When investing in a new suit, it’s always good to have knowledge to hand to help you find the perfect fit. So we’ve pulled together a guide to help you bust the jargon and decipher the anatomy of a suit.
Lapels generally follow the proportions of a suit. Therefore, a skinny fit suit will have a thinner lapel than a tailored fit suit. Again, thinking about shape and lines, wear your skinny fit suit with a skinny tie with a neat four in hand tie knot. A more traditional tailored fit suit will have a wider lapel, which works well with a wider tie in a Windsor or Half Windsor knot. You can have either notch or peak lapels (see diagram below).
A notch lapel is the standard for a single breasted suit jacket. You’ll find a peak lapel on double breasted suits and more formal jackets like morning coats or a tux. Single breasted suit jackets did have peak lapels during during the 1920s and 30s but this is best saved for black tie or formal events.
2. Back Vents
One, two or none? Firstly, a double back vent is considered traditionally British. Its heritage is said to lie in equestrian fashion as it would allow the wearer to ride a horse without the jacket rumpling. A single vent is common on American-style business suits. During the Hollywood golden era, the no back vent at all became popular as it was considered most photogenic.
With no overriding trend in terms of vents, what it really boils down to is personal preference. The double vent can be seen as more of a style statement, especially as it is more costly and technical to tailor. Many of our slim and tailored fit suits come with a double vent. These can flatter a more athletic or strong build better than a single vent which we use most often on our skinny fit suits. When you buy a new suit, the vents may be tacked together with pale thread. Remove these immediately before wearing.
3. Sleeve Cuff
Choose between either back to back buttons or waterfall buttons (so called because they overlap one another slightly). Waterfall buttons seem to have originated in Italian tailoring and add an unusual flair to a suit jacket. They’re less conventional than your standard back to back buttons.
Choose from jet, welt or flap pockets. The jet is pocket when the pocket is sewn into the lining of the suit jacket leaving a small slit opening. You can recognise it thanks to a discrete seam running around the pocket opening. A flap pocket uses the same principle as a jet, however there is an extra flap of material sewn in. Finally, a welt pocket looks more like a conventional pocket you may be used to and is found on the outer breast. You’d put your pocket square into a welt pocket. Some jackets may also feature a ticket pocket, usually above the right hand pocket. This flap pocket was traditionally used for your horse racing ticket or train ticket.
5. Trouser Hem
Your trouser hem can be cuffed or un-cuffed. Tradition dictates that a cuffed trouser hem is most formal because it was the more expensive to produce and so a mark of quality. A tuxedo, however, should not have a cuff. So you can see the contradictions in suiting etiquette which can make formalwear a minefield. Again the choice really comes down to personal preference and current trends.
6. Jacket Buttons
You can have one, two or three buttons on a suit jacket but bear in mind certain rules before you make your decision. A one button should be fastened when standing and then undone when you sit down. Keep the top button done up of a two button jacket when standing and undo when you sit. The bottom button should always be left undone. And always do up the middle button of a three button jacket when standing, the top button is optional and never do up the bottom button.
7. Lapel Hole
Ever wondered what that button hole you sometimes see on a lapel is for? Apparently it was used to button your hat via a cord into your suit so that it wouldn’t blow away on a blustery day. Or to button a suit right up to the top to fend off the elements. Now it’s used for a decorative flower or lapel pin when you attend formal events.
8. Outer Breast Pocket
If you’re want to add a finishing flourish to your outfit, place a pocket square in your outer breast pocket. This pocket is almost always a welt (see point 4). Don’t stuff this pocket too heavily as it will ruin the silhouette of your suit.
9. Sleeve Vent
A sleeve cuff (see point 3) will typically have a sleeve vent. This will either be a working vent (you can undo all the buttons) or sewn together and the buttons will be purely for show. If your sleeve vent has a working cuff, you may prefer to leave the last button undone.
10. Top Collar
The top collar is really just another indicator of fit. The suit’s top collar should not pull away from the neck and shirt to leave a gap. It shouldn’t cover the shirt collar completely. You should be able to see almost a centimetre of shirt collar at the back. The terminology to talk about this is the “rise and the fall of the top collar”.
The suit shoulder is the primary indicator of how well an off the rack suit fits. If you would like a little more information please view our guides on how to measure for a suit and the guide to the perfect fit for a suit.
12. The Trouser Seat & Rise
This is all about fit, the seat is generally the width and the rise is how high from the crotch to the waistband. This will determine where on your waist your trousers will sit. It’s useful terminology to know when you’re discussing alterations with a tailor.
The waistband should sit above the hips and below the belly button to give you the most universally flattering fit. Where your waistband sits is directly proportional to the rise of your trousers (see point 12). There are certain tricks for helping with proportions of legs to torso that can be solved by adjusting your waistband. The general rule is a higher waistband gives the illusion of a longer leg. For those with a short torso and a long leg, go for a lower rise to balance out your proportions.
14. Belt Loops
Some traditionalists don’t like to wear a belt with their suit trousers and choose metal tabs to adjust the waist or even braces. Why not wear a slim suit brown or black leather belt to coordinate with your formal shoes? If your trousers fit, you won’t get any puckering from threading your belt through the belt loops of your trousers.
15. Trouser Crease
All your formal trousers should have a crease ironed down the front of the leg, it’s considered pretty much a prerequisite for a formal look.