My guess is that you’ve probably seen different types of suit styles, but what is the thing that defines them?
There can be no doubt that a man’s suit is the most versatile and universally accepted item of clothing in his wardrobe. There are not many occasions where a quality suit will look out of place.
When worn with confidence and some fashion know-how, the suit can easily become the cornerstone of any man’s style. Purchasing his first suit marks a man’s initial step towards elegance via personal expression.
There are well-defined suit rules that explain how to wear a suit the right way. These rules should be addressed before we get into pocket flaps, fabrics, cuts and the myriad other suit-related details.
- 1 Introduction to Suit Styles
- 2 Differences in Suit Styles
- 2.1 Single vs. Double Breasted
- 2.2 Suit Jacket Buttons
- 2.3 American vs. British vs. Italian Cut
- 2.4 Notch vs. Peak vs. Shawl Lapel
- 2.5 Suit Materials
- 2.6 Pocket Difference
- 2.7 Suit Jacket Sleeve Buttons
- 2.8 Single vs. Double Vents vs. No-vents
- 2.9 Fully-lined vs. Half-lined vs. Unlined Suit Jackets
- 3 A Suit, Shirt and Tie Combinations
- 4 Types of Suit Styles
- 5 In Conclusion
Introduction to Suit Styles
The first and most important rule of men’s style is you should feel comfortable and confident in your clothes. You will need both these attributes to pull off just about any outfit successfully.
Clothing that dampens your confidence and makes you feel uncomfortable can do more damage to your look than good. Regardless of how ‘classy’ or expensive they might be.
While these rules do allow for freedom of expression, they do not give you carte blanche to simply throw an outfit together. You may well feel confident in your hastily mixed and matched attire. It doesn’t always follow that you’re scoring high in the style charts.
The most basic definition of a man’s suit is a jacket and trousers intended to be worn as an ensemble. They will have the same cut and be made from the same material. Often, but not always, both the jacket and the trousers will be of the same color.
You’ll notice that what this definition lacks is any information regarding the personality of the suit. It is the suit’s personality that has secured its place in the past annals of men’s fashion. And will surely do so for many generations to come.
Differences in Suit Styles
A lot of factors need to come together to produce the best suit for the man wearing it. There’s the fabric the suit is made from, including weight and color. Then there’s the level of customization, number of buttons, and the lapel shape, etc.
But probably the most defining feature of any man’s suit is the cut, or style, of the suit. You will never look your best in a suit that is badly cut. No matter how much detail it has, or the quality of the material.
When we talk about cut, we need to take into account two factors:
- The size and shape of the man wearing the suit.
- The overall silhouette created when the suit is worn.
Both 1 and 2 are the main reasons why a good tailor is worth their weight in gold. Budget permitting. The tailor can cut a suit to enhance the wearer’s best features while masking any flaws. Skills you just don’t get with off-the-rack or made-to-measure suits.
Single vs. Double Breasted
Your choice of wearing a single or double-breasted suit will be a matter of personal preference. The double-breasted suit can look more formal, but either is perfectly acceptable for most occasions.
Single-breasted jackets usually come with one, two, or three buttons. There are some out there with five or six buttons, but this strikes me as overkill. Single jackets are by far the most popular kind of men’s jacket worn today.
This is due to their simplicity, but also the versatility they offer. Single-breasted jackets can be defined by the pants you wear with them. Matching pants create a comfortable suit-look, but they can easily be worn with jeans or chinos for more casual events.
The original double-breasted jackets have four buttons, two on each side. However, three per side is more common nowadays. Besides the button formation, the next thing you’ll notice with this jacket style is additional fasteners, along with the extra fabric.
The number of fasteners can also vary, from one to three, depending on the jacket. Their job is to hold the extra fabric in place as it closes over the other side of the jacket front.
Double-breasted suits are not as forgiving as the single variety and are not for everyone. That said, they are considered extremely stylish and formal.
Suit Jacket Buttons
As you’ve probably already figured out, men’s suits are all about the detail. And there’s no better component to illustrate this fact than the buttons.
