New Heights: the Peaked Lapel
Josh Sims discovers the advantages of a peaked rather than notched lapel, and when to wear one
Visit a bespoke tailor and one of the questions a customer is likely to be asked is notch, shawl or peak? Said tailor is referring, of course, to the lapel shape, but it's an esoteric inquiry all the same. While all styles of lapel have their moments in the fashion sun, traditionally the shawl collar has been the preserve of dinner suits and cocktail attire, while the notch lapel has become by far the dominant form, pretty much standard on the vast majority of suits.
That leaves the peak lapel – in which the notch, where the fabric of the collar meets the fabric of the lapel, juts out with an extended, triangular point towards the shoulder – somewhere in between. In service with the men's wardrobe since the early 19th century, when it first appeared adorning the dress tailcoats worn by British Army officers, the peak lapel has neither the pedestrianism of the standard notch, nor the flashiness of the shawl.
What it does arguably have is just the right touch of dandy – and, after popularity during the 1970s through to the mid-1980s, probably fell from grace during the more dressed down times that followed, when dandy was more a dirty word. Gieves & Hawkes has, as it were, assailed the peak for its spring/summer 2018 collection – its tailoring taking inspiration from the wardrobe of one Prince Charles, a man known to favour the peak lapel himself.
But Gieves & Hawkes has also sought to break with tradition. The peak lapel has, over more recent decades, typically been found on double-breasted jackets. For the new season the company offers peak lapels on a soft-tailored jacket in a chocolate glencheck for example, or on a navy hopsack blazer. Gieves demonstrates how it works every bit as well on a single-breasted jacket – enter its three-piece with peak lapel in a mid-grey sharkskin
Indeed, wearing a peak lapel on a single-breasted suit is something of an old, forgotten idea. Gracing the roomier, high-waisted cut of the tailoring of the time, it was commonplace during the 1920s to 1940s – check out Jimmy Stewart in Rope or Edward Steichen's early publicity shots of Gary Cooper. Their wide lapels suited the wider ties of the time but also served to better frame the face and – with that deep, slimming V-shape through the chest – to emphasise the width of the shoulders. The more clearly signalled masculinity that resulted, was ideal for movie stars, naturally, but also for more ordinary men seeking to make an impression.
Of course, that also means getting the proportions right: too big and a notch lapel can look self-consciously retro, too skinny – or worse, too short – and they suggest the jacket really belongs to a maître d' or boy-band member. The more you make of a lapel, it seems the more finesse is required of its tailoring.