At the New York menswear shows this week, expectations are high for one style in particular: the double-breasted jacket. Although it was eclipsed in the 1990s by its single-breasted sibling, for the past two seasons it has enjoyed a marked growth in popularity. If this autumn’s offerings are anything to go by, next spring should produce even more of a surge.
Anna Zegna, image director of Ermenegildo Zegna, says: “Double-breasted jackets were last truly popular in the 1980s, but this autumn-winter season they are back in full force, not just at the fashion shows, but also in stores around the world.” In its latest advertising campaign, Zegna features a three-piece double-breasted suit – or DB – (£2,470) in Cashco, a blend of cotton and cashmere woven in its own mill.
“DBs have been coming back for a couple of seasons,” says Adam Kelly, buying manager for men’s formalwear at Selfridges. “If you have the figure for it, a DB is very flattering, very athletic. It does need to be done up all the time, so it immediately looks smarter.”
Kelly is particularly taken with this season’s DB styles by Dries van Noten. A long Guardsman-style overcoat (£1,475) is a reminder of the DB’s military heritage. Then there’s Farrell, the menswear label backed by singer Robbie Williams, with designs by Ben Dickens, formerly of Burberry, offering updated versions of first world war overcoats and Winston Churchill’s “British Warm” DB overcoat (from £300).
Balmain meanwhile echoes the naval traditions of the DB with two very different six-button jackets: a slim-fitting tuxedo (£2,100) and a luxurious take on the pea coat (£1,900).
Paul Munday, director of Savile Row tailor Meyer & Mortimer, says military officers such as Princes William and Harry are keen supporters of the DB tradition but the attraction is spreading to others.
“Traditionally, army officers have had DBs from us for their civilian suits but, over the past few years, they have been asking for shorter jackets, rather than the very classic style,” he says. “We have also noticed more of our hedge fund customers in London and American clients wanting DBs but they are not wearing them in a traditional way. A DB blazer worn with an open-necked shirt and jeans at the weekend is a typical look now.”
Alexia Hentsch of contemporary British label Hentsch Man says: “I like it when double-breasted jackets are styled with a lightweight crew-neck sweater, worn with jeans and a pair of desert boots as it harks back to an old-school era and makes double-breasted more casual.”
Indeed, for men who do not want the restrictions of a classic DB, there are unstructured wool jackets from Boglioli (£550) and Lanvin (£705). For those who want the DB look but don’t want the somewhat restrictive tailoring, there is a slew of casual cardigans, some of which are chunky enough to be worn in place of a jacket. PS by Paul Smith has a simple grey wool option (£240); Lanvin uses forest-green merino wool (£520), and Burberry Prorsum offers a chunky cashmere cardigan with rabbit fur collar (£2,595).
And for those so enamoured of the style that they want to extend it to their outerwear, there are overcoats with a DB cut, including a YSL double-breasted leather coat with fur collar (£2,300), an above-the-knee town coat from Burberry Prorsum (£1,900) that has no fewer than five pairs of buttons, and an Alexander McQueen coat with a velvet collar (£1,295).
Whatever the styling, however, the key to a good DB fit is the positioning of the buttons. Although rarely seen, it is possible to have a DB jacket with just one pair of buttons (button-one, show-two is the description in the trade, indicating that two buttons are on the jacket, but only one is used for closure). At the other extreme, a naval uniform-inspired jacket could have five pairs (button-five, show-10).
Further possibilities include strictly parallel lines of buttons, or the approach in which the top pair of buttons that is widely spaced to give the visual suggestion of a full chest and wide shoulders.
As to which button(s) to fasten: the classic school of etiquette suggests that on a button-two show-six, the low fastening button is left unclosed but, for this season’s strict cut, all buttons are closed. The options, however, are wide open.