What your buttons are made of is relatively important, but its also a budget consideration. More relevant to this article is how many buttons you have on your suit. Most men will have a one, two or three-button suit in their wardrobe. Ideally, one of each.
Buttons may be small, but they can make a world of difference to your look. How you fasten them counts, too.
There are some unspoken rules governing buttons. Leaving the bottom button open is one of them. Most suits are cut to be worn with the last button undone. A fastened bottom button will spoil the silhouette and could make you look like a fashion-failure.
Your suit’s design also dictates that you should only button the jacket when you’re standing up. This will create the best shape, drape and look. When you’re sitting down, however, it’s time to unbutton.
Keeping your jacket buttons fastened when you’re sat down can cause unsightly tugging and pulling. Unbuttoning will relieve the stress on the jacket fabric.
The one-button suit jacket is ideal if you’re going for the cool, hip look. The single button creates a low V from the lapels, adding emphasis to the lengthening/slimming effect.
You can get away with one button at most events, formal and social. But you run the risk of appearing a tad raffish in overly ‘stuffy’ environments. This style is also great for showing off your shirt/tie combo.
This is the slightly more mature big brother of the one-button version. Two buttons create a truly classic look that for millions of men has become the go-to for any occasion.
With both a heightening and slimming visual impact, it’s really difficult to get this look wrong. A two-button jacket works well on just about every shape and size. It also and provides a stylish, flattering base to build the rest of your outfit.
While it can still come across as stylish, the three-button suit jacket is definitely a step into a more conservative territory. The look lacks the elongated, slimming properties of its one and two-button cousins, so it can be unforgiving on the wearer.
That being said, if you’re on the slim side and over six feet tall, three-buttons could work as your signature outfit. If ‘buttoned up’ is what you’re going for.
American vs. British vs. Italian Cut
Now it’s time to take a closer look at variations in suit cuts. In particular, the American versus the British versus the Italian (a.k.a European) variations. All of them have created their own space in men’s fashion.
And they each have their own appeal. Knowing the difference can help you choose and define your own personal suit preferences.
The British Cut
Developed from English military outfits, the British style has the longest lineage. It comes with a very structured silhouette and finely cut lines. There are a number of features associated with the cut, including heavier fabrics, with well-defined shoulder, chest, and waistlines.
This creates a distinctly masculine look. Typical British suit jackets will have double vents at the back, which speaks to the style’s horse-riding heritage. Hacking, or slanted, pockets are another feature that gives this style a very particular look.
British Cut Jacket Features:
- Heavy Cloth
- Low Gorge Lines
- Structured Shoulders
- Stiff Canvas
- Surgeons Cuffs
- Double or Single Breasted
- Hacking Pockets
British Cut Pants Features:
- Double or Single Pleated
- High Waistline
The Italian Cut
Almost the exact opposite of the British style, the Italian cut is much more casual. This is mainly because the suits are intended to be worn in warmer climates. The style incorporates lighter weight fabrics and unstructured jackets designed for a close fit. Tailoring is a huge factor with Italian cuts.
The high armholes, for example, are designed to make the suit feel like a second skin. A lot of Italian styles tend to be fashion-forward with some interesting fabric choices, adventurous color combinations, and unique cuts. Italian suits, in particular, are still considered by some to be the on the absolute cutting edge of men’s fashion.
Italian Cut Jacket Features:
- Low Padding
- Light Canvas
- Unstructured Shoulders
- High Gorge Lines
- Flapless Pockets
- High Buttons
- Slim Silhouette
- Light Canvas
Italian Cut Pants Features:
- No Break
- Tapered Waist
- Tight Hips
The American Cut
The typical American sack suit was the first suit to be mass-produced. But that shouldn’t earn it your disrespect. Before the sack suit arrived, everything had to be tailored by hand. The flood of cheap suits from the factories meant that the average guy could finally afford a decent quality suit.
