FOR MANY men, the double-breasted suit is a matter of such mystery and confusion that they'd just as soon leave it alone until the fad passes.
But the double-breasted suit is shaping up to be more than one of fashion's fleeting whims. It's been nearly five years since the double-breasted suit began to re-emerge as the stylish man's choice, and its popularity shows no signs of abating.
With double-breasted suits representing anywhere from 40 percent to 80 percent of the suit inventory at area specialty stores, it's worth taking a closer look at some of the most popular myths surrounding what insiders refer to as "d.b.'s."
Myth No. 1. Double-breasted suits are just a fad that will quickly go out of style.
According to Tony Barbato, a spokesman for Hamburgers, "In past fashion cycles [most recently the late '70s], double-breasted suits were a fad. It would last one or two seasons and make up maybe 5 [percent] or 10 percent of a specialty store's [suits]."
The current cycle is showing the kind of popularity last seen in the '50s, he says, and while "nothing's ever permanent, I don't see it diminishing at all in the next year or two."
Modern men are also extending the life of the garment by no longer observing that old tradition that reserved double-breasted suits for winter wear. "With the more fashion conscious, seasonality doesn't have as much to do with what a man chooses to wear as having the right look and the kind of elegance and sophistication they want to show," he says.
At Hyatt & Co. stores, the number of four-button and six-button sport coats and suits has continued to rise about 10 percent every year for the past four years, so that they now represent about three-quarters of the suits in stock.
Myth No. 2. A double-breasted suit must always be worn buttoned-up.
"I'm wearing a double-breasted suit right now, and it's not buttoned-up -- in fact, I never button it up," says Marc Sklar, the always elegantly dressed retailer from Bernard Hill, on the phone. "Today's 'd.b's' are cut very different from the ones in the '50s, so you have a choice now," says Mr. Sklar. "Of course, you can button it up if you want to, but if you don't, it still looks just as neat as a single-breasted because there's less flap-over [of fabric] in a well-tailored and well-balanced suit than there used to be."
The front flap on the old suits would be fastened at least an inch to an inch and a half farther around the middle than the updated models.
Myth No. 3. Short, heavy men must never wear them.
In fact, a double-breasted suit might actually be more flattering than a single-breasted for a short man, especially if it's worn buttoned-up, says Mr. Sklar. "You get a solid one-color presentation and one line, which can make a man look taller, and hTC you don't get that when the suit is opened up [as with a single-breasted] and the line broken," he says.
Menswear expert Bruce Boyer addresses the subject of stocky men in his new book, "Eminently Suitable," (W. W. Norton & Co., 1990).
While he generally advises heavy men against wearing excess material, he makes one important exception: "There is still something of a general feeling that a heavier man should never wear a double-breasted jacket. Totally false. A heavier man can indeed wear such a jacket, and often looks the better for it because, even though there is that extra flap of cloth, which is a liability, the double breast covers a prominent paunch and with its asymmetrical line distracts the eye away from the center of the torso, a real asset. The single-breasted jacket tends to separate, and often gape, directly over the paunch and thus exposes and calls attention to the very aspect one wants to hide."
Myth No. 4. They make one look stuffy and uptight and are only suitable for formal occasions.
Old-time double-breasted suits were very stiff and structured, but the newest models have a much easier fit and proportion and are cut of softer fabric, says Mr. Barbato. "The trousers are usually pleated and more fully proportioned in the leg, and the jacket is a little broader, softer and much more relaxed."
Mr. Sklar notes that even tailors in the conservative Savile Row tradition have begun making deeper, more comfortable armholes than even the double-breasted styles created in the '80s.
As for the formality of the double-breasted suit, Mr. Sklar says, "Men do tend to think of them as a little dressier, but only if they're darker and in an elegant pinstripe, but not if they're in a glen plaid or tweed."
Suit courtesy of Hamburgers.
Styled by Llewellyn Jenkins/T.H.E. Artist Agency.