Recently, the double-breasted suit spent a good while in the wilderness. We vividly recall American GQ making a big thing of it when, in 2011, they featured a DB on the cover for the first time in 13 years. “The double-breasted jacket has come back in a big way this year,” they crowed, encouraging readers brave enough to adopt double-breasted suiting, “if you see a fellow DB’er in the street, shake his hand. After all, you’re part of a movement.” No longer such a bold sartorial statement (nor indeed, the mark of belonging to a ‘movement’), the DB is now utterly mainstream — as it has been at regular intervals over the past century-plus.
The style has its origins, as with so many menswear staples, in the military. In the late 19th century, gentlemen took to wearing coats stylistically similar to naval reefer jackets during more casual moments (at leisure in the country or en route to the tennis court, perhaps), but the garment was initially considered far too informal for the office or other dressy settings. This changed, in no small part due to the DB’s championing by the Prince of Wales (later, the Duke of Windsor), in the 1920s and ’30s. Leading British tailor Timothy Everest says, “The Golden Era for the double-breasted suit was the ’30s, between the two World Wars, where everyone lived a bit larger than life. At the time, the heightened elegance of the double-breasted suit fitted perfectly.”
With the Second World War, the double-breasted suit became a rare bird indeed, as textile shortages led the British government to proscribe such profligate use of cloth. A notable wartime appearance of the DB came in the classic 1942 film, Casablanca, where Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine sports a beautiful ivory shawl-lapel dinner jacket. Like fellow vertically-challenged DB proponents Fred Astaire and the Duke of Windsor, Bogart time and again disproved the common belief that a double-breasted jacket is ill-suited to the shorter gentleman. For the lilliputian fella, successfully rocking a DB is merely a matter of carefully playing with coat length (keep it short to create the illusion of height), button-stance (more on that below) and proportion.