Guide: The Debonair Double-Breasted Suit Part 1

Worn by royalty and Hollywood legends alike, the double-breasted suit is the embodiment of stylish elegance. Our bespoke expert unstitches this sartorial classic in two parts

The double-breasted suit, with its closed front and rows of buttons, emanates an unsurpassed air of authority. From its origins as a military outfit, it has evolved to become a wardrobe mainstay for royal personages everywhere.

However, compared to its single-breasted brethren, the relative rarity of the double-breasted suit at any gala event or business function is markedly apparent. Double-breasted suits, besides being less readily available off the rack, are also less forgiving to the wearer when incorrectly fitted. Many young men deem it too "old" and many men of girth worry that it might make them look larger. The options available (like buttons and lapels) on the double-breasted might also be confusing to many.

Yet therein lies its appeal to informed sartorialists. The bespoke double-breasted suit's stylistic features offer more options to flatter men of all body types. If tailored well, it flatters men of generous proportions and adds gravitas to more youthful wearers.

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Therefore, nothing, it seems, should hold one back from bespeaking one though social conventions do warrant a word of caution to younger wearers. That the double-breasted suit is considered more formal than single-breasted suit should make one consider the possibility of upstaging superiors at business gatherings.
In the first of a two-part article, we will highlight the intricacies of this marvelous piece of attire that is the double-breasted suit.

 

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The key to wearing this suit well is to have an understanding of its composition and the different types available to best frame your body. The most distinguishing feature of a double-breasted coat is that the panels of the coat overlap significantly at the front. This is called the crossover.

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Number Of Buttons

Variations of the double-breasted coat are due mostly to the number of buttons and how they are placed. The six–button is by far the most popular. Of the six buttons that appear on the front, only three are actually fastened . Being the most versatile and classic model, the six-button flatters the bodies of most men, whether they are slim and tall, or otherwise. Later in this article, we will also touch on other styles like the Kent double-breasted, the six-by-two and the eight-by-eight.

Button Stance

Button stance, if you recall from our previous article on 'Single-Breasted Suit', is the visual effect created by the placement of the buttons on the front of a coat. Variations in button stance change the balance of the wearer's look, so it is an important consideration when having a suit made.
Taking the typical six-button double-breasted coat, a square button stance of 4.25 inches (or 10.8 cm) - this is the horizontal or vertical distance between the bottom four buttons - is ideal as a starting point. Of course, taller and more heavily built gentlemen would need to vary this button stance to flatter their respective 'builds' (see picture below). As for the top two decorative buttons, they should be placed the same distance above the bottom four, but slightly wider apart.

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The width between the fastening buttons determines the crossover point and thus, the overlap of the two pieces of front panel fabric. If too large, the crossover can make the wearer look wide, so larger men should probably specify a taller, rectangular button stance while lanky men should go for a slightly "over square" stance.

As with the single-breasted suit, the top right button should be positioned roughly half an inch below the natural waist. This button point should be high enough to ensure that the lapel does not gape open when you are sitting.

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Lapels

The lapels of such a suit are always peaked. This creates a sweeping V shape that makes the shoulders appear wider and the waist appear slimmer . This flattering illusion is what makes the double-breasted suit so appealing to those who wear one. It also explains why a straight lapel is inadvisable, as it gives the wearer a "stiff" look.

Lapel width is important for balance, and ideally, should be just over one- third the distance between the neck and the shoulder. Indeed, the lapels of a well-fitting double-breasted suit should stay flat against the wearer's chest at all times – whether he is standing, sitting or moving around – while emphasizing and flattering the form of the chest. This is another reason why a double-breasted suit should always be made bespoke.

An elegant addition is a buttonaire on one or both lapels , but note that only the left buttonaire should be used for displaying flowers.

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Shoulders

Similar to a single-breasted suit, the shoulders should be cut such that they end at the deltoids. Again a well-tailored double-breasted coat would possess armholes cut sufficiently high such that the silhouette of the wearer is maintained even when his arm is raised.

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Length Of Coat

Compared to a single-breasted coat, the double-breasted needs to be slightly shorter in length. This is because the more open front quarters of a single-breasted suit gives visual cues to the length of the leg, but in a double-breasted, the front quarters are closed. Thus a shorter length helps in visually 'lengthening' the wearer's legs.

Length Of Sleeves

Coat sleeves should show half an inch of the shirt sleeves when standing with arms by your side. The shirt sleeve itself should be about half an inch to one inch below the wrist bone.

Armhole Position

Even with the increased fabric of a double-breasted suit, having a high armhole position ensures that the suit does not ride up even with extreme arm movements.

For further reading, we recommend:

Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion
by Alan Flusser

Written by a highly respected menswear designer, this book is one of the best primers to anyone interested in the basics of traditional style for gentlemen. The book introduces the basic principles of proportion, colour & pattern coordination while illuminating how best to wear each item of clothing like shirts, suits or shoes.

Essential reading for a fan of the sartorial arts.

Browse this book at www.amazon.com

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