back, which leads to creasing.