A gentleman’s suit is a complex thing. We’re on hand to bust the jargon and help you be as knowledgeable as possible when you’re investing in a new suit. Here’s all the terminology to look out for as well as different options, broken down so you can look for the style elements that best suit your occasion and personal taste.
Generally speaking if you have a skinny fit suit that is most modern, the lapels will be thinner, it’s all about the proportions. A skinny lapel best suits a skinny tie with a four in hand knot. By this standard a more traditional tailored fit suit will have a wider lapel and will be complimented by a wider tie with a Windsor or Half Windsor knot.
You can have either notch or peak lapels.
A notch lapel is the standard for a single breasted suit jacket and a peak lapel is more likely found on double breasted suits and more formal jackets like morning coats or a tux. You can get a peak lapel on a single breasted suit jacket and this garnered popularity during the 1920s and 30s, it’s vary technically advanced and best saved for black tie dress codes or for when you want to show a little extra pizzazz with your formal look.
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 and to have no back vent at all was popular during Hollywood’s golden era as it was considered most photogenic.
What it really boils down to is personal preference, there’s no overriding trend at the moment for one or other option although the double vent can be seen as more of a style statement, especially as it is more costly and technical to tailor. We offer a double vent on many of our slim and tailored fit suits, especially as they can often flatter a more athletic or strong build better than a single vent which we most often use on our skinny fit suits. When you buy a new suit the vents may be tacked together with pale thread, you should remove this immediately before wearing.
3. Sleeve Cuff
Check out our guide to the perfect fit to make sure your cuff end in exactly the right place on your suit. You can opt for either back to back buttons or waterfall buttons which overlap one another slightly. Waterfall buttons seem to have originated in Italian tailoring and add an unusual flair to a suit jacket, they’re a little less conventional than your standard back to back buttons and are a trend that has really only taken off in the last 15 or so years.
Choose from jet, welt or flap pockets. The jetted pocket is considered most formal and are when the pocket is sewn into the lining of the suit jacket leaving a small slit opening with 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 also sewn in which can be left out or tucked in to exactly mimic a jet. Finally a welt pocket, it looks more like a conventional pocket you may be used to and is usually the style found on the outer breast. This is where you would put your pocket square. Some jackets may also feature a ticket pocket, usually above the right hand pocket, this will almost always be a flap pocket and 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, due in part to the fact it was considered a mark of quality and is more expensive to produce. In contrast, a tuxedo should not have a cuff, so you can see again the contradictions in suiting etiquette which can make formalwear a minefield! Again it all really comes down to personal preference and current trends as to whether you may want a cuffed or un-cuffed formal trouser.
6. Jacket Buttons
You can have one, two or three buttons on a suit jacket and there are certain rules to keep in mind for each. If you have one button this should be fastened when standing and then undone when you sit down. For a two button jacket keep the top button done up when standing and undo when you sit, the bottom button should always be left undone. For a three button suit jacket always do up the middle button 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 is used for a decorative flower or lapel pin when you attend formal events and require an extra, decorative attention to the details.
8. Outer Breast Pocket
If you’re a dapper chap this is where you would place your pocket square. This pocket is almost always a welt (see point 4). The important thing to remember is not to 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 which will either be a working vent (meaning you can undo all the buttons) or it will be sewn together and the buttons will be purely for show. If your sleeve vent has a working cuff, some gents prefer to leave the last button undone, purely for show as a working cuff is considered the most premium option.
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 either and 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 and will determine where on your waist your trousers will sit, useful terminology to know when you’re discussing alterations with a tailor or looking for the perfect off the peg pair of smart trousers.
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) and there are certain tricks for helping with your proportions of legs to torso that the positioning of your waistband can help with. The general rule is a higher waistband gives the illusion of a longer leg, but be wary of pulling a Simon Cowell. For those with a short torso and a long leg opt 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 instead opt for metal tabs to adjust the waist or even braces. We think it’s just fine to wear a slim suit belt in wither a black or a brown leather to coordinate with your formal shoes. As long as you haven’t bought your trousers in a wildly wrong size you won’t get any puckering from threading your belt through the belt loops of your trousers to ensure a comfortable fit all day.
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.
Now that you are all clued up, it’s time to shop for the perfect men’s suit for you.