The American cut builds up the shoulders and slims the waist. It’s also a great choice for heavier, bigger guys who can wear it as a draped square. With low armholes and tell-tale buttons on the sleeve cuffs, it’s comfortable, but also appropriate for most events. The American-cut suit is truly one of the most versatile outfits in men’s fashion.
American Cut Jacket Features:
- 3 Buttons on Sleeve Cuff
- Low Armhole
- No Darts
- Flap Pockets
- Single Vented
- Minimal Padding
- Straight Silhouette
American Cut Pants Features:
- No Pleats
- No Cut
Notch vs. Peak vs. Shawl Lapel
The word lapel refers to the flaps on each side of the jacket right below the collar. The two flaps are folded back on either side of the front opening.
A lot of men can be ambivalent about lapels, but the kind of lapel you choose can say a lot about your style and confidence. In my honest opinion, you simply can’t purchase a suit before you’ve decided on a lapel.
Notch, peak, and shawl are the three main lapel types. Each of them come in different widths, ranging from the massive 5″ all the way down to super slim. Usually, though, the lapel will be somewhere between 3 to 3.5 inches.
This lapel style is called “notched” because of the sideways V shape at the point where the lapel meets the jacket collar. The notched lapel is the most common variation found in suits because it is traditional and classic.
It’s versatile and fits well with both formal and casual looks. Just as a solid white shirt should be your go-to if you’re ever in doubt, the notched lapel is a safe choice.
There are three things you should note about the notched lapel. first, the notch should align with your lapel width. This means that a narrow lapel should have a smaller notch, but a wide lapel can have a notch that is larger.
Notched lapels generally work best on single-breasted outfits. So if you’re going double-breasted, you should probably stick to a peaked lapel.
Notched lapels over 4.5 inches can look awkward unless you have a really large chest. If you’re on the slimmer side, you can go with a slim notch to appear upbeat and trendy. Or go 3.5 to 4.25 inches, for a more classic look.
Peaked or Peak Lapel
First, let’s clear up the confusion about the name. If you’re American you will know this variation as the ‘peak’ lapel. If you’re British you will probably call it ‘peaked.’ Either way, both terms refer to the same lapel type.
Pointing upwards, this kind of lapel ‘peaks’ at the lapel edge and is all about being formal. A skinny peak lapel looks out of place, so go with 3.25″ to 4.5″. But don’t go too wide or the lapel could swallow your entire suit.
Peak(ed) lapels look great on both single- and double-breasted suits. Cutting the peak is a skilled task which could lead to the suit being more expensive.
A well-cut peaked lapel can add a lot of class and style to your outfit. A bad one can ruin it. The peak variant is a good choice if you’re short or large in stature. The effect makes you look taller. Taller makes you look thinner. It’s a win-win.
You’ll probably only ever see this kind of lapel on a tuxedo. It has no peak and no notch, but a rounded edge instead. There are no hard rules when it comes to the width of a shawl lapel.
So here again the rule of thumb should be followed. The wider the lapel, the more formal the look. The thinner, the more trendy.
Your suit is a symbol of your level of sophistication, not just something you wear because it fits comfortably. So, choosing the best fabric for your suit is important. Your budget will play a big role here. But generally speaking, it’s always good to go for the best you can afford.
Choosing the Right Suit Fabrics
When it comes to choosing the right material for your suit, you only need to consider a handful of fabrics. This makes it a lot easier when you set out to purchase the perfect outfit. Wool, cashmere, silk, and cotton are the most common, and probably the best fabrics for a suit.
But it’s not just the material to look at when you’re buying a suit. You need to take into account the fabric breathability and its softness, too.
No one likes a sweaty back when they’re attending a summer event. Nor do they enjoy an icy, winter breeze chilling them to the bone. The breathability of your suit fabric will determine how much of both you need to suffer. A good, breathable fabric will let hot air escape, and keep cold air at bay.
You don’t want a fabric that makes you itch. Neither you want a fabric that is so stiff it makes you feel trapped inside your suit. Soft, good quality fabric will provide a comfort level you won’t want to do without.
