Fans of traditional clothing are fairly united in their dislike of ‘true’ three-button suits – where the jacket is designed to button all the way up and leaves an awkward angle in the cloth if it is not. This fastening design is a hangover from the sleek Italian style of the late fifties and early sixties, where the long silhouette was accentuated by a high fastening and three or four buttons. It inspired the Continental look in the US in the late fifties and the British Mods in the early sixties.
The more elegant alternative for a three-button jacket is to have a lapel that easily rolls over when only the centre button is fastened – so-called ‘three rolls to two’. That way the lapel line is longer and sleeker, but you retain the option of buttoning all the way up if it gets cold, windy or both.
I was chatting to my tailors at Graham Browne the other day and it seems there are two ways to achieve this roll. The first, more English way is to put a loose, sparse row of stitches down the back of the lapel that leads to the centre button. This creates some permanent structure to the roll and ensures that, while it remains soft, it always looks the same. The position of the canvas in the chest also helps contribute to this effect.
The alternative, more American option is to put no structure in the lapels. Without an edge to the canvas or a separate row of stitches, the lapel is happy to roll wherever it wants. It will roll to the centre button if that is the one that is fastened. Or it will roll, though not quite as naturally, to the top or bottom button.
The way to tell the difference is to hang up both jackets and leave them unfastened. The latter construction will roll open very easily, and perhaps even roll over all the way down if there is little canvas in the chest. The former will always roll to the same place – where the stitches were sewn.
Most English tailors prefer more structure to their jackets – with famous and notable exceptions. They feel a jacket without it is more likely to lose its shape over time.
My mid-blue chalkstripe suit I have just commissioned from Graham Browne will be three-rolls-to-two the English way. Controversially, the waistcoat will also roll to its second button. Russell at Graham Browne hates this. But I think it adds a nice, casual tone to the waistcoat – more like a cardigan. And you’ve got to have some individuality, right?