Style / April 2017

The Origins of the Single-Breasted Jacket

The Rake speaks to some of Savile Row’s leading lights to discover what makes the most fundamental jacket style of them all so enduring.

There are many elements that make up an outfit, but if one had to choose a lynchpin, it would be hard to argue with the jacket. And by far the most multitudinous and multifarious basic style is, of course, the single-breasted jacket. Most commonly finished with one to three buttons and notched or peak lapels, it’s a design that practically defines much of what we know as contemporary tailoring. One can scarcely imagine a world without it.

To discover the single-breasted jacket’s origin, we must go back to 1666. The king at the time, Charles II, decreed that the currently fashionable attire of doublets and cloaks was to be banned, and instead the nobility was to wear a cassock, a vest and breeches. According to Samuel Pepys, who witnessed it, this declaration was “to teach the nobility thrift”, but it also had the consequence of creating the formative three-piece suit. Over time, of course, this design would evolve in numerous ways, each regularly lifting the hem of the coat higher and higher. In the early 1800s, George ‘Beau’ Brummel would famously reject the overly ornate trappings of court dress - as well as breeches - in favour of cleaner lines and more sombre colours, leading to the creation of morning dress. In the late 19th century, the lounge suit was created, nominally for country or sporting purposes. Featuring a jacket that merely went to the hip, with single-breasted fastening at the front, it offered tremendous ease of wear and mobility, and by the end of World War I it had become a staple, the last century’s frock coats and morning dress having either fallen out of daytime use, or been repurposed as occasionwear. “It was called a 'three-seamer' coat by tailors of the time,” says Campbell Carey, Huntsman’s head cutter, “as it was seen of a bit of a cheat.”

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Ben St George

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