July 28, 2011

Double-breasted suits

From J. Press, this classic blazer version is somewhat boxy
but shows the typical way of fastening with the bottom pair open.
Sometimes referred to as a six on four because of the arrangement of buttons.

Double-breasted suits, that swaggering style of suit jacket most associated with bankers and gangsters, is on the comeback. But the old Dee-Bee isn’t a look for everyone.

Today, we breakdown the trend.

Q. What makes a double-breasted a double-breasted?

All buttoned coats overlap, so technically that isn’t the decisive characteristic of a double-breasted coat. What makes a DB a DB is the arrangement of buttons. When a coat is fastened by two buttons that are on the same HORIZONTAL plane, one can say it is a double-breasted blazer or suit jacket. I'm not sure why that is important to me but it is.

Q. Double-breasted jackets do have associations with gangsters and bankers. What’s behind that particular reputation?

Double-breasted suits do indeed have a reputation for ostentation.

The origin of the DB is military and riding coats. In you will find this type of front on riding jackets of the 18th century. But the double- breasted coat of our time most closely resembles the Reefer coat of the Royal Navy which originated in the 19th century.

One of the most famous contemporary wearers of this style is Prince Charles. The young Prince Charles, when he married Diana, used to wear a double breasted with eight buttons. The buttons were brass and gilded golden.

In the buttons is where we find the reputation for ostentation. They are indeed flashy.

Another reason for the reputation is double-breasted require more fabric. They tend to be more expensive to make and often require custom fitting and are rarely seen off-the-rack.

The form of jacket has always had association with the wealthy and those who wish to emulate old money like gangsters like Al Capone.

Q. What are the rules on buttons? Does one have to button them all?

May I say it is not an easy one to answer.

If you look at the coming images of men in double-breasted jackets for fall winter 2011 and next spring summer 2012, and they are everywhere, you will see men wearing their coats open.

Before, regular men like us emulate this style, take note: the coats on the runway are exceeding short and the coats overlaps are short as well. Even unbuttoned, the coats do not have extra fabric flapping about.

Most coats, unbuttoned, will look bad. The most famous offender in the unbuttoned double-breasted hall of shame has to be David Letterman.

For years, Letterman on his talk show wore his double-breasted suits unbuttoned. He wore  full-cut versions with lots of overlap. The unbuttoned the lapels would flap about like
shutters on a house in a windstorm.

These last few years, Letterman has given up on the look and reverted back to single-breasted suits. But he is a fine example of the tragedy of wearing a DB fully open. It can ruin the line of the suit. Button up.

Q. Okay, there are many buttons on a double breasted. Which ones
are meant to be fastened?

To understand this, we have to think of the buttons in pairs.

On the most typical double breasted suits. We would have a six on four arrangement.

What this means is you have two buttons on the top which are vestigial buttons. They don’t close anything.

Then you have a middle pair of buttons around waist height. And those you should always fasten. I means always! Even when seated.

Then on the six on four, you will have a bottom set of buttons.

Europeans and the English will leave these buttons open. However, if you look at Prince Charles and his son, Prince William, they both always wear all their buttons fastened.

So it is a matter of taste. Unbuttoning the bottom set always makes the suit more casual. I  personally think lower button should be fastened to keep the hem neater. When unopened, the sharp corner of the bottom tend to droop. Perhaps, I'm too fastidious.

Q. Double breasteds are thought of as more fancy, more formal than a single-breasted suit. How does one dress down and make the DB more casual?

I spoke with the general manager of Dunn’s Tailors today. Jordan Smith told me one has to first avoid power suit fabrics like blue pinstripes.

Personally, I think shorter jackets, more informal fabrics with patterns or texture help.

Jordan says look for a shiny grey this fall. It says "party" according to Jordan.

I also think blue silk and wool hopsack can be fun in warmer weather.

You have to be daring to wear a double breasted. It is according to Jordan a fashion forward fringe trend.

You’ll see more pictures of DBs on the runway than on the street. To keep the DB modern one as to make sure it is well-fitted with high arm holes and good suppression which means the coat is trim against the body.

DB's are hard to find off the rack but do check places like Harry Rosen. They had it for summer 2011 and will have them in the fall as well. Expect going the made-to-measure route.

Fewer buttons and smaller overlaps, less length do well to ease the formality.

Q. Who suits the double-breasted suit?

I think it is always a mistake to wear the double-breasted suit as a corrective for weight or height issues.

One shouldn’t wear a DB because they are short or they wish to look thinner.

I’m not saying the short and portly should avoid the DB. But it shouldn’t be the main motive.

I think if you’re going to wear a DB you have to like buttons. You need to feel comfortable wearing the coat buttoned at all times.

My next suit will be a DB because I like to wear bow-ties. Double breasteds show less shirt. and they do a nice job of filling up the space usually filled by a long neck tie.

Also one has to be comfortable standing out in a double-breasted. The DB is really a state of mind. And I think trying to look more snazzy or flashy or classy in a DB is a poor motive.

I'd prefer one who wears it because he find his chest cold and dislikes vests. That'd be a good motive.