Single-breasted suits are certainly more fashionable for formal events these days, but it's likely that you have also come across double-breasted suits on more than one occasion. With the exception of black-tie events that require a tuxedo, both single- and double-breasted suit jackets can be worn for most other occasions without restriction; that is to say, single- and double-breasted suit jackets can be worn interchangeably no matter the setting, place, occasion, or season. However, it can be safely said that the double-breasted jacket is the more formal of the two (barring a tuxedo of course), and wearing a double-breasted suit can give you a little extra edge of style and confidence if you pull off the look correctly.
So why the two styles? Many fashion trends and garments that evolve tend to replace the more archaic one over time, but this is not so with single- and double-breasted suit jackets. In this next section, we'll tell you how these different jacket types came into being, and why both (rather than one over the other) still exist today.
Modern double-breasted suit jackets can trace their origins back to the pea coats commonly worn by servicemen in European and North American navies. This style that sported two rows of buttons—with three on each side—carried over to suits and formal wear. While single-breasted suits have always been more popular, double-breasted jackets experienced widespread admiration between the 1930s and 1950s, as well as the latter part of the 1980s all the way into the first years of the 21st century. Double-breasted tuxedos are exceedingly rare, but not unheard of. They are, however, something you'll only likely find in Europe, as double-breasted tuxedos failed to gain a foothold in North American formal fashion. Still, they can be a great way to accentuate your overall style; just be sure that the rest of your outfit is black-tie compliant.
As for single-breasted suits, we traced their origins to fashionista Beau Brummell in one of our previous articles on the different suit styles—British, American, and Italian. The single row of buttons—almost always two and rarely three—has remained the dominant style in formal attire across the globe and likely isn't going to give up this distinguished title. A single-breasted suit allows for more versatility than a double-breasted one, as it can be worn open or closed due to the lesser amount of fabric needed to hold the suit together. Double-breasted suits, on the other hand, should always be worn closed with only the bottom button undone, as wearing one unbuttoned will make it look very awkward, especially when sitting down at a table. But we'll get to these finer rules of etiquette later. As both single and double-breasted suits come with a variety of lapel styles and cuts, the most important aspect of a double-breasted suit is the button arrangement.
Four or Six?
Most double-breasted suits on the market today come with two rows of buttons. In a 6 x 2 arrangement (two rows, three buttons each) the top buttons are always decorative. The bottom two on one side (usually on your right) are the ones that actually close the jacket. The very bottom button should be left undone as it will allow you to move more comfortably when wearing the double-breasted suit jacket, and it will be less constricting when you sit down. There should also be two inside buttons invisible to the outside on the left side of the jacket to hold it in place. One of these should always be buttoned, as it will prevent the outer part of the jacket from crumpling too easily. The general rule to follow is that if you decide to button only the top of the outer jacket, you can button the top and bottom inside buttons, or only the top inside button, as this will give you more wiggle room in the suit. Many double-breasted suits also only come with one inner button, and if that's the case, you only have to worry about buttoning the one rather than coin-flipping between two. It's not rocket science, but from our experience people still inevitably get confused about this sometimes.
The 4 x 2 arrangement also follows the same general buttoning rules as the more prominent 6 x 2 layout. The only real difference is that the top decorative buttons on each side are absent. This can be beneficial for men who are shorter than average, as the extra button in a 6 x 2 arrangement can look awkward and out of place in relation to a shorter torso. Even some taller men also prefer a 4 x 2 button arrangement, as the absence of the top decorative buttons provides a more modern, minimalist style aesthetic as opposed to the busier traditional 6 x 2 configuration. As with most subtleties of fashion sense, it all comes down to personal style preference, and one isn't necessarily better or worse than the other.
One Button or Two
When we're discussing single-breasted suit jackets (and this goes for tuxedos as well), it is common to only fasten the top button out of the two. Again, this also is an issue of personal style, but in many circles fastening the bottom button is a huge faux pas, so we would recommend against it. If your single-breasted suit has three buttons—which is not very common—the middle button should always be fastened. The bottom button will follow the never-button rule, but the top button on the jacket is always optional. Of course for more casual formal events, there is nothing wrong with wearing a single-breasted suit open and unbuttoned, and this will likely be more comfortable for you especially if the event you're attending lasts a good while. As a reminder, double-breasted jackets should always remain fastened due to the extra fabric required to keep the suit symmetrical and in place; an unbuttoned double-breasted suit would look uneven and somewhat sloppy.
As double-breasted suit jackets add a greater element of prominence to any formal ensemble, wearing a vest is another optional choice to accentuate your personal sense of style. In one of our previous articles, we discussed how to properly pair vests with suit jackets. As both single-breasted and double-breasted vests are widely available, it is best to follow the simple rule of pairing like with like. Single-breasted jackets should go with single-breasted vests, double-breasted jackets should pair with double-breasted vests, and sweater "vests" should be reserved for more casual outings such as rounds of golf or afternoon luncheons.
Of course it is perfectly feasible to wear a single-breasted vest with a double-breasted suit, but it's probably not a good idea to attempt this the other way around, that is to say a double-breasted vest with a single-breasted suit. The latter would look strange and out of place.
Also be aware that during the summer months, you may want to forego the vest altogether, and this is especially true with double-breasted suit jackets. The extra material could leave you sweltering on a hot summer day, but this option of using dual layers may come in handy when the weather is colder if you don't feel like bothering with heavy or cumbersome overcoats to stay warm.
The necktie is undoubtedly the most common suit accessory that people choose to wear when formal dress codes are required. While many decide to forego any sort of neckwear with a single-breasted suit, doing this is quite rare—and off-putting in some social circles—with a double-breasted suit, so a necktie is usually in order. As a double-breasted suit makes a bolder statement than standard single-breasted suit types, you'll want a necktie that will complement this prominence. One of the best ways to do this is to tie your necktie with a symmetrical knot, and as one of our previous articles explained, the Windsor, Half-Windsor, and St. Andrew knots are ideal for this purpose. A full Windsor knot is a great way to accentuate a double-breasted suit jacket as it is the largest of the necktie knots, and you will be sure to stand out in a good way. If you prefer something a little more subdued, a Half-Windsor is perfectly acceptable, as the symmetry of the knot will pair nicely with the uniform layout of the button configurations on a double-breasted jacket. Bow ties can also be worn with a double-breasted jacket, but we would caution against this for all but the most seasoned gentlemen who know formal wear fashion sense like the back of their hand. Of course a bow tie would be required for a double-breasted tuxedo, but for everyday suits you will have to be careful with the color schemes and especially be aware of how well you can fasten a bow tie. You want your neckwear to enhance and complement your double-breasted suit, not detract attention away from it. Our opinion is that neckties fare better with double-breasted suits, but if you're feeling lucky and confident enough, there's nothing stopping you from at least trying out a bow tie to get a better feel for what works for your personal style.
There aren't too many spoken—or unspoken—rules when it comes to pairing shirts with a double-breasted suit, but we would caution you to avoid wearing a shirt with a button-down collar. We would also say the same thing for single-breasted suits, but for double-breasted suits this is more than just a mere suggestion. As most formal dress shirts use cutaway and spread collars anyway, you'll have no trouble at all finding something that will fit into your style preferences when you decide to try out a custom double-breasted suit.
At Enzo Custom, we have a variety of styles to choose from when it comes to custom suits, so whether you're looking for a single-breasted or double-breasted jacket, be sure to browse our website or stop into one of our showrooms to get a custom fitting from one of our expert clothiers.