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The 3 types of suit lapels (and how to know which is right for you)

Let professional tailor Jeffrey Appelson teach you about lapels.

Gray sport coat on rack from front
Jeffrey Appelson / Jeffrey Scott

A man’s suit is one of the most elegant pieces in his wardrobe. It is what you wear to land new business. You slide one on when you are attending a momentous occasion like a wedding. You choose your black or charcoal suit when you have an after-6 pm event. And you choose the same when you mourn loved ones at a funeral. Suits are our best friend, our constant companion as we go through life. Of course, that means you have to get to know your favorite tailored garment. There are a dozen things to understand and learn when you are just starting out, and one of the most important parts of the suit to learn is the lapel.

The lapel is the front and center of the suit. While the shirt and tie create the arrow pointing to your face, the lapels form the framework that can either make you look formidable and confident or sheepish and disappear into the crowd. Of course, we could tell you all about our experience with suit lapels, but as always, we would prefer to speak to someone in the industry and let you hear it from those who make them. We sat down with 13-year industry veteran Jeffrey Appelson, owner of Jeffrey Scott Bespoke Suits out of Princeton, New Jersey, to get his take on the feature.

jacket being made
Jeffrey Appelson / Jeffrey Scott

Trends of lapels

It may not be something that you think about or often notice when you are buying a suit, but the lapels are one of the primary things that have changed with the times. While the overall length of the suit jacket has shortened since the 80s, the lapels have gone in and out in width over time. If you think back to watching Friends in the 90s, Ross Gellar always wore suits that sported wider lapels than we have now. Sometime around the turn of the century, the lapels began to slim down. Justin Timberlake and TV characters like Neal Caffrey from White Collar lapels that seemed to disappear, getting thinner and thinner. In the more recent years, suit lapels have evened out and found a good middle ground.

Appelson says there is a clear and defined width you should stick to when shopping for a suit. “There is a rule of thumb,” he says. “It is all about balance and proportions when it comes to the lapels. The standard is about three and a half inches. But that isn’t going to work on a guy who is 3oo pounds. He needs more width to balance out the size of his chest and the width of his shoulders. Skinnier guys can go with a more narrow lapel. But I wouldn’t go any more narrow than three inches.”

Now that you know what to look for, here are the three types of lapels to keep your eye on as you start shopping or talking to your bespoke tailor about.

man in suit jacket
Ellie S. Photography / Jeffrey Scott

Notch lapel

The first lapel is the most classic. The notch lapel is the one most of us have in the closet already. There is a timeless classic look to the look that never goes out of style. Characterized by the notch at the widest point, this lapel is the look that will be your go-to for most men, keeping it simple and easy. There are no special trends or uses for a notch lapel; it works for virtually any suit, blazer, or sports coat, so you can keep your mind on the business at hand.

“What I focus on is timeless, classic style,” Appelson says. “Things that will never go out of fashion.” Keeping it simple with the notch lapel is the best way to have a suit you can wear for years to come without the worry that your narrow lapel will look outdated. Or cheapen the look of the jacket itself.

Man in Peak Lapel
Ellie S. Photography / Jeffrey Scott

Peak lapel

Next up is the peak lapel. This lapel is characterized by the notch in the previous lapel replaced by a point angled up towards the shoulder. It is a unique look that can add some flare to your ensemble. More than that, it can be used to widen the shoulders of a thinner man, giving him the appearance of more girth. A great example of a man wearing a peak lapel the right way is Harvey Specter in Suits. The tactic gives him the feeling of size and the air of authority. Perfect for the man who needs to control a room.

“I always recommend the peak lapel for the tuxedo because it is more formal, more elegant, and more prominent,” Appelson says. He then touches on the effect it can have on the thinner man’s chest. “It draws the eyes up to the shoulders and gives some width to the shoulders.” He also adds that ensuring you have the right construction in the shoulders can help add to the effect of the peak lapel, something a bespoke tailor can do for you.

Man in shawl collar
Ellie S. Photography / Jeffrey Scott

Shawl collar

“If you really want to differentiate, something unique, if you really want to stand out, you have the shawl collar. But I would really only do that with a tuxedo or a dinner jacket,” Appelson says. He then goes deeper into the different types of shawl collars in a subgroup of their own. “There are different shapes to that as well, different ways to cut it. More so than the notch or the peak, where you can vary in width. With the shawl collar, there are different ways to shape what we call the belly.” Appelson explains that you can play with the shapes to give yourself a truly unique look. “You can have a more modern, slim-looking lapel where it is basically the same width all the way through. You can have a bellied, where the belly is wide and prominent at the bottom.”

Suits are some of the most classic and elegant forms of men’s dress, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Looking your best in a suit has a lot to do with fit. Getting yourself a great tailor like Jeff over at Jeffrey Scott is the best way to get yourself looking your best. Until you can stand in front of his mirror and have him help you design your perfect bespoke suit, these are some tips to make sure you have the right lapel.

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Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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