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Double-breasted: Harmony v balance

1 June 2009

doubl-breast-hb


I read a discussion recently between sartorialists on whether a double-breasted suit should have cuffs on the trousers or not. Of course there were some declarations about it being a rule that they should, but as with all rules they are subjective and vary geographically. The important thing is to understand the reason behind the rule.

[If you haven’t read them already, you can hear my views on similar rules such as wearing brown in town, white after Labor Day and trousers without a break.]

Having trouser cuffs fits the aesthetic and tradition of a double-breasted suit; it creates harmony. Not having cuffs balances this tradition with something cleaner and more modern; it creates equilibrium. It’s up to you which you want.

A double-breasted suit is generally perceived as being more old-fashioned, and as a result worn by older gentlemen. It is also perceived as being more serious and business-like, particularly in a pinstripe. I’m not saying I agree with these perceptions, but they exist.

And, as with many questions of style, how an outfit is perceived (by either lay or stylish men) is central to its success, whether people admit it or not. A trend is merely a question of mass perception, and propriety, after all. Even if that trend lasts 20 years.

A double-breasted suit is also more bulky than a single-breasted suit and less flattering for shorter or broader men. This is not a question of perception. It is rational: the more horizontal lines and breaks in the material there are, the more the impression of height is lost.

So the question of whether to have trouser cuffs with your double-breasted suit (or which one to buy, for those without access to bespoke) could be rephrased as whether you want to match the aesthetics of the jacket to those of the trouser.

A young man buying his first double-breasted suit would probably not want a six-button jacket and cuffed trousers in a navy chalk stripe. He should go for a slightly more modern version of that ensemble – in a herringbone, perhaps, with four or even two buttons. Yet the chalk stripe might be the objet du désir for a man 10-years older, with a penchant for grandfather clocks and upholding tradition.

Equally, you might feel that you want to find balance for a very traditional shirt and tie (a contrast collar and knitted spot tie, say) with more modern aspects to the suit. Or you want an ultra-traditional suit because the handkerchiefs will be rather wild. The picture above is of a relatively conservative cut (and cuffs). But the shirt, tie and other accessories are certainly not.

Don’t be bound by the rules. If you understand them they will break softly and pleasingly.