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Aug, 2 2023

How To Choose A Lapel Style For Your Suit Or Tux

How To Choose A Lapel Style For Your Suit Or Tux

Have you ever wondered how something as seemingly minor as a tuxedo lapel can speak volumes about your personal style, confidence, and taste? Tuxedo lapels are far more than just a piece of fabric on your suit—they are a silent language of style, the subtle nuance that sets apart an average appearance from a standout one. The perfect lapel can transform your formalwear, taking it from simple to bold, from understated to classy, or from staid to relaxed.

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Lets dive into the fascinating world of tuxedo lapels, their history, types, and the leading brands. We'll guide you on how to select the perfect lapel for any occasion and effectively use it as an expression of your personal style.

What Are Tuxedo Lapels?

Man wearing a dark gray notched lapel suit

Lapels are folds of upturned fabric on a suit or tuxedo jacket extending from beneath the collar to the waist. They form a V shape to frame the shirt and tie. There are various styles of lapels used throughout history, each communicating varying levels of formality for distinct occasions. In contemporary fashion, these rules are less clear-cut.

However, since a tux itself is pretty formal, the choice of lapels will usually accentuate or dress down the look to complement the event dress code and the wearer's body type.

Different Types of Tuxedo Lapels

Man wearing a light gray notched lapel suit

There are three main lapel variations, each with distinct physical features and varying formality levels. The three main ones include:

Man wearing a black peak lapel suit
  • Peak Lapels – This lapel type features upturned edges ending in a single point, called the "peak." Most common on double-breasted suits, dinner jackets, and tuxedos, their sharp points leave an assertive and bold impression. Peak lapels are generally wide, formal, and acceptable for black-tie and semi-formal occasions.
Man wearing a black shawl lapel suit
  • The Shawl Lapel – The shawl lapel is an elegant option for dinner jackets or tuxedos. They don't have angled edges but form a continuous curve from their starting point below the collar to the waist. You'll want to choose tuxedos with this lapel exclusively for highly formal black-tie events. Shawl lapels heighten tuxedos' suave, elegant, sophisticated, and streamlined appearance.
Man wearing a black notched lapel suit
  • Notch Lapels – The notch lapel style is the most common, characterized by a sideways V-like indentation below the collar. This "notch" or "step" usually sits between a 75- and 90-degree angle. Notch lapels are the most versatile, suitable for a range of relaxed and semi-formal events, giving off a timeless and classic appeal. They are less common for tuxedos overall since they're associated with office suits.

History and Evolution of Tuxedo Lapels

Man buttoning his navy shawl lapel suit jacket

Lapels are much older than tuxedos themselves. This integral men's fashion feature started in the 18th century, when wearers shifted from fully buttoned coats to more open variations supplemented with a waistcoat underneath. As the trend progressed, tailors began adopting lapels as a regular feature of traditional men's clothing. Older lapels were broader than the ones we know today. They featured elaborate designs, embroidery, and fabric to display wealth and status. Lapels of this age were either in the peak or shawl style.

During the 19th century, men's fashion became less ornate, and lapels generally shrunk in size. As they standardized, lapel styles emerged to signify varying degrees of formality. For example, the peak lapel was on double-breasted naval officer jackets.

In formalwear, suits adopted peak lapels at the turn of the 20th century. The style persisted, being common for Hollywood and cinema stars. In the 50s, suits were no longer as extravagant and adopted notch lapels to tone down the look. However, the suits of the 70s and 80s saw a return to wider lapel styles including both peak and notch variations. The shawl style persisted for black tie formal events.

Today, the choice ultimately depends on the event's formality, with shawl, notch, and peak lapels all being used, respectively.

How to Choose the Right Tuxedo Lapel

A couple looking at suits and tuxedos on a tablet

The choice of lapel for your tuxedo will depend on the occasion's formality, the jacket's design, and your body type. Lapels can drastically alter how your tuxedo looks on you, ultimately leaving different impressions. Let's take a closer look at when to choose each lapel type.

The Timeless and Classic Notch Lapel

As mentioned earlier, the notch lapel is the most common suit lapel. It gives off a classic, relaxed and timeless appeal. You can wear it on a wide range of semi-formal and relaxed occasions. These include semi-formal weddings, dates, dinner parties, job interviews, and everyday office wear.

