The Double-Breasted Debate

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I was always told that a double-breasted suit created breadth. Good for tall, narrow men. Not so good for the short and stout. This belief, though widely held by others, probably originates for me with the insistence of my mother that I would look lovely with a double breast, given that I am tall and could always be broader.

Funny how many opinions of oneself originate with such memories of youth. There’s probably a good case to be made that all one’s fundamental impressions of strength and weakness are formed at that age. When one is more insecure, more vulnerable. I’ve never liked my legs either.

But I digress. The traditional view is that double-breasted makes one broader. Alan Flusser disagrees: he contends that the swooping lapels of a double-breasted jacket, from the tip of a peaked lapel down to two crossed points at the waist, create the illusion of height. This illusion, he argues, more than compensates for the impression of breadth achieved elsewhere.

I can see the sense in his argument, but instinctively disagree. I knew he was wrong, but didn’t know why.

Now I do. Flusser is not wrong in his analysis, just in his conclusion. The answer is spelled out in The Suit by Nicholas Antongiavanni. His chapter Of Diminutive Men agrees that the sweeping lapel of a double-breasted jacket creates height. The double row of buttons and the extra flap of cloth, however, create breadth. Most would argue that the second set of features outweighs the first. But to a certain extent that is a subjective question.

More importantly, there is a solution for the diminutive man. If he wears a single-breasted suit with a low fastening (perhaps even a single button on the waist as preferred by some Savile Row tailors) and peaked lapels, he can achieve some of the slimming effects of a double-breasted jacket. This look, Antongiavanni argues, is rakish. It is unusual and slimming without the conservative or perhaps boxy appearance of the normal double-breasted.

The other solution is to go for a double-breasted suit with just two buttons, as was the model I had made in Hong Kong recently. While I have seen this design around occasionally over the years, it was most recently in the spotlight in Dunhill’s spring/summer campaign. Here a two-button double-breasted suit was used as a separate jacket with dark jeans and dark-brown derbys (not sure I quite agree with this look – a double-breasted looking rather out of place as an odd jacket – but it did seem to work on the fellow in the advert) and as a modern twist on a white linen suit worn by Jude Law.

Getting rid of the double row of buttons helps avoid the boxy look wonderfully. There is, obviously, now a single horizontal line across one’s waist, but it is at least a slim line. It all helps accentuate my breadth and ease those youthful insecurities.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. Roderick Mallia says:

    “a double-breasted looking rather out of place as an odd jacket”

    Interesting point. I have a burgundy double-breasted blazer which I think would look quite odd as a complete suit (ergo: burgundy trousers). I admit the colour itself is a bit risque’ and most would be quite hesitant to wear such a colour lest they be mistaken for an usher or waiter. I still haven’t found the right occasion to wear it but I hope I will. But perhaps I should remove the gold buttons and refrain from using metal. They somehow remind me of a school uniform…

    All this being said, what would you suggest wearing this blazer with? Was flirting with the idea of an open black shirt (no tie) underneath but I’m afraid of looking a bit tacky. So any suggestions would be more than welcome :)

    Moreover, another question which crops to mind is: in a formal setting (say, a night at the theatre) would an attire consisting of an odd jacket look, well, odd?

  2. Double-breasted jackets can look odd separated from their trousers but I think a little adjustment might make it ‘street worthy.’ I bought a ridiculously inexpensive black double breaster recently, which I am getting adjusted at a tailors – for a slimmer and shorter look – and am having ivory buttons fixed to make it look like an individual jacket rather than half a suit. I think that might be the key – a subtle lack of subtlety!

  3. Roderick Mallia says:

    Luckily this burgundy jacket fits perfecty (read: slim and short), so there there’s no need for major alterations. In my case I think I’ll be opting for buttons of the same colour as the jacket itself or perhaps with just some detailing.

    Winston, I very much like your idea of ivory buttons on a black DB!

  4. Barima says:

    I disagree that double-breasteds can’t be worn as odd jackets – I do it all the time and have never been criticised by the stalwart sartorialists in my family. Ladies especially seem to find it quite tasteful. The ones I have are old school (so already short – they’re hand-me-downs from another generation) and are usually missing their suit trousers, so I’ve matched semi-formal and other kinds of trousers to them instead (never jeans – I’m not a fan). Unlike Winston, I’ve never changed the buttons, but it really depends on what works – if it’s already looking sharp on that front, why worry?

    Roderick, might I suggest a grey or blue shirt for your jacket? Better still, your shirts could be striped e.g. contrasting white and blue/black/grey. Oh, and black or blue trousers, but I’m sure you knew that already

  5. Roderick Mallia says:

    Barima, in fact I was thinking of wearing a light grey shirt and (definitely) black trousers. Tried them on this morning and I was quite pleased with the look. Thanks! :)

    With regards to your other comments, I see your points perfectly. This jacket was handed down to me and the trousers are missing. Secondly I’ve seen well-dressed men who sport double-breasted odd jackets with formal and semi-formal trousers and I think they really look well-dressed and sharp (I’ve seen DB jackets paired with jeans but I’m not a fan of that look). so needless to say, I was quite surprised as well to read Winston’s comments.

  6. Barima says:

    Roderick, you’re very welcome. Winston’s tailoring observation is pretty key, since I think that nips in the torso of the jacket/blazer do more to minimize the boxy look than lessening the number of buttons – I tend to have 4 to six on mine, actually, particularly on the complete DB suits I wear to work. We’re both lucky that ours already fit perfectly

    I’m actually going to look into that button advice for a grey DB suit jacket when I have a moment – could be fun

  7. Simon Crompton says:

    Fantastic to hear all your thoughts on this issue. I think a double-breasted jacket is simply harder to wear without the trousers. It can certainly work, but requires more thought than a single-breasted option would.

    I agree with Winston that the addition of differentiated buttons will help the look, encouraging one to view the jacket as a blazer rather than suit jacket. Metal buttons, often with one’s military crest, were traditional on blazers that were won as a casual alternative to the lounge suit. Again, these were usually navy blue, which would be easier to get away with as a blazer. I think my grey flannel may be too obviously part of a suit.

    As with many of these harder to wear pieces, you may find that it comes out of the cupboard less often, and requires more thought as to its neighbours, but the impact will be greater when it is worn and worn well.

    I have a purple Boateng suit that has only had one or two outings. But oh how I look forward to the times it does come out. Then again, that is single breasted.