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Double Breasted Suits

Figure 1.--This American boy pictures with his sister wears a boyish-looking double breasted suit. His mother has lovingly embellished it with a huge ruffled collar and large bow. The photograph was taken in Michigan during the 1890s. 


I am not sure when double breasted style first appeared or who designed them. They may have been inspired by the military uniforms of the early 19th Century. Double breasted styles were used in military uniforms well into the 2oth Century.

I do not yet have any historical information. I am collecting available images which hopefully will provide some insights on the development of this important style.

Early Suits

The first usage I have seen of double breasted styling was in skeleton suits. One of the classic characteristics of a skeleton suit was parallel rows of buttons stretching from above the waist all the way to the shoulders. The inspiration is clearly the double breasted style of early 19th Century military uniforms.

Boys suits in the 1850s. These early suits have the look of military style jackets with a rows of large numbers of buttons--often brass buttons. Some of the suits had 30 or more buttons on them. Some were purely ornamental, but some of the suits had to be buttoned.

Figure 2.--This English image is undated, but I'd guess about the 1870s. The brother and sister (John and Beatrice Tynne) in matching dresses wear four buttons in a double-breasted style. Note the children's matching straw hats with flowers and elastic chin straps. While boys of the era commonly wore dresses, it was not as common to wear such girlish-looking hats. 

Oher Clothes

The double-breasted style was not limited to boys' jackets. Parallel rows of buttons appeared on many other types of clothing. Even dresses for little boys and girls appeared in the double breasted style. In comparison to the skeleton suits and mid-19th Century suits with large numbers of buttons, some of the double breasted dresses had only four buttons.

One of the most enduring double breasted garment was the reefer jacket. It was widely used in boys sailor suits and jackets in the late 19th Century.

Non-Military Styled Suits

I have seen double breasted suits without military-style buttons in 1870s or 80s clothing catalogs. I haven't had a chance to persue this yet, but will when I have a chance.

At this time, the earliest image I have of a double breasted boys' suit dates to the 1890s. It is an Americium image is a boys' knee pants suit. I believe the double breasted style was used primarily for older boys' styles. I do not recall any double breasted Fauntleroy suits. Mothers being mothers, however, some double breasted jackets were embellished with ruffled collars, bows, and wrist ruffles.


Since blazers were introduced in the late 1880s at British schools, boys have generally wore single breasted jackets. When modern suit styles developed after the First World war,
Figure 3.--Parents magazine pictured this smart double breasted suit in 1964. The caption read: "It's the season of the young, young British look when classic plaids and checks abound. To update the classics story, color becomes the key factor. Plaids play up to the young individualists. Checking in with the Continental look...a suit by Ultra. Double breasted, lined jacket has high collarless neckline, welt pockets. shorts have button on suspenders. All wool hounds tooth suit is very sporting in burgundy, white and blue combination. Sizes 3 to 7, about $26. Rob Roy turtle neck." 
single breasted suits were generally chosen for boys. American boys generally wore their suits with knickers while British boys wore shorts. Double breasted jackets, however, were relatively rare, even during the 1930s and 40s when double breasted suits were popular for adults.

Modern Suits

The 1920s-30s

Even though double breasted suits have never been the most popular styles for boys, they were widely worn in the 1920s and 30s. I know of no academic study, but based on the study of available images, I'd say that about 1 out if every three or four boys' suits in America were double breasted.

Figure 5.--French boys in the 1930s might have suits with both shortpants and knickers. This 1936 ad offered short pants suits in sizes up to 16 years. Note the double breasted style and the solid color kneesocks.
I think the ratio was much lower in Britain and Europe, but the style was worn in France. Suits for French boys sometimes came with both short pants and knickers for boys through 16 years of age.

The 1940s-50s

The 1960s-90s

Designers occasionally since the 1960s bring out a line of double breasted suits for boys. Generally, however, they do not sell as well as single breasted blazers, but are considered stylish by many..

Styles and preceptions of styles change over time. I always thought of double breasted suits as giving an old fashioned, stolid look. Since the 1980s I think the double breasted suit has been perceived as a cutting edge stylistic look. Stylists noe say that doubke breated suits, at least for boys gives a slimming look. The British conservative leader William Hague has been ordered by his spin doctors to change from double breasted to single breasted suits. As you may know he is still in his thirties and the idea is to make him look fatter and more substantial and therefore more able to command respect. Apparently double breasted jackets have a slimming effect, according to the style gurus.

Christopher Wagner


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Last updated: October 17, 1998