The double-breasted suit goes in and out of fashion, and while it has not been a part of mainstream fashion since the early 1990s, it is currently popular with a more fashion-forward crowd. With two columns of buttons compared to the single-breasted jacket’s one, the double-breasted jacket has extra variables that define its style.
This article will not be covering aspects of jackets that do not specifically have to do with a double-breasted jacket. Shoulders, drape, waist suppression and lapel shape all have a significant impact on the look of a double-breasted jacket, but they are not unique to the double-breasted jacket as the number and arrangement of buttons, the wrap and the lapel width.
Primary Buttoning Styles
The double-breasted jacket is primarily defined by not only how many buttons it fastens with, but also by how many decorative show buttons it has. The buttoning style is determined by the number of fastening buttons on the wearer’s right, and the number of show buttons is determined by the total number of buttons on the wearer’s left. For example, a double-breasted jacket that has a total of six buttons, with two that are able to fasten on the right and three decorative buttons down the left side is called a “button two, show three”. This style may also be called a “6×2”, which means there are total of six buttons and two buttons on the right side that can fasten. The number of fastening buttons on a double-breasted jacket are counted only on the right side and do not count the buttons on the opposite side too. A double-breasted jacket has show buttons on the wearer’s left for symmetry.
Like single-breasted jackets, double-breasted jackets may fasten with any number of buttons. One and two fastening buttons are most common, but three and four fastening buttons are also traditional styles. The following styles are the primary styles of double-breasted jackets that fasten with two, one and three buttons, respectively. These are also the double-breasted styles that James Bond wears.
1A. Button Two, Show Three (6×2)
The 6×2 double-breasted jacket is the standard for a double-breasted jacket. This is the most traditional, most popular and most timeless of all double-breasted jacket styles. It works for suits, blazers, dinner jackets and dressier overcoats.
This is also the most balanced of all double-breasted styles. The top of the two fastening buttons is placed at the waist to draw in the jacket at the narrowest part, while buttons are placed below and above the waist for balance. When there is only one row of two buttons at the waistline, the buttons are in an unflattering horizontal line. When a second row of two buttons is added below the waist, the jacket looks bottom-heavy. So a row of vestigial buttons above the waist are added. The buttons are placed further apart that the fastening buttons to follow the V-shape of the opening and to make the waist look smaller. The buttons placed further apart at the top also mimic how a jacket would spread open if the top buttons were aligned with the rest to be able to fasten (a 6×3 configuration) but left unfastened.
The top button of the fastening two may be fastened, or both buttons may be fastened. With a soft construction, the jacket may also be fastened only at the bottom button if the lapels can roll over the top button.
1B. Button One, Show Two (4×1)
This classic style removes the bottom row of buttons from the 6×2 and the remaining buttons are usually lowered so that the jacket buttons below the waist. Sometimes the bottom row is left at the waist, which can make the jacket look top-heavy but fasten at a more natural place. By placing the bottom row of buttons below the waist, the jacket looks more balanced and the lapel line is lengthened for a more flattering look. But a lower button stance looks more relaxed and will place less emphasis on the waist because the buttons will not be at the narrowest part of the body. A button stance that is too low can make the jacket, along with the wearer, look saggy.
In this 4×1 style, the buttons are placed in a keystone formation, with the top buttons placed further apart than the lower buttons to emphasize the exaggerated V-shape of this style. This also mimics a fully button-able 4×2 with the top buttons left open The 4×1 is the most traditional style for a double-breasted dinner jacket, but it is also acceptable for suits and blazers. This style is also associated most with continental tailoring and the 1980s, but tailors all over the world in all eras make use of this style. Roger Moore’s tailor for his 1980s James Bond films, Douglas Hayward, preferred this style, and not just because it was popular at the time. Moore wears a suit and a dinner jacket in this style in Octopussy and A View to a Kill, respectively.
The 4×1 is often called the “Kent” because it mimicks how the Duke of Kent fastened his double-breasted jackets. The Duke of Kent, along with the Duke of Windsor, fastened their four-button double-breasted jackets at the bottom, but theirs usually had two fastening buttons (4×2) instead of one. When they leave the top button unfastened, the jacket spreads apart at the top to create a keystone look even though their buttons are sewn in a rectangular formation.
Because the 4×1 has fewer buttons than the 6×2, it can be more flattering on shorter men because it breaks up the body less.
1C. Button Three, Show Three (6×3)
This is a naval-inspired double-breasted jacket that is ideal for blazers, such as the blazers that George Lazenby wears in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that Roger Moore wears in The Man with the Golden Gun. It is an older style of double-breasted jacket that was popular in the Edwardian Era. Besides blazers, it also works well for suits, but it is most commonly seen on overcoats and pea coats because the high buttoning wears warm. This jacket buttons high on the chest, and because of that it can look blocky and unflattering on shorter and heavier men.
All three buttons may be fastened, or alternatively the top two buttons or only the middle button may be fastened.
Alternate Buttoning Styles
2A. Button One, Show One (2×1)
This is a minimalist style that is good for dinner jackets as well as for more fashion-forward suits and other jackets. The single row of buttons on this jacket is either placed at the waist or below the waist. Because there are two buttons on a horizontal line, it tends to widen the body and works best with a narrow wrap. The horizontal emphasis on this jacket makes it one of the least popular double-breasted styles. When the buttons are placed below the waist, it widens the hips rather than the waist and creates a longer lapel line to make up for widening effect of the buttons.
Roger Moore wears this style when aiming for a more fashion-forward look in The Man Who Haunted Himself. His buttons are placed at the waist.
