How Formal Is My Suit: The Details

How Formal Is My Suit: The Details

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One of the most common things I get asked about is the formality of suits.  Both how formal a given suit is as well as how formal is it appropriate to make a certain suit.  And then on the other hand, how to make a suit less formal and how appropriate is a less formal suit for any given situation.  To help some of you guys I think it may be wise to review some of the more prominent details of suits, as well as the ones that have the most influence on the formality of a jacket.  Which, coincidentally or not, are many of the things that we have control over when customizing our suits at any given made to measure or custom shop.

I am of the opinion that there are three things that determine a suit’s formality, or lack thereof.  The first is fabric, the second is the cut and the third is the details.  For now, let’s focus on the details of a suit and leave the cut and fabric for later posts.  Loosely speaking, the closer to the face a detail sits, the more of an influence it has on the formality of a jacket.  Although all of the details contribute to the overall feel and formality of the jacket.

Sometimes you will hear people refer to jackets and suits as city jackets or country jackets.  That is because some details are primarily used on one type of jacket (look for notes in parentheses), which often has to do with the origins of any given characteristic.  It is important to note that ‘city’ and ‘country’ details do not need to be kept apart.  Many times it is more fun and interesting to mix the two. As you will see in a few of the jackets pictured.

For this post, let’s keep things as simple as possible and denote what is more formal by a simple < or > equation.  Yes, we are talking about tailored menswear using 5th grade math terminology.  For example, the first detail below, ‘Double breasted > Single breasted’.  Read this as a double breasted jacket is more formal than a single breasted jacket.  You should get the idea.

Double breasted > Single breasted

Peak lapels (city) > Notch lapels.  Shawl collar is for dinner and smoking jackets

Besom pockets (city) > Flapped pockets > Patch pockets (country)

For single breasted jackets: 1 button > 2 button > 3 button

Straight pockets > Slanted (hacking) pockets (country)

No ticket pocket > Ticket pocket (country)

No vent (city) > Side vents > Center vent

Now let’s discuss three examples have been showcased on the blog and Instagram recently.  For purposes of this discussion focus only on the details, not the fabric.  The jacket up top is the most formal of the three jackets pictured in the post.  It has peak lapels and a one button front, which are both very formal.  Although the pockets are flapped hacking pockets, they are overpowered by the lapels and button.  But what about the other two jackets?

how formal is a suit
This jacket is the least formal of the three.  It has the most common combination of characteristics on it, all of which are moderately formal and easy to wear; notch lapels, two buttons and straight flap pockets.
This is the middle
This jacket is the middle of the three.  It has the peak lapels which give it some significant formality.  The flapped hacking pockets serve to dress down the jacket, whereas the 2 buttons balance things out nicely.

Questions, comments and thoughts; hit the comments section.  Or just feel free share the details you like to have on your jackets.

JLJ

7 COMMENTS

  1. For those of us on this side of the ‘Pond’, you have it almost totally the wrong way around. Peaked lapels should never be worn on a single breasted suit (or jacket) except for Black Tie. The only people who would do so are spivs,gangsters and ‘celebs’, all people we would do well not to imitate.

    Besom pockets are good for the Duke of Edinburgh, otherwise flapped.

    One button means you got your suit at Huntsman or, more likely, you want everyone to think you did. Otherwise there is no hierarchy, except that it is a crime to do up the top button on a three-button suit and the bottom button ever.

    Two vents are better than one and none can just about be got away with on a double breasted.

    Ticket pockets are more formal than without.

    Forget the two countries divided by a common language quote, we spend too long bickering about sumptuary edicts to get there!

    • Peak lapels should never be worn on a single breasted suit? That is the first time I’ve ever heard that. I’ve read many books on men’s wear and have never read or heard of that. Personally I really like peak lapels on single breasted suits. If you look at Tom Ford suits you’ll see that he is a big fan of them. Personally I like the peak lapels to sit high, closer to the top of the shoulder than lower.
      Here is a quote from Permanent Style about your comment about no peak labels on single breasted suits “only the relatively inexperienced will tell you it is a ‘rule’ that SBs must have notch lapels (or indeed black tie have peak lapels)”

  2. Peaked lapels might be interesting whereever, regardless who else wears them. One button is Independent of Huntsman, Independent of what others think, is aesthetically very interesting. Two or one vent is a question of riding. Ticket pockets are ornamental and by no means formal.

  3. None of this applies in the country I live in. While is is a developed, western, affluent society, suits are increasingly dispensed with even in the office. The same with ties. Most business types plod around in shirt sleeves with no tie. I suspect most if not all of these details are largely irrelevant in most walks of life even in cities such as London and NY. They certainly are in Milan, Madrid and Paris. I can’t imagine even so-called sophisticated types would raise an eye brow if you had a ticket pocket in the suit jacket you wore to work – or otherwise. These articles are written by bloggers and clothes horses who embrace dressing up as a hobby.

  4. The formality of ticket pockets is an interesting one. I often ask people why they think a ticket pocket is for the “country”, when they state it as you have here. More recent fashion in the US has paired ticket pockets with hacking pockets, which would imply “riding” or other country pursuits. One person argued that since covert coats have ticket pockets and they derive from country wear. Ticket pockets are for country wear.

    Naive, Jr. says that they are ornamental and by no means formal.

    I generally disagree. At worst, tickets pockets are for your train tickets, explaining why they are on a covert coat. At best, they are for your theatre or opera tickets, making one appropriate for a business suit or even black tie (never white, though).

    Thoughts?

    • Robert,
      I concur with you on the ticket pocket as use for train ticket. That is what I always read about their purpose being. But never thought about them for use for theater tickets, perhaps naively so. That said, I think they are totally fine for business suits, despite their origins as a country detail. I have seen them on dinner jackets, but don’t particularly like them there. I like the less cluttered look that you get without the ticket pocket. Additionally, I have always thought that the upward facing pleats were traditionally used for theater tickets, which would make the ticket pocket redundant. Unless of course one is wearing a waistcoat, but even those may have pockets.
      -Justin

  5. It’s worth noting, although this article is specifically about suits, that the DB > SB rule is reversed for black tie.

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