As you might expect, every suit fabric has its pros and cons. Factors like quality and price will usually decide which you go for. The following is a simplified list of the most popular suit fabrics, including both their good and bad features.
- Popular choice for men
- A versatile and refined look
- Breathes well
- Ideal for a hot day or a cold night
- Remarkably soft
- Very luxurious
- Can give an unwanted shine to a suit
- Fancy European
- Not suitable for work
- Great fabric for casual occasions
- Second most popular suit fabric
- Moves and breaths well
- Tends to crease and look sloppy
- Satisfactory softness
- Lacks luxury compared to wool
- Super lightweight
- Keeps you cool in blistering temperatures
- Wrinkles and stains easily
- Needs regular dry cleaning
- Lower quality
- Blended to cut costs
- Tend to wrinkle
- Do not breathe well
- Produces more fabric shine than wool or cotton
- Can look cheap
- Superior comfort
- Natural temperature regulator
- Warm in winter
- Cool in summer
- Combination of nylon, silk, and cotton
- Best choice for a smoking jacket
- Luxurious to touch
- Less aeration than silk
The weight and thread count of the fabric can also impact the comfort levels, price and overall appearance of your suit:
- Lightweight: 7oz – 9oz. Great for summer.
- Light to middleweight: 9.5oz – 11oz. Perfect for the transition from spring to summer and summer to autumn.
- Middleweight: 11oz – 12oz. Go-to fabric weight for most days. Good choice for your first suit.
- Middle heavy: 12oz – 13oz. Satisfactory for daily wear, but maybe too hot in the peak of summer.
- Heavy: 14oz – 19oz. Perfect for autumn and winter.
Along with the fabric and the style of lapel style, nothing impacts a suit’s overall style and its level of formality than the pockets on the suit jacket. There are three main types of pocket; patch, flap, and jetted, and they run the range from casual to formal.
The Patch Pocket
The casual patch pocket first appeared on blazer style jackets. They were originally separate pieces of fabric sewn onto the sides of the jacket. Tailors later began sewing them on to other types of jackets as a means of keeping valuables safe from thieves and pickpockets. Fully attached flap pockets are a natural development of this security measure.
The Flap Pocket
While considered middle-of-the-road and very conservative, the flap is a highly versatile pocket style. This versatility means that the flap pocket is not automatically restricted to a particular dress code. Flap pockets on your jacket are equally appropriate when paired with jeans and a tie, as they are with a full, formal ensemble.
The Jetted Pocket
This kind of pocket is almost the exact opposite of the patch version, in both manufacture and style. The patch pocket is completely external to the jacket’s body, while the jetted pocket is most of the jetted variant that can be found inside. This keeps the lines of the jacket sleek, clean, and ideal for a smart dinner jacket, or an impeccably tailored tuxedo.
Suit Jacket Sleeve Buttons
Your suit jacket will invariably come with buttons on the sleeve. Whether they have any practical function or not, is a moot point. American suits always have four buttons as standard. Sports jackets will usually have only two. The buttons on your jacket sleeve should be set close together, almost touching each other.
Generally speaking, if you have a two-button suit jacket, you should have two buttons at each sleeve cuff. On a three-button jacket, go for three buttons on each sleeve.
As a matter of fact, the number of buttons on the sleeve defines the formality of the suit. The fewer buttons on the sleeve, the more casual your suit appears. Thus, four-button suit jacket sleeves tend to appear the most formal.
Suit jackets with sleeve buttons that you could actually open and close used to be a sign of superior design. Not anymore. These days, mass suit manufacturers are copying this style to add the appearance of quality to their products.
Single vs. Double Vents vs. No-vents
Your suit jacket will probably have a slit, known as a vent, down the lower part of the back. Or it might not. This is because suit jacket vents come in three options:
This is a style preferred by Europeans, and it creates a more fitted look. But the is a downside. The jacket tends to crease or bunch up when you sit down or stick your hands in your pockets.