Browse Notch Lapel Suits

Notch lapels are the safest option. If you aren't attending a black-tie event, it's hard to go wrong with them. Their slanted appearance doesn't cover or accentuate any particular proportions. With a subdued look, they're perfect for any body type.

You'll mostly find them on single-breasted suit jackets. Traditionally, they weren't present with double-breasted jackets or tuxedos. However, this has changed with the contemporary style.

The Bold and Eye-Catching Peak Lapel

Peak lapel suits are more formal, traditionally appearing on double-breasted jackets. They're appropriate for black-tie events like traditional weddings, galas, and formal dinners. However, they've also become popular for other semi-formal events and business occasions. This is because peak lapels exude a touch of assertiveness and bravado, making them perfect for those who want to communicate confidence.

Browse Peak Lapel Suits

Peak lapels are naturally wider and create the illusion of a broader and stronger chest, making them beneficial for men with narrower, rectangular frames. However, be careful not to overdo it. If you have naturally broad shoulders and an inverted triangle frame, wide peak lapels might make you look comically broad.

Traditionally, you'll see this lapel on double-breasted jackets. However, they also appear in single-breasted suit options and tuxedos.

The Elegant and Sophisticated Shawl Lapel

You should reserve shawl lapels for highly formal black-tie and evening occasions. These formal weddings, galas, formal dinners, and award ceremonies. They exude elegance and sophistication, adding to the signature sheen associated with formal evening wear. Shawl lapels create an uninterrupted streamlined effect, giving the impression of a longer torso.

As for body type, they work best with shorter men with rounder features. Traditionally, shawl lapels are present on tuxedos and evening suits. A wider shawl lapel will accentuate the chest rather than shoulders, which works great for tall men with narrow waists. A shawl lapel's curvature will also soften a square jaw, so face shape is important as well.

How to Style Tuxedo Lapels

Man wearing a black suit with a white rose attached to the lapel

Lapels provide the wearer with a unique opportunity for personal style with accessories. Once set on a lapel type, you can accentuate the effect with pocket squares, ties, and various lapel pins. However, this will also depend on the event's formality and the dress code. The trick is to strike a balance, complementing your overall look without overpowering it with accessories.

Decorating a Peak Lapel

While formal, peak lapels are unique and allow you to be adventurous with your customization choices. However, this will ultimately depend on if you're wearing a suit or a tuxedo.

For a classic approach with a tuxedo, select a black silk bow tie to match the peak lapel's high sweep. With less formal events, you can consider a long tie with a pop of color, such as deep burgundy, on your peak lapel suit. A textured tie also works to emphasize the peak's unique appeal. The tie should be a bit wider since a slim tie will create blank space.

Your pocket square should ultimately complement your tie. To do this, consider muted colors. A pale blue pocket square works exceptionally well with a burgundy tie.

Since they're broader, peak lapels create ample space for pins. A minimalist gold or silver pin can add flair, while a larger pin draws a bit more attention. If you want to go all out on style, a classical rose boutonniere adds even more flamboyance.

Decorating a Notch Lapel

Notch styles are more balanced so you can choose from a wide range of accessories, including ties, pocket squares, and lapel pins. They're also less formal, allowing you to make choices that better reflect your style.

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For example, you should choose a long tie the same width as the lapel, but the color and pattern should reflect the suit's fabric color and the occasion. For example, a navy suit with a notch lapel works well with a gray tie. At the same time, a brighter color with a pattern can be an exciting choice for a semi-formal wedding.

If your tie is solid, a patterned pocket square with a presidential fold can offer a bit more personality. A white pocket square with a presidential fold is always a safe choice for a more classical look. Your lapel pin should ultimately reflect the theme of your occasion. A simple and minimalist approach is best for business, while a floral boutonniere can reflect the tone of a wedding.

Decorating a Shawl Lapel

Because of this lapel style's high formality, you won't have to put much effort into decorating or customizing it with various colors. It works best with a black bow tie and a white silk pocket square. You'll also want to avoid lapel pins as they can interrupt the tuxedo's natural and elegant streamlined effect.

Elaborate colors and extra decorations can also look jarring as the shawl lapel is suitable for highly-formal black tie events.

