Here my tailor has moved the suit back to his bench to start working. The coat was a bit full through the waist, but since I have been working out and losing weight lately, he resorted to the inexpensive expedient of moving the jigger (the button on the inside) to increase the overlap, and he will go back and take in the side seams later. The front buttons will have to be moved correspondingly, hence the chalk marks.
This came new-with-tags and is unaltered, except for the pant bottoms. The pockets are still sewn shut, although the tacks have been removed from the vents. This coupled with the finished bottoms leads me to believe that it was a sample suit, display, or perhaps worn briefly by a model for a photo shoot. It may also have been purchased by a customer who had the pants cuffed, but never picked it up from the store. In any case, it wound up on eBay and I got it for a very favorable price.
Already, I can tell this is the best made suit that I have ever owned. It is fully canvassed, it has a very natural shoulder with very minimal padding made from natural materials. I once owned a much more expensive suit that had polyester in the shoulder padding, which eventually worked its way through the very fine wool suiting. Try as I might, I could not get the extruded fibers to go back in again. When I brushed my hand over the shoulder, I felt sharp prickles. I expect that this Belvest will not have such issues ast it ages.
The shell is a very nice herringbone, mostly navy, but with subtle hints of gray. The lining is a smooth navy Bemberg. The trousers are single pleat, and somewhat trim cut, but not ridiculously so like some of the skinny peg legs that some designers are putting out. Likewise, the lapels are well-balanced, making up just slightly more than half the distance to the shoulder — neither exaggerated, like the double-breasted models popular in the 1990s, nor too skinny, as many are today. This is a perfectly balanced, traditional 6×2 double-breasted, and I am very pleased with the purchase so far. We’ll soon see if my tailor is as impressed as I am…
“Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.” (Luke 15:22)
Yes, it has been too long since I have blogged about double-breasted. For that I apologize. But I have a great double-breasted exemplar this week, worthy of being this week’s Vintage Double-Breasted Suit of the Week.
This piece was made in England on Saville Row. Saville Row is to tailoring what Rolls Royce is to cars and the Supermarine Spitfire was to aeroplanes. This piece is by H. Huntman & Sons, a 160-year-old firm.
The fabric is tweed, a fabric that is so durable that suits made from it are often passed down from father to son. Prince Charles supposedly wears a tweed suit that belonged to his great-grandfather.
This particular suit is a grey plaid with a blue shadow. The pleated trousers have adjustable side-tabs and there is even a boutonniere loop under the lapel. The sleeves have fully-functional buttonholes (“doctor’s cuffs.”) It measures a little too small for me, else I would have bid on it already. If you’re a 38 or so, it’s worth comparing the measurements in the listing and having a chat with your tailor to see if he can’t alter it for you.
Remember the boxy double-breasted suits of the late 80s-early 90s? Well they’re back! Grab this vintage piece thats still new with tags before it’s gone! The seller suggests that it is reminiscent of Miami Vice or Justin Timberlake’s retro style, and we have to agree. It’s in a slubby loden-coloured plaid with blue and rust-coloured shadow. You’ll feel like you’ve taken a time machine back to your favorite neighborhood fashion boutique circa 1991.
I know, I know — to keep this site on the first page of Google, I should probably confine my remarks solely to double-breasted suits. If I stray too far off the path, I’ll plummet to page 32 again and I’ll never make any money off of this site.
“Suit” is usually taken to mean jacket, trousers (and until relatively recently vest/waistcoat) cut from the same cloth. An indeed it does. But when a man dressed, he did not always wear a suit: a suit was reserved for occasions of middling formality, while the odd jacket and trousers prevailed for less and more formal occasions.
Well into the twentieth century, heads of state, high-ranking ministers, and diplomats commonly wore morning dress during the day time, or the slightly less-formal stroller, along with top hats. This replaced the earlier double-breasted frock coat. Both morning coat and frock coat were worn with non-matching vest and trousers. While the coat was black and the waistcoat white or gray, the trousers were usually a charcoal gray, often with a slight stripe. Matching trousers were worn with evening dress, but the vest was usually white. Wearing your “suit,” sensu stricto, to the opera would result in your being politely turned away at the door.
But the odd jacket and trousers combination was not the exclusive province of the upper classes. I have pictures of a great-great uncle together with my great-grandfather and great-grandmother and her sister at a racetrack on their day off. This great-great uncle was a relatively poor immigrant to the United States, he worked, by all accounts nearly sixty hours a week running his small Midwestern grocery store. At work, he probably wore stout trousers of wool worsted, a shirt and maybe a vest and of course a cotton apron. But on his days off, he wore a dark (probably blue) jacket and light contrasting trousers, accessorized with a straw boater and a somewhat gaudy gold cigarette case. My great-grandfather is dressed in a less ostentatious dark suit and bowler hat. Both their costumes, for them probably close to their best attire, imitated the leisure clothing of the upper classes.