2B. Button Two, Show Two (4×2)
This style is similar to the traditional 6×2 style but lacks the vestigial buttons. It works well on blazers and sports coats with a patch breast pocket, since there is no button taking up real estate in that area. On jackets with an ordinary welt breast pocket, the space can look empty and the jacket can look unbalanced and bottom-heavy with four buttons at the waist and below. However, this is still a traditional style, particularly for those who don’t like vestigial buttons. Top buttons on the 6×2 remind some people of nipples, and if that is the case the 4×2 is a fine alternative. It also works well with narrow lapels because higher buttons can compete with narrow lapels. There is more on this below.
Either the top button may be fastened or both buttons may be fastened. The bottom button alone can be fastened if the jacket has a soft construction. The Duke of Windsor and the Duke of Kent preferred this style, and they only fastened theirs at the bottom. A soft construction on their jackets allowed the lapel to roll over the top button when it was not in use.
2C. Button One, Show Three (6×1)
The 6×1 is based on the 4×1, just with an extra row of vestigial buttons. This style always fastens below the waist, and the buttons are placed in a keystone formation to follow the deep V-shape of the lapels. It was a fashionable double-breasted style from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, when the button stance was placed extra-low. This style is able to take a lower button stance than 4×1 because there are more buttons to fill the space. The low fastening creates a long lapel line, which can be flattering on a shorter man, but if it fastens too low the leg line will appear shortened and the torso will look awkwardly proportioned.
2D. Button Three, Show Four (8×3)
This is a naval-influenced style, but having vestigial buttons at the top instead of functional like on a true naval uniform (the 8×4) brings this into civilian territory. The style is highly unusual, but it gives a regal look to a navy blazer. Emilio Largo in Thunderball and Prince Charles wear this style on navy blazers.
Of the three fastening buttons on this style, all three or only the top two may be fastened.
2E. Button Four, Show Four (8×4)
This is the style of the naval officer’s uniform, such as James Bond’s Royal Navy commander’s uniform. This style should be avoided for jackets in civilian dress, but it can work for an overcoat, such as the bridge coat that Daniel Craig wears in Spectre.
All four buttons on this jacket should be fastened.
Wrap is the amount of overlap in the front of a double-breasted jacket, and it determines how far apart the two columns of buttons are spaced. Narrower wraps look more modern, though Edwardian double-breasted suits also had narrow wraps. Wider wraps look more old-fashioned and give off a 1920s or 1930s vibe. A narrower wrap brings the look of a double-breasted suit closer to the look of a single-breasted suit. A narrower wrap can make the waist look narrower and the wearer look taller, while a wider wrap can make the waist look wider and the wearer look shorter. This is because a narrower wrap creates a more vertical shape down the front of the jacket and has a greater difference with the width of the lapels and the shoulders. A wide wrap makes the front of the jacket look broader.
With a wrap that is too narrow, the slimming effect can backfire. The jacket will look wider because there will be too much space on the sides of the jacket.
Double-breasted jackets almost always have peaked lapels. Peaked lapels are also known as pointed lapels or double-breasted lapels, and they have the latter name because they are the standard type of lapel on a double-breasted jacket. Notched lapels occasionally find themselves on double-breasted jackets, and shawl collars are a traditional option for the double-breasted dinner jacket and are standard on double-breasted smoking jackets. Peaked lapels are the standard for double-breasted jackets because they best balance the double-breasted cut. They provide extra weight and presence on top to balance the square and closed cut of the bottom of a double-breasted jacket. Notched lapels on a double-breasted jacket make the chest look weak in comparison to a heavy-looking bottom.
Rather than discuss the effects of different styles of lapels on a double-breasted jacket, it makes more sense to examine how the width of a double-breasted lapel affects the look of a double-breasted jacket. While lapel width is an important aspect of single-breasted and double-breasted jackets alike, it has a unique effect on the double-breasted jacket.
Double-breasted jackets look more balanced with wider lapels than single-breasted jackets do, and this is because a double-breasted jacket has more bulk in its lower half than a single-breasted jacket has. The double-breasted jacket does not have the cutaway that a single-breasted jacket has, the double-breasted jacket has an extra layer of cloth, and the double-breasted jacket has more buttons. Lapel width affects the visual balance of a double-breasted jacket more than it does a single-breasted jacket, and the wrap has something to do with it.
The Relationship of Wrap and Lapel Width
Wrap and lapel width are not correlated, but they need to balance each other. Narrow lapels work best with a narrow wrap (Figure 5A) to achieve the ideal V-shape. The top buttons should not be spread wider than the distance between the lapel points. If the wrap is too wide for the lapel width, the jacket looks unbalanced and bottom-heavy. Figure 4A shows narrow lapels on a jacket with a wrap that is too wide, and the emphasis is placed incorrectly on the top buttons because they have the same spread as the lapel points. This configuration looks unbalanced and can be fixed with wider lapels or a narrower wrap. It can also be fixed by removing the top buttons and making the jacket a 4×2, which better ensures that no buttons are spaced wider than the lapel points and the jacket achieves a V-shape.
A wider wrap needs wide lapels (Figure 5B) for balance. But wide lapels can also look good with a narrow wrap because the V-shape of the jacket is accentuated. Roger Moore’s double-breasted jackets in The Man with the Golden Gun have a narrow wrap to accentuate his waist, but they have wide lapels. The overall effect is an exaggerated V-shape that makes him look more masculine.
A V-shape is always the shape to aim for with a double-breasted jacket. Unlike the single-breasted jacket’s natural Y- or X-shape, a double-breasted jacket that is poorly designed could have a more rectangular or A-shape that looks unflattering. The relationship between the wrap and lapel width must ensure that the jacket has a V-shape.