Double breasted suits, for so long forgotten and marooned in dim and dusty menswear shops in Eastbourne, have made a remarkable return. They were hot in last year’s collections and their introduction to the high street has had a significant impact; enquiries about tailor-made DBs have increased. Naturally, with such a high profile renaissance comes a predictable invective – “DBs are finished”; “DBs are for portly middle-class retirees”; “DBs are unflattering.” Two out of three of these assertions are certainly untrue, as fashion shows and Zara and H&M collections (reliable barometers of international trends) have proven; double-breasted jackets and suits are certainly not ‘finished’ and are clearly appealing to a different demographic than that of the bowls club captain.
However the final assertion, that double-breasted jackets are unflattering, is not entirely untrue. While they can look utterly splendid on a good number of gentlemen, the tight wrapping of certain gentlemen’s, ahem, ‘contours’ can sometimes produce an undesired effect; the double breasted suit works best when the width of the shoulders are accentuated. Any barrel rotundity is likely to distract from this. What choice does a gentleman have? Can he let his double breasted jacket flap open? Style dogma suggests that a double-breasted jacket must be fastened – on pain of death; an open double-breasted jacket is considered a blasphemous faux pas by the devout.
However, I think it can, and does, work. It all depends on two very important factors; the gentleman must have the right build (sadly, those of great rotundity do not) and, most importantly, the suit must be made for the gentleman’s measurements.
In the pictures of Jinnah and Nehru, Jinnah is wearing a three piece double breasted suit; perfectly tailored to his emaciated frame. The double-breasted jacket is open, no doubt due to the warmth, and hangs perfectly on him. The combination of bespoke tailoring (Jinnah at this stage still favoured Savile Row) and prominent shoulders and a lack of torso bulk means that the jacket sits almost as well as an unbuttoned single breasted jacket. The pictured model, slightly more muscular than Jinnah, emphasises the importance of a sculptured waist on a double-breasted jacket – the sort of sculpture that is only really achievable with tailoring.
The other important asset of this look, so well demonstrated in these pictures, is the waistcoat. Elkann is pictured wearing a DB open without one. Despite his undeniable ability to pull off unusual combinations, his sartorial laissez-faire goes a little too far here; the jacket simply looks disorderly. It’s not that an undone DB with a waistcoat looks like a mock single-breasted three piece but that the waistcoat ‘tidies up’ what might be considered an untidy look; gigantic, off-the-rack DB jackets flapping in the wind like a billowing mainsail are the unacceptable face of this aesthetic. Follow Jinnah, in diet as well as tailoring, and you might just be able to master this unusual ensemble.