Worn by stylish gents of the 1930s-40s, the double breasted jacket is a garment that just screams “vintage”. It’s still popular today among bespoke/classic menswear enthusiasts, but it still largely avoided by the mainstream menswear community. It could be the fact that it’s pretty hard to find good ones out in the wild. I’m here to tell you that this piece is worth the investment. It’s just so great.
The Double Breasted Jacket
As the name states, the double breasted refers to the fact that the jacket is closed by two overlapping panels of fabric, creating a symmetrical look with the same amount of buttons on each side. Yes, this extra layer could mean that they are “warmer than other jackets” but DBs can be found in a variety of fabrics, from tweed to linen.
Contrary to popular belief, DB suits and jackets have been around since the early 1920s. However, they were definitely not cut like the ones we know. Like other suits of the era, they were really slim, with a long body, semi-flared skirt, and had a high buttoning stance.
In general, DBs were NOT baggy or boxy as most people think; the double breasted suit was a well fitting staple of a suit during the time. Just look at how well it fits on Cary Grant, circa 1930. In fact, most suits from the 1930s-40s had pretty spot on tailoring. If you update the fit of the trousers, you probably couldn’t tell what era it’s from.
Over the years, the DB has definitely changed designs. After becoming “classic” in teh 1930’s, the 1940s and 1950s tried to give it a new bold look, with padded shoulders and a dropped button stance. I’m not a big fan of this since I don’t think it’s exactly that flattering.
During the 1960’s, DBs began to fall out of favor, since they were typically worn by the “older generation”. The prevalence for ivy style (single breasted 3-roll-2 soft jackets and flat front trousers) could also attribute to this. It wasn’t until the 1980’s did the DB come back, but only as the dying shell of what it once was; the DB was baggy, heavily shoulder padded, and had an unflattering button stance. Now, the DB has made a second appearance, favoured by gentlemen of all types, like the young and stylish Perkins Bien Aime and the seasoned Alessandro Squarzi . The new DB now has a cropped length and small lapels, something that I’m not a fan of.
Distinct types of DBs are usually called by number. The first number refers to total buttons and the second refers to the buttons that you actually fasten. Here’s some good examples:
Others like the 6×1 or 4×1 (or even 8×2) should be avoided unless you’re a dandy (and I mean that with the highest regard) and you have a great tailor that can make it look right. Usually you’ll see these variations on 80’s and 90’s jackets, which further adds to the bad view on the DB.
Picking the Right One
The main complaint of the DB is that it doesn’t look good on larger people and that people aren’t tall enough for it. My response is that those complaints could be used for anything. And just like with all forms of clothing, you need tailoring to make sure it looks good.
A double breasted jacket should fit the same way as a normal jacket should. Shoulders should fit, the jacket should be snug without being tight, and it should end right about where your crotch “ends” on your pants. Simply put, it needs to actually fit.
Additionally, you need to make sure the the “V” shape that the jacket creates when it is closed is moderate or high. A low gorge is very dated, like the 1980’s example. If you’re buying online (eBay or Etsy), just see where the bottom button lies in relation to the pocket. You’re good to go if it’s on the same plane as the pocket; if it’s lower, then the V will be pretty dropped, making for a gros 1980s-90s look.
Your next step is to find a nice size of lapel.
Wide peak lapels are an absolute must for a DB. Never get a DB with a notch lapel (save the shawl one for a dandy tuxedo). Typically a DB has wide lapels, and you want to keep it that way, as I think it emphasizes the figure more. Anything small and skimpy will go immediately out of fashion in a few years, as these fashion DB’s are already on the way out. In general, small lapels will make you look larger (in a bad way), since it has smaller visual “V” and doesn’t cover as much space on your body. Keep it classic with a wide lapel. I prefer anything over 3.5″.
Where To Get Them
It’s hard to find DB’s with the right amount of aesthetics, especially when all we have are mall brands. From what I remember, Zara has no peak, H&M doesn’t carry it, and J. Crew is too small. If you want to keep things contemporary, my first suggestion is to go Made-To-Measure. It can be cheap and pretty effective when finding a good DB. I have tried Indochino twice and I like their treatment of the lapel, thoug their fit can be quite”meh”. I’ve also tried Vulture Suits, but the quality of the fabric (as well as construction) are meh as well. Still, if you’re after aesthetics only, it can be worth a shot.
The other option is to go through SuitSupply. They make half-canvassed suits and blazers in contemporary styles for a great price. While they have lapels with a big belly (large, rounded lapel instead of sharp), they are large enough to work. Obviously the fabrics and design are more contemporary than we’d like, but it’s serviceable.
Additionally, you can always go vintage, though try to pay attention to the the cut. Jackets from the 30s-40s have a drape cut and padded shoulders, so it can be hard to wear them today. There are a few that I’ve found that are unstructured, but they can be pretty rare to find. Keep your eyes open for them!
In general, vintage DBs will be the best bet, as ones from the 1930s to the early 1940s will have the perfect lapel; they are wide, horizontal and the button stance is classic. Remember to avoid the bold look.
2017 Notes: Or you can always go bespoke or MTM from some high end brands. Ring Jacket makes a good model through their collaboration with the Armoury. B&Tailor and Sartoria Dalcuore are also some of my favorites.
Why It’s Great
The first noticeable thing that you get when you have a great fitting DB is that it perfectly accents your body. Large peak lapels, pointing slightly upward, accent any body type. Whether you are skinny or have a larger chest, the large lapels will cover most of your body and give a literal sharp visual V down your body, making you look broader and slimmer. It won’t matter if you’re short or tall, it all works. Nothing beats that amount of power (the single breasted peak lapel is close though).
Secondly, thanks to its almost pariah status, you will definitely stand out with a double breasted suit or jacket. It’s a bit more intentional than a single breasted jacket, since it definitely goes against the grain. Just note that it may be a while before the DB goes fully mainstream like the Golden Era again. Some instagram gents definitely have rocked the DB, but I find that their stuff is a little too fashion-y for me, thanks to their cropped length and short lapels. We prefer to do more classic styling here.
Now, you can definitely wear your DB a variety of ways: you can go with a full suit or just a blazer! Most guys have this image that the double breasted suit is the most formal type of jacket but that simply isn’t true. Guys have been wearing it whenever it suits them, making them up in “casual fabrics” like flannel, tweed, or linen. You’ll get all the great effects of the DB no matter what your style, whether its formal, casual, or in between. That’s the Street x Sprezza way.
DB Inspiration from Us
Let’s look at some classic DB looks from our archives! As you can see, you can dress them up or down. People may say that you have to keep it fastened the entire time but you don’t have to follow that rule. It can still look good when it’s unfastened!
2017 Update: Okay, some of these outfits are old, but I’m keeping them here as inspiration for some of you. There are some new pictures though!
I really suggest that all you gents try the DB! It’s certainly an eye-catcher that can work for many body types.
Let me know what you think! Will you take the leap and do it? Or are you a single breasted type of guy?
Always a pleasure,