How should a double-breasted suit fit? When is it appropriate to wear one? And how should you style it? You’ll find the full lowdown in this in-depth guide to double-breasted suits.
While the finer details of single-breasted suits – e.g. lapels, jacket length, the number of buttons, etc. – tend to change over time according to current trends, the basic single-breasted design is a fashion perennial that never goes out of style.
Double-breasted suits, on the other hand, tend to come into fashion for a decade or two before wandering off into the wilderness for an equal length of time. Right now, though, double-breasted suits are very definitely back in style. And if the past is anything to go by, they will remain so for at least another decade or so to come. This very definitely makes 2022 the right moment to get in on the double-breasted act.
You may fully know your way around a single-breasted suit now, but do you remember getting your first one? It likely all seemed like foreign territory back then. And if you’ve never worn a double-breasted suit before, you might now be feeling similarly unsure about taking the first steps in this sartorial direction.
Thinking of branching out into double-breasted territory, but uncertain how a double-breasted suit should fit, or when to wear one? No worries, in this guide we explain everything you need to know about double-breasted suits.
How to Wear a Double Breasted Suit?
Most people consider the double-breasted suit to be the epitome of masculine elegance. Just one stop short of the tuxedo in terms of formality.
Funnily enough, though, while the DB suit is certainly is a very elegant and dignified garment, it was once considered much less formal than a single-breasted suit.
Single-breasted jackets evolved from the British gentry’s “sportswear” (i.e. clothes for riding horses when hunting, not what we generally mean by the term sportswear today). These aristocratic beginnings meant that the single-breasted jacket or blazer has long been looked on as relatively formal clothing.
Meanwhile, the double-breasted jacket has its origins in the reefer jacket or peacoat of European navies. And while these jackets were reserved for officers and petty officers, they were nonetheless items of workwear to be worn while on deck. As a result of these more humble workaday beginnings, for a long time, double-breasted jackets were considered too informal to be worn in a white-collar professional setting.
That was all a very long time ago though. And since then things have changed drastically. Indeed, the double-breasted suit is now considered more formal than a single-breasted one, and most people associate the DB look with the slick Wolf of Wall Street city traders of the 1980s. Hardly down-at-heel slobs in the dressing stakes.
A double-breasted suit can certainly be worn in financial circles and other office settings today. But it’s also appropriate to wear a DB jacket for numerous other occasions, too – from job interviews to weddings, and even for more casual social events. It all depends on how you style it.
We’ll get to styling in a minute. First, though, let’s look at the basics: just how should a double-breasted suit fit the wearer?
This is How a Double Breasted Suit Should Fit
If you’re already familiar with the correct fit of a single-breasted suit, much of that knowledge will serve you well here. There are a few unique points to consider with a DB suit though, and it’s always good to review those you already know anyway. So let’s break down the most important parts of the double-breasted suit one by one, starting at the bottom and working our way up.
Just a few years ago you would have been well advised to go for slim pants as part of your double-breasted suit. But fashions have shifted recently, and the trend is increasingly moving towards a looser, less-fitted silhouette.
To be clear, you don’t need to go all-out baggy. But the skin-tight, cropped-ankle look that was so popular for the last decade is well and truly over now.
Of course, not everyone wants their wardrobe to be overly dictated by fashion. And we’re still in something of a transitional stage anyway. So you can certainly get away with a moderately slim fit if that’s more your style. Just keep in mind, though, that if current trends continue in the same direction, you might not feel so comfortable with super slim pants in a couple of years' time.
The safest bet for those seeking longevity, then, is to go for a more classic cut. Neither too skinny nor excessively wide.
As is often the case when pants become looser, pleats have also come back in vogue. A couple of pleats will certainly make for an elegant yet comfortable fit. But nobody will look down on you today for sticking to flat-front pants if you prefer. Similarly, cuffed hems are something you can either take or leave according to personal taste.
Body Shape and Length
In line with the skinny fashions of the late Noughties and 2010s, double-breasted suit jackets have in recent years also trimmed down a lot from the loose and boxy fit of the ‘80s. As already mentioned, though, that tightly fitted silhouette is definitely on the wane now, and a more soft and slouchy cut is making a return to fashion. So if you want your double-breasted suit to stay relevant for many years to come, resist the temptation to go too slim.
