The Noble Ninefold Path to Suit Enlightenment, Part III
The jacket's chest and lapels hold a wealth of expressive possibilities. When worn well, they can create stature or slimness, length or breath - whatever the figure requires. Mastering how these aspects of the suit flatter your physique is a crucial step on the path to suit enlightenment, as The Rake's Founder & Editor-in-Chief explains.
As we continue down the path to suit enlightenment, we come to the jacket's lapels. After the shoulders, the lapels are the most defining design characteristic of any suit. They are the vertical framing device for the front quarters, and create the inverted pyramid of shirt and tie that leads the eye to your face. As such, their relationship with head shape, shoulder width and height create a delicate but important dynamic tension that will affect how good a suit looks on you. Unlike the shoulders, while lapels can be selected according to what corresponds to your build, they also offer the potential for immense self-expression. Generally, everyone looks good with 2½' to 4¼' lapels - although, we have to profess affection for voluptuous 4½' or wider lapels.
Step Four: The Lapels and The Gorge.
Manipulating The BellyJust as important as the width of a lapel is how much 'belly' it has - the belly being the amount of substance and curvature evinced as it tapers toward the button closure. Says tailor Timothy Everest, 'I like to cut my dinner suits with wide lapels, but with slim bellies for a tapering effect to create a very slender look through the waist of the coat.' Belly is particularly noticeable in double-breasted suits. More belly has a tendency to broaden the torso, while less or no belly lengthens to the torso. Ralph Lauren wears double-breasted suits with wide lapels, a higher gorge but no belly at all, creating an effective lengthening line from the buttoning point all the way to the lapel point. This same style of lapel is available in his Purple Label suits.
However, in his vintage themed RRL label, Mr Lauren's double-breasted suits feature 4 ¾-inch wide lapels with generous belly and lower gorges, which creates a very heroic, almost muscular looking coat. The notch where the collar meets the lapel is known as the 'gorge'. A higher gorge creates a lengthening affect to a jacket. Conversely, a tall or thin man may prefer a more traditionally placed or even slightly lower gorge to create the impression of fullness across his chest. See Gary Cooper below, who had his coats cut with lower gorges to offset his height. [content_block id=2539 slug=gorges-too-high]
The Buttonhole and its Functionless FunctionThe buttonhole on the right lapel is essentially a functionless carry-over from military coats, where the lapel could be folded up and buttoned to protect against the elements. Today, a buttonhole is a showcase for a tailor or suit maker's skills, how fine and evenly the buttonhole is stitched representing the maker's ability in high craftsmanship. The most beautiful buttonhole is the 'Milanese', a technique which involves stitching so fine, it is difficult to distinguish individual threads. In Italy, firms like A. Caraceni are masters of the Milanese, while in Paris tailors Camps de Luca and Cifonelli also feature this sartorial masterpiece. Ready-to-wear firms Zegna, Tom Ford and Caruso also feature the Milanese buttonhole. Rakish Tip: A good suit jacket should always feature a loop on the back of the lapel to secure the stem of a flower inserted through the buttonhole.
Step Five: The ChestThe chest is the focus of a vast amount of work in a hand-made suit jacket. The underlying canvas, as well as the cloth, must be heated and stretched to form a curved shape to complement the shape of your chest.The amount of chest a coat features has a tremendous affect on how heavy your torso appears. There is a tendency amongst Savile Row tailors to put a vast amount of chest into their jackets, to make the wearer appear more virile and 'Atlas-like'. But too much chest can also be a touch vulgar, and can even overwhelm the torso in the same way that a massive Jane Mansfield-style, twin barrelled, torpedo shaped brassiere can overwhelm an angora sweater. This is particularly true if you already have a well-developed chest, in which case you should take a page from Cifonelli's book: the Parisian tailor cuts a narrower chest, which creates an overall sleeker and more slimming jacket.
The Chest PocketThe chest pocket is a practical repository for items like reading classes or a Behike 54 to sooth your nerves after conversations with your mother. It also offers wonderful self-expressive possibilities when a pocket-handkerchief is staged within. In a bespoke coat the position of your gorge should also dictate the position of your breast pocket: the higher the gorge, the higher the pocket. A jacket with a high gorge and a traditionally placed chest pocket looks as if these two elements got into a fight and have retreated to opposite ends of a room and aren't speaking. Thus concludes part III of 'The Noble Ninefold Path to Suit Enlightenment'. Part IV will be available soon, part II is available to read here. Part I can be found here, and the Introduction to the series here.