A single vent is the least expensive option. Wearing a single vented jacket opens you up to what could be an unflattering risk. You’ll be exposing the seat of your pants when you put your hands in the pockets.
The double vent allows for greater freedom of movement. It can also improve your shape. The flap created by the two slits rises up when you sit down or place your hands in the pockets. This stops the jacket creasing and keeps your rear covered.
Fully-lined vs. Half-lined vs. Unlined Suit Jackets
For the record, a suit jacket with a natural fiber lining is a mark of quality. Bemberg is made from cotton linter. It’s relatively cheap, breathable, durable, and easily sourced. Which is why Bemberg is known as the king of linings.
Silk is another popular fabric for suit linings. Silk is, of course, a luxury fabric, so it is expensive. Despite being sought after for jacket linings, it can be difficult to clean. It’s also impossible to fix when torn and needs to be replaced. Silk is immensely breathable though, so it’s a great choice in hot climates.
Low cost and mass-produced suit jackets will usually come with polyester or oil-based rayon lining. It’s a budget thing again, but try to avoid them if you can. Not only are they tacky, but they don’t breathe well either.
The inner jacket lining will usually match the jacket color. You can go for a lining with a contrasting color, but this option should only be worn for casual events.
The jacket lining provides durability and helps to keep its shape. An unlined suit jacket can cost more than a completely lined suit. This is because the inner stitching is no longer hidden, and has to be of the highest quality and craftsmanship.
A Suit, Shirt and Tie Combinations
Knowing how to combine a suit, shirt and tie to enhance your look can add a whole level of elegance to your style. The hues and colors you wear are what people notice first, so it’s important to get it right.
With a few rare exceptions, the colors of your suit, shirt and tie should blend together to create a look that hasn’t simply been thrown together. This doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does require some thought.
First off, it’s considered very bad form to mix more than four colors in one outfit. But this doesn’t mean your look has to be boring. We have enough colors and shades to play with, without resorting to overly flamboyant color pallets.
The secret to making the colors, tones, and hues of your suit work best for you lies in something called color harmonization. A blue suit, for example, works well with a red or burgundy tie and a white shirt and adds an interesting contrast to your look.
If you’re aiming for a smoother look, a navy suit, white shirt, and a dark blue or black tie will do the trick. So too will a beige shirt, dark brown suit and light brown, or orange tie. Any similar combinations of colors and shades will give you a well-dressed appearance.
If you need help with your outfit’s color scheme, refer to the color wheel for guidance. Remember, less is more. Of course, you want to be noticed and have your style and dress sense appreciated. But less is more. Subtle understatement is generally better than shouting your look from the rafters.
Types of Suit Styles
Based on the above differences, we recognize these types of suit styles:
The Basic Suit
A basic suit can be two or three-piece and, more often than not, is made from blended or pure wool. Basic also means casual, so you won’t be wearing this kind of suit to formal events. It will usually have notched lapels, sometimes peaked, and comes in double- and single-breasted styles. Flap pockets, a small ticket pocket, and plain sleeve cuffs finish off the look.
The basic suit jacket is best matched with flat or pleated pants. But the look is deliberately low key, so you can also pair it with dark jeans or chinos. Complimentary shirt colors like blue, grey and white work well with this simplified cut. But avoid a basic suit in black, as this color is reserved for formal evenings and funerals.
Features: Single-breasted, preferably two buttoned with a notch lapel and flap pockets.
Example suit: Modern-fit navy blue suit by Tommy Hilfiger.
The Formal Suit
The word, ‘formal’ to describe a suit is not to be confused with the same word when it applies to a dress code. Formal dress code is what determines when you should wear tails, morning suits, white or black ties, etc.. That is a whole different chapter.
Here, we’re talking about that elegant, well-defined look that is a step above the basic suit. Formal suits can be worn to any occasion where smart casual doesn’t quite cut it, or for those semi-casual events where you deliberately want to out-style your peers.
Features: Single or double-breasted, modern and a slim fit, shawl or notched lapel, flap or jetted pockets, four-button sleeve cuffs.