Another picture from the 1930s depicts my grandfather’s graduation from his primary boarding school; the uniform for summer seems to have consisted of a blue double-breasted blazer and flannels of white (or very light gray) summer flannel, white shoes and dark rep tie. The odd jacket and trouser combination was not uncommon, especially as trousers must be replaced more frequently than jackets, and it will be impossible to match a replacement pair exactly unless you still have the original bolt of cloth.
Our modern uniform of suit (usually black) is really not that formal, and it’s a bit stuffy when you consider all of the different subtle combinations of jacket, tie, waistcoat (or sweater) and shirt one was permitted in more “formal” times when “casual” meant “sportcoat and tie.” You could even liven up a drab outfit with argyle socks, or some interesting color like “heliotrope,” if Evely Waugh novels are any guide. Today, black or charcoal suit with no tie, or a blue blazer and jeans with no tie, seem to constitute casual dress.
A navy blazer and white wool flannel (or cotton? or linen? or jute?) will invite Thurston Howell impressions at most modern summertime parties, but it wasn’t that long ago that this was considered a cool and relaxed alternative to a suit. These fabrics are cooler than denim, and much smarter-looking. That’s why Mr. Howell wore such an outfit for his three-hour tour in the tropics. But the rise of climate-controlled everything has made people less cognizant of what they wear in warm or cold weather, and perhaps global warming has made all but the barest of coverings unbearable during the summer.
But that explains neither the decline of double-breasted jackets in general, even in temperate climes. Double-breasted has actually been trending higher of late, but jacket-wearing in general is still at abnormal lows. Men (and increasingly women) still slap on ill-fitting, cheaply made mass-manufactured two-piece suits with trousers for weddings and funerals. Despite the relative decline of the tailored suit, it remains de rigeur for certain occasions. It is the odd jacket and trousers, which used to mark the high and low ends of formality, which has all but disappeared.
We probably owe this to the general decline of jacket wearing for manual and non-manual labor (many workmen in former times wore mass-producted tailored clothing) has made any jacket at all seem too constricting, and thus unsuitable for casual dress. Your bus driver probably wears a starched shirt year-round, and so does your local policeman (or woman). In an earlier era, they would have worn winter or summer uniform jackets on all but the hottest days of the year. (And while I’ve never seen a double-breasted bus driver’s jacket, they were very common for policemen). It is to this general decline that we must assign blame for historically low production of both the double-breasted suit and the double-breasted jacket, even while their relative share of a shrinking tailored clothing market has been increasing.
Well, it’s been over a month since our last post. I was busy with the holidays, and working on doublebreasted.me (don’t go there just yet: I just crashed it). But I’ve quite a special find this time around: A vintage suit that was made in Italy in 1940. Who on earth had this made at a time when Italy was likely rationing wool for Mussolini’s army to wear in its ill-fated invasion of Albania? Was he an American? Why did he travel to Italy at this perilous time, just before America entered the war?
I have no idea, but I do know that he had good taste. This is a classic 6×1 double-breasted, with lapels that take up just slightly more than half the distance to the shoulder. The chest pocket is high compared to a lot of slouchy modern American suits, as is the button stance. The top row of buttons are placed only slightly outside the line created by the bottom rows — a much better look on a man with a more slender build, as opposed to the wide “V” shape found on many manufactured suits. The beautiful blue flannel has a subtle pinstripe that adds a bit of flair without being gaudy.
This is fine bespoke tailoring that was made to fit its owner like a glove, but if you have similar proportions to the original owner, you could probably have it modified to fit you. It’s just a little bit big for me, but if you’re close to a 42 regular, I’d give it a try.
And the best part? It has a single-breasted five button vest underneath. You know, like Al Pacino wears in the Godfather II? If you weren’t sold before, you should be now!
This gem is a bespoke piece from the late 1950s, in what appears to be nearly immaculate condition. It’s a classic grey birdseye that will go with just about anything, in a classic 6×1 double-breasted style. I love this suit! Unfortunately, the inseam can’t be lengthened quite enough for my leg, so I won’t be bidding, even though otherwise it’s just about perfect for me. Check it out and see if your tailor can’t re-work it to fit you. It’s worth it!
We found a really cool vintage double-breasted item on eBay, and we wanted to share it with you. It is a uniqe 2×1 style with a very long lapel but a medium-deep gorge so you can see the high-buttoning single-breasted vest layered beneath it, withouth the suit looking unbalanced. It has a gorgeous lining with the distinctive Versace meander logo (a “Greek key” pattern to the hoi polloi), with buttons with rims in the same design. The double-breasted jacket with single-breasted vest reminds us of Al Pacino in the Godfather, but his didn’t sport this 2×1 look, which is very distinctive. The seller tells us that he believes this piece dates to 1996 or 1997, right around the time of Gianni Versace’s unfortunate demise. As if it weren’t unique enough already, this may be among the last creations that Gianni Versace himself had a hand in designing.