With that said, one of the features that make a double-breasted jacket so flattering for the wearer is precisely that it accentuates the shoulders by pulling in the waist slightly. What’s more, a nipped waist will visually take a few pounds off the wearer. And a DB jacket that flares a little at the hips when the wearer’s hands are thrust into the trouser pockets can give a real look of sprezzatura.
This being the case, we advise against going for a totally straight up and down box cut. Whatever look you go for, though, if the vents flare open when the jacket is buttoned, or the lapels rise up in any way, then it’s very definitely too tight.
Due to the need to accommodate all those buttons and the larger lapels, double-breasted jackets tend to be a little longer than the single-breasted variety. Although the ideal length will vary to a degree depending upon the overall shape of the jacket and the height of the wearer.
Be wary of overly long jackets, however, especially if you are not all that tall yourself. The goal is always to create a good visual balance, so in part, it depends on the rest of the design. But as a rough guide, the bottom of the jacket should fall somewhere between halfway up your zipper at the highest, and, at the lowest point, just past the bottom of your crotch.
The Chest and Lapels
Traditionally, the lapels on a double-breasted jacket have tended to be much bigger than those on a single-breasted one. And while we’re not quite at the extravagant levels of a 1970s Tommy Nutter suit, lapel width is definitely edging wider again.
Really, though, with a modern double-breasted suit, you’re fairly free to choose how wide you want to go with your lapels. There’s definitely something quite flattering about the broad expanse of a wide lapel double-breasted jacket. But narrow ones can look equally elegant too.
In part, you may wish to choose based on your body type. If you’re fairly broad and stocky, wider lapels may be more flattering for your face. Meanwhile, those of a thinner build will often look better proportioned when wearing a jacket with slim lapels.
Either way, the lapels on a correctly fitting double-breasted jacket will lay flat and relaxed against your chest. Conversely, lapels that rise up or pull away from your body when you turn are a sign of a poorly fitting garment.
That’s all very well, but what kind of lapels should a double-breasted jacket have? Notch or peak?
A quick look at the DB suits around you or in stores will answer this question simply enough; they’ll likely all feature peak lapels. Indeed, the rule is that double-breasted jackets should always have peak lapels. And in the unlikely event that you ever find a notch lapel double-breasted jacket, most people would consider this to be a total abomination.
Now, formal menswear is full of archaic rules about what you should and should not do. Many of them apparently arbitrary, or the remnants of some long-lost social etiquette. In this case, though, the rule is simply based on good design; in order to remain elegant, the cross-body wrap of DB lapels really needs to end in the exaggerated elongated shape of a peak.
As with a single-breasted jacket, the fit of the shoulders is one of the most important elements of a DB suit. You could change virtually every other dimension of a jacket (save the sleeve length), and as long as the shoulders fit correctly you could argue that the jacket fits correctly overall. I.e. while many elements of a double-breasted jacket come down to fashion and personal taste, the shoulders must always fit your body perfectly. No matter what.
What this means in practice is that the shoulder seams should coincide with the natural shape of your body. If the jacket’s shoulders extend out beyond your own, the suit will look unflattering and perhaps even clownish – like a child wearing their father’s clothes. But if the shoulders are too tight, there will be a bulge at the top of the sleeve where your arm pushes the fabric out. You would also find it uncomfortable and difficult to move in the jacket, as the fabric would be pulled tight across the top of your back.
The collar is perhaps even more crucial to get right than the shoulders. Assuming there’s some extra fabric in the shoulder seams, a skilled alterations tailor should be able to adjust the fit of the shoulders slightly if necessary. But unless you’ve ordered a bespoke model, you can forget about changing the collar once a suit has been made: there’s simply no way of doing it without cutting the collar in half at the back of the neck, and this would be a very inelegant solution indeed. Clearly, then, the collar needs to fit 100% correctly right from the start.
The collar should curve snugly around the back of the neck, leaving only enough space for a shirt to fit underneath, There should certainly not be a gap between the collar of the shirt and that of the jacket, nor any bunching when you turn to the side. However, the jacket collar should be cut lower than the shirt collar, so that a centimeter or two of the shirt extends visibly above the jacket.
There is nothing unique to the design of the sleeves on a double-breasted suit, so everything you may already know about suit sleeves applies equally here. Beyond simply being roomy enough to provide easy movement yet slim enough to look elegant, the only real concern is the sleeve length. Here the rule is that your shirt cuff should hit at the root of, or at most just half an inch down, the ball of your thumb, and your jacket sleeve should be between a quarter and half an inch shorter than the shirt sleeve so that a little bit of shirt peaks out.