Example suit: Haggar Premium classic fit suit.
Also known as a dinner suit, the tuxedo is one of the most recognizable looks out there. Tuxedos are always either black or navy, with grosgrain or satin shawl lapels. Pockets are jetted, and if the tuxedo has flaps, they should be tucked in.
The buttons on a good tuxedo will be covered in the same fabric as the lapel. Avoid low-quality tuxedos with a metal, horn or plastic buttons. The look works best with proper tuxedo trousers. These will have a satin strip down the outside of the legs and are sometimes cuffed.
Cover the waistband with a cummerbund and braces are allowed, but never wear a belt. A textured or pleated dress shirt, black or white bow tie and shiny dress shoes complete the look.
Features: Usually navy or black, with a shawl lapel and jetted pockets.
Example tuxedo: Slim fit shawl lapel navy tuxedo by Ferrecci.
The Business Suit
Your go-to suit for the office should be dark or navy blue. Charcoal also works well for the more conservative corporate environments. Go with wool or wool blend for the fabric, and notched lapels rather than peaked, for the ultimate classic effect.
Blue shirts and brown shoes enhance the no-nonsense business look. A lot of middle-aged men think a wild tie compliments their otherwise serious business suit. It doesn’t. By all means, add a dash of color, but rather play with shades, rather than contrast.
Single and double-breasted styles are both acceptable, but the double will probably make more of an impact in the boardroom. And if you’re worried your new boss is detail-obsessed, opt for four buttons on the sleeve and serious, business-like pockets.
What’s great about a business suit is the versatility. After work, you can simply lose the tie, change into black shoes, and you’re ready for any social occasion.
Features: Single or double-breasted. If it’s single, it must be two or three buttoned. It can be classic or modern fit, usually peak lapel, business-oriented pockets, and four sleeve buttons.
Example suit: Regular fit black suit by Andrew Marc.
The Casual (Sports) Jacket
The casual, sports jacket combo is for men who are more concerned with the breathability and comfort of their outfit than the look. Sports jackets are half-lined and come in soft cotton, wool or linen fabrics.
The lack of shoulder padding gives the sports jacket a relaxed look, and they are a great way to inject color into your wardrobe. The outfit also encourages you to play around with different types of pockets and elbow patches.
Don’t worry too much about matching pants to your sports jacket. Go with chinos or jeans for a dressed-down effect, or neatly-pressed suit trousers for the office. A pocket square can add a nice touch to this otherwise laid-back outfit.
Features: Has a notch lapel and flap or patch pockets, usually one or two-button sleeves. Suit jacket is single-breasted and can have one or two-button closure.
A descendant of naval uniforms, blazers invariably look best in dark or navy blue. Think of school uniforms here, in a more mature style, and more structured than a sport’s jacket.
Blazers come with wide, square shoulder pads, patched-on pockets, and notched lapels. The fabric is usually dense, like worsted wool, and touches of gold, such as buttons, epaulets, and stripes are not uncommon.
You can wear your blazer with light-colored chinos or check pants, and smart, brown loafers. While ultimately more casual than formal, the blazer should be seen as an upscale version of the sports jacket.
Features: Single-breasted, usually extra-slim fit with notched lapels. The jacket can have one or two-button closure and patched pockets.
Example: Slim fit black blazer by Mage Male.
A good suit is a considerable financial investment. You can avoid disappointment by planning ahead. Know when you want to wear it. Also, identify your body type, and the level of comfort you require, in advance. This will narrow down your options and hopefully lead you to make the right purchase decision.
The most basic definition of a man’s suit is a jacket and trousers intended to be worn as an ensemble. They will have the same cut and be made from the same material. Often, but not always, both the jacket and the trousers will be of the same color.
Different suits will come with an assortment of details that signify which category of outfit it belongs to. These details include the cut and fabric of the suit, the type of lapel, pocket shape, number of buttons and vents, and even the lining material. All these details contribute to the distinctive ‘style’ of a suit.