Let’s face it: the double-breasted blazer has its work cut out for it. While there have always been guys who make it look cool, there are also stuffy politicians, irksome preppy posh boys, old school gangsters and high-powered 1980s bankers giving the double-breasted suit a bad name. Fortunately, fashion-forward guys like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling and the inimitable David Beckham have brought the look back and transformed it for the 21st century. Double-breasted blazers are now back on top of the trends list, looking fresher and cooler than ever.
Before we get into the brave new world of contemporary double-breasted suits, let’s go back to the beginning and figure out what got us here in the first place. Because a wise woman once said the beginning is a very good place to start.
Buttons and buttonholes came into fashion in the 13th and 14th centuries, when tailored clothing replaced draped and pinned garments like cloaks. The new construction necessitated a row of buttons that held the inside and outside layers of fabric together. To maintain the symmetry of the garment, a matching row of buttons was added on the opposite side. By the 1800s, frock coats were in fashion and came in both single- and double-breasted styles. As long coats gave way to shorter jackets in the late 19th century, the double-breasted style took on a more familiar form. The double-breasted jacket as we know it today originated from naval reefer jackets, more commonly known as pea coats.
The term “double-breasted” refers to a coat or jacket with two parallel columns of buttons and overlapping front flaps. The typical double-breasted blazer has one to four rows of buttons, only one or two of which are functional. A “number-on-number” structure is used to describe the construction of a specific jacket, in which the first number is the total number of buttons and the second number is the number of fastening buttons below the lapel.
So, for example, in the case of the original double-breasted jacket with six buttons total and three to close, the term “six-on-three” would be used. Another functional button, called the jigger or anchor button, is concealed inside to hold the overlapped layers together and strengthen the fastening. The lapels are most often peaked, and the left lapel typically fastens over the right.
How To Wear Double Breasted Suits
As much as we love that the double-breasted look is back in style, we know it isn’t the easiest to wear. Double-breasted jackets are best suited to leaner men. Those with more meat on their bones are visually widened by the double-breasted structure, creating an unflattering optical illusion. However, if you’ve got the build for it, a double-breasted suit emphasizes the broad shoulders/narrow waist silhouette considered the male ideal.
In contrast to their predecessors, today’s double-breasted blazers are sleekly tailored and cut shorter. The jacket skims the body but doesn’t hug it, and the armholes are cut higher to create a cleaner look. The shoulders are natural, soft and tailored rather than sharp and bulky. All in all, it makes for a double-breasted suit that retains its original sense of elegance while embracing modern minimalism. Here’s how to rock it:
Double Breasted Occasions
Can you really wear a double-breasted suit on the regular if you’re not an extra on Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire? It’s a tricky look to pull off every day, except for the most confident and stylish, but it’s certainly worth at least occasional wear. On a basic level, the double-breasted suit is appropriate anywhere you’d don a single-breasted suit. Some may consider it slightly more formal, however, and it’s universally recognized as the choice with more flair. With that in mind, you may want to stick to single-breasted jackets for conservative occasions and locations. But when it comes time to cut loose and show off your sartorial mastery, like a party or a night out with the lads, the double-breasted blazer is a daring departure from the single-breasted status quo.
These days, the most common button constructions are 6×2 and 4×2. The former is the easier of the two options, so start there if you’re new to the double-breasted blazer. To wear it, fasten the middle button while leaving the bottom undone, and keep it that way regardless of whether you’re standing or sitting. The anchor button should also remain fastened at all times. If you’re going the 4×2 route, fasten the top button and the anchor button and, again, keep them both closed at all times.
As big of a statement as the double-breasted jacket makes, it can still be worn casually. The easiest way to dress down the DB is to wear it with chinos or dark denim. If your double-breasted jacket is part of a suit, split it into separates. As a general rule, the more unstructured the jacket, the more casual it is. A Henley or other lightweight tee and rugged work boots complete a double-breasted look that’s chic but dressed down.
Fool’s Tip: The double breasted jacket needs to be done up unless seated.
Designers Rocking It Best
Plenty of designers have hopped on the trend for revamped, modern double-breasted jackets, but of course we have a few favourites. At the top end of the scale are Brioni and Zegna, two luxury Italian fashion houses who never disappoint when it comes to suits. Both have been in business since the first half of the 20th century, and count impressive names like Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Al Pacino and human hairpiece Donald Trump (actually, scratch that last one) amongst their clientele. For something more affordable that doesn’t sacrifice style, try Hugo Boss or Suitsupply.