How many buttons you have at the cuff is entirely up to you; usually between three and five. And while the internet is filled with self-proclaimed style experts insisting that functioning buttonholes at the cuff are a sign of a quality garment, and consequently, any jacket that doesn’t button at the cuff is mass-produced garbage, in reality, you’ll find master Italian tailors who insist that the buttonholes at the cuff should never open. In short, it’s really not that important. Especially as you will never have any reason to unbutton them anyway, even if they can.
Double-breasted suits come with two columns of buttons, of which only one is actually functional – the other is purely decorative. On a man’s double-breasted suit, the functional column of buttons is the one on the wearer’s right.
Depending on the design of the jacket, each column will contain either two or three buttons (occasionally even four). Of these buttons, not all are functional either.
If you’re very tall, a three or four-button model (i.e. six or eight buttons in total) will likely suit you well. But shorter men may find a two (four in total) button jacket more flattering.
Generally, double-breasted suits look better when buttoned up. And unlike single-breasted suits, it’s considered normal to leave the jacket fastened when sitting down.
However, as high-end tailoring has undergone something of an edgy makeover and reinvention in recent years, it’s become increasingly common to see people – particularly very fashion-conscious people – wearing DB jackets open. In most cases, though, you can bet that the wearer has also combined his jacket with a t-shirt, sneakers, or other similarly casual attire. But if you will be wearing your double-breasted suit in a professional context where sneakers wouldn’t be acceptable, then assume that keeping it buttoned up is still the right way to go.
That’s all very well, but exactly how do you button a double-breasted suit?
How to Button a Double Breasted Suit
On a three-button jacket, the top button usually cannot be fastened at all, the middle one can and should, and just like with a single-breasted suit, the bottom one can be fastened but sartorial etiquette dictates that it never should be.
Well, we say “never,” but Prince Charles buttons his, so make of that what you will. Generally, though, the slight flaring of the bottom of the jacket as it’s pulled in by a single button at the waist makes for a much more stylish effect.
Two-button jackets (i.e. ones with four buttons in total) should only be buttoned using the top button. Four-button jackets vary, however. And depending on the design, the top two buttons may be purely decorative, or alternatively, the top button and the bottom button may not fasten while the middle two do. As a guide though, you should always be looking to fasten the jacket so that it is pulled in at the waist. So if in doubt, find the button nearest to your waist and fasten this one only.
In addition to the external buttons, there is also a single button on the inside of the jacket, on the left. This is often known as the jigger button, and it can be a bit fiddly to fasten. But do make use of it, as it will ensure that the bottom hems of the jacket line up nicely and stay flat.
How to Style a Double Breasted Suit
A double-breasted suit is already something of a statement in itself. That being the case, it usually works out better to leave the suit to do most of the talking by keeping your shirt, tie, and accessories under firm control. Start with your suit, and then choose other items that match well with it rather than compete.
True, visitors to the famed Pitti Uomo menswear even in Florence, Italy, are known for wearing some fairly outrageous outfits based around double-breasted tailoring, and featuring a whole slew of extravagant accessories. But these men are not known as “Pitti peacocks” for nothing. So unless you especially want to draw attention to yourself – and likely not for the right reasons either – we’d recommend avoiding extravagant ties, hats, rings, tiepins, and other chintzy baubles when dressing double-breasted.
A nice tie will always look great with a DB jacket. And if you’ll be wearing your double-breasted suit to a wedding or more casual event, perhaps you’ll want to add a pocket square, too, for an extra dash of color. But with all its buttons and the horizontal sash of the lapels, a DB jacket is already far fussier than the single-breasted variety, so there isn’t a need for much more accessorization than this.
For a really casual contemporary look, a pair of classic white tennis shoes and a matching white t-shirt under your DB jacket will always turn out extremely sharp. Or for cooler climes, it would be hard to go wrong when combining a double-breasted suit with a classy turtleneck sweater.
Although their popularity has waxed and waned throughout history, right now double-breasted suits are back in fashion and will be with us for quite some time yet. Having read our in-depth guide to DB suits, you not only know how a double-breasted suit should fit, but also when to wear one, and how to style it. Go knock ‘em dead!