Single breasted or double breasted? Three buttons or two? What to look for when shopping for a jacket…

A man’s first suit experience is often an awkward one: an ill-fitting ensemble thrown together for a family wedding or a school-leavers’ dance; restrictive and desperately uncool. As the years progress, though, owning a suit becomes an important rung on the ladder to adulthood. Thereafter it’s all about subtle sartorial refinement.

And the real devil is in the (jacket) detail. Whether making a style statement or keeping things traditional, here are some things to consider when choosing a suit jacket.

single-breasted jacket

A classic two-button single-breasted jacket is a must-have for any man’s wardrobe whether it’s twinned as part of a two-piece, paired with casual coloured trousers or dressed down with jeans.

There are some rules of thumb – quite literally – when it comes to getting the length right: you should be able to pinch the bottom of a well-fitting jacket when your arms are by your side; and its sleeves should stop at your wrist bone (shirt sleeves should then ideally start at the base of your thumb). As for buttons, a two-button style gives the most versatility with a single-breasted jacket – one can look too tux-like; three a little, well, buttoned up – and always leave the second one unfastened.

Shape-wise, be sure the shoulders fit as naturally as possible (too big or too tight and it’ll be painfully obvious), that the collar fits neatly against a shirt collar and that the lapels complement the cut (slimmer ‘notched’ lapels work better on slimmer suits) and the body shape.

double-breasted jacket

The double-breasted jacket has stepped out from its Eighties power-suit shadow to become today’s go-to garment for those wishing to add a bit of flair to something classic. While it shares most of the same style rules as its single-breasted sibling, there are a few more intricacies that come with having more fabric and more fastenings.

There can be up to eight buttons, for one, but six or four tend to do more to flatter (again, leave the bottom one unfastened) and look out for – and fasten – the hidden anchor button: it gives the jacket shape.

Lapels are more usually peaked than notched which can allow for them to be a little wider so be sure they lay flat when it’s buttoned up – which will be much more than with a single-breasted version. So too will the desire to accessorise; there’s something about the sartorial standing of the double-breasted jacket that suits the addition of bow ties, pocket-squares, handkerchiefs and extravagant sock-wear – make sure these are in complementary colourways or bring out some subtle detailing.