Have an item for sale? Want to show of your latest purchase? Let us know here or on Twitter (@dbsuit)!
How do you find the right fit when buying vintage double-breasted items online?
The best advice is to use a garment that already fits you well. Have a suit or sport jacket (double or single-breasted) that fits particularly well? Take the jacket and measure from the bottom of the collar to the very bottom of the jacket. Measure across the back panels from side seam to side seam at the top of the shoulders. Next, flip the jacket over. Make sure it is buttoned (you want to hang your suits unbuttoned in your closet, but always button them when measuring). Measure from pit-to-pit. That’s chest. Add the back panel measurement from the same spot and you’ll have the full measurement. A suit is typically about four inches wider than your actual chest measurement, so a 38R suit will actually be about 42″ around. If the dimensions are slightly wider or fuller for that style of suit, you’ll know that it’s a particularly trim or full cut. You’ll also want to measure the coat waist, the narrowest part of the jacket below the chest. I like to take this measurement in the front, and also measure from seam-to-seam on the back panels at the coat waist.
Next, ask your online seller to do the same. Compare your measurements. If they are the same or very similar, then you can expect the garment to be same or similar in fit to the one you know fits well. If not, you’ll probably want to bid on something else.
Similar rules apply for skirts and dresses. Take as many measurements as you can. Make sure your seller knows to button buttons, and to lay the garment out on a flat surface to ensure accurate measurements. And of course, if your country uses metric or other sizing methods, make sure that the numbers are properly converted.
Another issue with double-breasted garments will be lapel size and height. Double-breasted garments usually have peaked lapels, but you also sometimes find notch-collars and shawl collars (like on a tuxedo). If they’re peaked, how wide are they? How high are the peaks? Some avant-garde tailors like to have the lapels peak above the line of the shoulders. You’ll probably notice this in the picture, but if it’s borderline, ask the seller to measure. Also, what is the depth of the gorge (the open part of the jacket that shows off your shirt and tie). Is it very low, or is it very high? Finally, is the position of the pockets? Some designers put their breast pockets very low, and place the waist pockets very far below the waist. Some designers have a relatively high coat waist, and others a very low. Usually these are combined: Low pockets with low waist, and high pockets with high. The “high” look appears trimmer and more buttoned-up; the “low” looks more relaxed, occasionally slouchy. Which is your style? If you have another garment with perfect waist and pocket placement, measure the distances and make note of them, and ask your seller to do the same.
Don’t have a garment that fits perfectly already? Make sure your seller has a good return policy so that you can try it on and take it to your tailor to be sure it’s going to work. Most reputable sellers will take most garments back.
If you have any further questions about vintage fit, please don’t hesitate to ask!
There’s a certain joy to buying a brand-new garment, especially if it was made bespoke or at least customized from a stock patten with cloth that you picked out yourself. Yet not everyone can afford bespoke, and sometimes retailers just aren’t carrying that vintage look that you want. What to do?
In the old days, you’d have to spend days, perhaps weeks, on-end combing your local thrift stores and consignment shops for a garment that might never appear. This can be fun, whether alone or with friends, but it can also be an incredibly frustrating time-sink. That item you’re looking for just might not be available at your friendly neighborhood shop. What if you live in Keokuk, Iowa, USA on the Mississippi River, and that vintage double-breasted jacket you want is Down Under in Melbourne? You could sail down the Mighty Mississip and spend four months voyaging around the treacherous Cape Horn to obtain that jacket. Assuming you’re not caught in a storm and driven onto the rocky shoals of the Tierra del Fuego, never to be heard from again, then your adventure would certainly make for an interesting tell-all book or blog. But maybe you have a job and a house payment, or maybe your significant other or your insurance agent is a spoil-sport who just won’t let you take this awesome adventure-of-a-lifetime.
There’s still hope. Thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, you can easily browse for the best vintage double-breasted items that online sellers have to offer. Looking for a vintage double-breasted leather barnstormer with fur collar to wear to your flying lesson? Maybe a double-breasted blazer to wear to that Gilligan’s Island theme party you’ve been planning. Or maybe you want to knock them dead in a glamorous double-breasted dress from the Golden Age of Hollywood?
Try a search on Ebay or Etsy. If you can’t find it, e-mail us and we’ll try to help. If you still can’t find what you’re looking for but you have a picture or drawing of what you want, e-mail us and we’ll do our best to include it in our forthcoming offerings of boutique double-breasted items.