Caring for Tuxedo Lapels

Man opening a garment bag with a black tuxedo inside

Tuxedo lapels are typically made from satin. You should dry clean your tuxedo once per season, as over-cleaning can damage delicate fabrics. Brush the lapels carefully to remove dirt and dust. If you want to straighten them up, use an ironing cover. If any stains appear on the lapel, blot them out with a damp cloth. Wiping can damage the fabric or potentially spread the color further. You can spritz a bit of regular, unflavored vodka and air the tuxedo out to remove odors.

As for storage, ensure your tuxedo is on a broad plastic or wooden hanger covered by a breathable garment bag. This will ensure that dust doesn't accumulate over time while providing adequate airflow to prevent moisture. Also, give your tuxedo enough space, as it shouldn't be squashed between other articles of clothing.

Review of Tuxedo Lapels from Different Brands

Tom Ford wearing a black double breasted peak lapel tuxedo

When you think of sharp-dressed Hollywood actors, you're probably admiring a suit or tuxedo designed by non-other than Tom Ford. The American fashion designer is well-known for peak lapels on his suits and tuxedos, making for a unique yet tasteful aesthetic.

Other brands focus on a more traditional approach while frequently incorporating all lapel types in their various suits and tuxedos. Canali is one such example. The Italian brand is dedicated to tailoring suits the traditional way for a timeless and altogether classical approach. Their lapels reflect this, using traditional measurements that naturally accentuate the slim cut.

Renting Tuxedos and Accessories

A shipping box containing a tux, shoes, and suspenders

While buying a tuxedo can be a significant investment, renting is a practical alternative for those who only need a tux for a special occasion or a few times a year. Many tuxedo rental services offer a wide range of tuxedos, suit jackets, and accessories, including various lapel styles, making it easier to achieve your desired look without breaking the bank.

When choosing to rent, consider the following tips:

  1. Start Early: As with any outfit for a special occasion, you should start looking for your tuxedo as early as possible. It's best to reserve your tuxedo at least one or two months before the event. This allows for any necessary adjustments and ensures the style you want is available.
  2. Choose the Right Fit: Make sure to get measured correctly, so the tuxedo fits you well. Even the most expensive tuxedo won't look good if it doesn't fit you correctly. Most rental services will provide guidance on how to take your measurements.
  3. Consider the Event: The formality of the event will dictate the type of tuxedo and lapel style you should choose. Always adhere to the event's dress code, if provided.
  4. Choose Your Accessories: Along with the tuxedo, consider renting the essential accessories, including a bow tie or necktie, pocket square, and cufflinks. These accessories can significantly enhance your overall look. Keep in mind that less is often more when it comes to accessorizing a tuxedo.
  5. Inspect Before Wearing: Once you receive your rented tuxedo, inspect it thoroughly. Ensure there are no stains, tears, or missing buttons. Try it on to ensure the fit is correct and that you feel comfortable in it. If there are any issues, contact the rental company immediately.

Symbolism and the Meaning of Tuxedo Lapels

Man wearing a black peak lapel tuxedo

Next to formality and occasion type, your choice of lapels can also alter your overall impression. Your lapels' style, width, and overall look can communicate a distinct fashion sense, attention to detail, and respect for men's fashion tradition.

For example, a wearer of peak lapels might be bold and confident while appreciating the opportunity to stand out and be unique. However, they still have an appreciation for classical approaches to style. Since they point upwards, peak lapels are often associated with ambition. This reflects their popularity among businessmen and military officers.

A notch lapel is more common for practical-minded individuals, often conservative in terms of style while still valuing a more relaxed approach. This is reflected in the highly versatile uses of notch lapels.

A tendency to favor shawl lapels indicates that the wearer prefers elegance and respects tradition. They might like the unity of the whole look rather than standing out with overly eye-catching lapels. This is because shawl lapels flow down from the face more than framing the chest and shoulders.


Man wearing a black peak lapel suit

Lapels are an essential detail on any tuxedo or suit. They can create a harmonious overall style but should be ultimately matched with the formality level of the occasion. Notch lapels tend to be versatile and practical for everyday wear and semi-formal occasions. Peak lapels offer a more distinguished and bold appearance, making them an appropriate choice for formal and black tie events. Shawl lapels are almost always present with tuxedos and are the most formal option.

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