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Suit Republic: Introduction to Suit Lapels

When considering suits and blazers, it’s easy to become so overwhelmed by the myriad choices of fabrics, patterns, and colors that you can easily look past the basics, like simple construction details.

More specifically, the lapel style of your blazer can say a lot. And while notch, a peak, or a shawl style lapels all have their place, and none is either a fail-safe bet or unequivocally avoided, your decision should be both informed and deliberate.

Here’s a quick guide to suit and jacket lapel styles.

Notch Lapel

The notch lapel is the most traditional of the lapel options.

As far a definition goes, the notch lapel is fairly self-explanatory. A notch lapel is characterized by a concave notch where the fabric from the lapels meet the fabric from the collar.

However, like elsewhere in menswear, while identifying a particular style is relatively easy, knowing when to wear it can be challenging. And lapel styles are especially tricky, as traditional style lines have become increasingly blurred over time.

The notch lapel is a traditional middle-of-the-road choice. It tends to be seen as a bit more conservative, and therefore more appropriate for situations where an overly flashy look would be out of place.

For instance, it is well suited for a day-to-day office environment, where looking sharp may be key and too much flash more disruptive than anything. On the other hand, a notch lapel can also be the way to go in a more casual setting, when wearing a jacket at all will already make you stand out enough.

You’re also much more likely to find a jacket that’s suitable for a skinny tie, when considering a notch lapel. Remember the rule of matching your tie width to your lapel width? It’s merely natural that a notch lapel will tend to run skinnier than a peak lapel, if only because the peak itself adds width the lapel.

Generally, however, a notch lapel offers a lot of versatility, which makes it a great choice for menswear beginners and experts alike. Novices can worry far less about creating a clashing ensemble, and experts can take advantage of the flexibility and really hone down the rest of their look.

Peak Lapel

While the notch lapel jacket has been a staple of men’s style since its introduction, the peak lapel has been a bit more divisive. As such, it’s seen swings of popularity and decline, though of course it has never completely faded from the menswear world.

Let’s first take a look at construction. Whereas the notch lapel is pretty self-explanatory, the peak lapel is a bit more vague.

The difference lies exactly where the notch does – where the fabric of the collar meets the fabric of the lapel. Instead of the concave notch, a peak lapel juts out with an extended, triangular point that reaches upwards towards the shoulder.

The size of the ‘peak’ can actually vary pretty widely depending on the style of the jacket. Regardless, just by the nature of extending at all, a peak lapel tends to come out wider than a notch lapel.

As such, it’s often paired successfully with wider ties, which might explain some of the fluctuations in its popularity.

While skinny notch lapels fit perfectly with the skinny ties of the 1960s, it was the wide ties of the 1970s that really brought peak lapels to the height of their popularity. Throw in the over-the-top boldness that was so favored in those days and a big flashy peak lapel was about damn near as good as it got.

Peak lapels stayed big through the 1980s before being somewhat abandoned during the more drab, casual, down-played and grungy fashions of the 1990s. Now, in the 2010s the style is coming back into vogue with the resurgence of interest in classic tailoring.

Versatility is always the name of the game.

When it comes to formality, the peak lapel falls into a kind of funky middle ground. On a structured business suit, it’s definitely a power move that puts it above a standard notch lapel. That said, it’s flashier at the same time, so maybe not a great choice for a young professional just starting to climb his way up the corporate ladder.

A peak lapel is also a common choice for a tuxedo, which is obviously about as dressy as it comes. On the other hand, on a more unstructured jacket, a peak lapel can be a fun way to add some serious panache to a more casual look.

Wear It To: Business meetings, lunches, dinners or cocktails at nice restaurants, anywhere in Italy.

Looks Best On: The dapperly suited sartorial set, businessmen, shorter men, guys carrying around a few extra pounds.

Shawl Lapel

With a shawl lapel, we’re right back to simple, self-explanatory menswear terms. A shawl lapel is exactly that – a shawl. That is, the lapel has no notch, no peak, but is a continuous strip of fabric running from lapel to collar to lapel, and only tapering off when it finally hits the button closure.

Generally, a shawl lapel is seen as one of the most formal lapel styles for a jacket. This is largely due to the fact that it’s used almost exclusively for tuxedo and formal dinner jackets. In these cases, the collar is usually a satin or grosgrain material in slight contrast to the jacket fabric. The lapel is usually black, but not always, as worn here.

Likewise, a shawl lapel jacket will usually have all the other attributes of a formal tuxedo jacket. For example, a single button closure and an often-ventless tail.

Wear It To: Black tie and other types of formal events.

Looks Best On: Everyone, if the proportions are right. Stay away from overly narrow shawl lapels.