Anatomy of a 3 Piece Suit, Part I: Jacket and Waistcoat Guide
Like most professions, suit tailoring has its own terminology. From peak lapels to boutonniere loops and from patch pockets to double vents, connoisseurs break down each suit into components to describe its key characteristics.
Whether you are new to 3 piece suits or someone who just buys the ones that “feel good”, you may want to delve a bit deeper into their anatomy. Understanding the basic elements of a suit’s structure will not only help you figure out where your personal style lies and what works for your frame, but it will also facilitate explaining any alteration requirements to your tailor, as you will both be speaking the same language.
This is why we’ve put together a suit guide, describing the basic elements of the most elaborate creation in men’s fashion. In the first part of this two-part series, we will focus on the jacket but you will find that most of the terms also apply to waistcoats.
Jacket and waistcoat style details you need to know
A suit jacket is built from different pieces and requires structural support in order to keep its shape over time. To achieve this, tailors sew a canvas, usually made of horsehair, between the wool and lining. This creates full canvas suits but the process is time consuming and expensive. On the other end of the spectrum, fused jackets come with a cheaper interlining, which is glued on. This may, over time, result in loss of shape and little bubbles forming under the fabric. A cost/benefit compromise is the half canvas suit where a canvas is sewn on the chest and lapels only. Using the latest advances in suit manufacturing, our GOLD collection suits come with a full canvas, not only because it’s a sign of superior tailoring and quality but because it offers a number of structural advantages. Full canvas suits have a sharper shape and naturally adapt to their owner’s figure so the more you wear them, the better they look. Additionally, because of this internal support, full canvas suits last longer giving you value for money and protecting our planet’s resources.
2. Single-breasted and double-breasted
Check out the buttons at the front of any jacket. If you see them arranged in a single “column”, it’s single-breasted. If you see 4, 6 or 8 buttons arranged in two columns, which means that the overlapping area is bigger, then it’s double-breasted. Double-breasted suits were traditionally considered more formal but the fashion world has changed its mind lately and they can be seen in a variety of settings. Choosing either option is mostly a matter of personal preference and trending style but, whichever one you go for, always leave the bottom button undone.
These are the two folded flaps at the front of your jacket or waistcoat and they come in three different styles. The notched lapel is sewn to the collar at an angle, creating an indentation or step, whereas peak lapels protrude from the collar and point upwards. Peak lapels are common in double-breasted suits and are considered more formal but, as with the single and double-breasted jackets, let your personal style be your guide in choosing. Finally, shawl lapels mostly appear in tuxedos and mess jackets and they are a continuation of the collar, so they are curved with no indentations or pointy edges. Although you might think that waistcoat lapels are less important, because they can’t be seen under the jacket, don’t forget that you might take your jacket off in the office or in warm weather. This is why Aristocracy London waistcoats come in a variety of notch, peak and shawl lapels that stand out, even without the jacket.
4. Lapel buttonhole
Most jackets have one on the left, which used to come with a corresponding button on the right to protect against the elements. The button eventually disappeared and, now, some manufacturers just do the stitching on the left but without an actual hole. High-end suits though will not only have a hole there, for a boutonniere or pin, but will go one step further: look at the back of the left lapel on our GOLD collection suits and you will find two loops to help secure your boutonniere in place.
Check the bottom half of any jacket’s back and you will probably find one or two slits. These are the vents and they are there to ensure that you can move around freely. The “American” single vent jacket, with one slit in the centre, is common and comfortable but “English style” double vents, with a slit on either side, are a sign of superior tailoring and prevent wrinkling even when you keep your hands in your jacket pockets. Nowadays, many slim jackets come with no vents whatsoever. This is considered an old Hollywood, and somewhat “Italian”, style but only really works when you stand perfectly still, as any movement causes extensive wrinkling. We advise you to make double vent jackets your first choice, as you may find the others limiting, especially for long days in the office when you want to look good but also feel comfortable.
We all know what pockets are but they come in many different styles. Patch pockets are exactly what the word says, a patch of fabric sewn externally on the jacket. The opposite is internal pockets where you can only see a single (welt) or double (jetted) trimming with the latter considered to be more formal. Flap pockets are also internal but with a flap over the slit to keep the contents dry. Talking about pockets, some jackets have two pockets on one side. The second one, known as the “ticket pocket” is smaller and usually comes with a flap. Although it was initially used for coins, it then became a popular place to keep train tickets and retrieve them easily. Today, it’s mainly used for business cards, especially in settings where you have to procure them quickly and often.
7. Sleeve buttons
There are three characteristics that you should look out for. The first one is their number, which ranges between 1 and 5, with fewer buttons being the trending style that is yet to prove it’s not a passing fad. Anything above 3 is classic and, therefore, timeless. The second characteristic is their functionality. In the olden days, all men wore jackets and it was considered slightly inappropriate to take them off, even when working in the fields or performing surgery, so it was important to be able to unbutton and roll up the jacket sleeves. Although there is no longer a practical requirement for functional buttons, or surgeon’s cuffs as they are also called, good quality suits will have them and many gentlemen will leave the last button undone to signal their style awareness. The last thing to look out for is the distance between buttons. If they are spaced apart, they are called “non-kissing” as opposed to “kissing” buttons which touch lightly. There are also “kissing” buttons that overlap and these are called “stacked” or “waterfall” buttons.
We hope you found this first part of our suit anatomy series useful. In fact, why not check out the second part on suit trousers and share them both on social media to show your friends and followers that you are a man who knows his vents and cuffs? And don’t forget to check out our collection and test your knowledge with the unique details of each one of our 3 piece suits.