What exactly is a lapel? In the world of suits and tuxedos, the lapel is the part of the jacket that folds out from the neck and chest. It literally makes up the decorative edge of the jacket which runs from the bottom edges upward and around the neck. It is mainly decorative in nature, but it gives the edge of the jacket a finish, and the decorative slots in the edge of the lapel has historically provided the space or means to attach an emblem or floral accessory. The most noticeable lapel look is on a tuxedo in a wedding, with a small white flower bud attached to the corner of one side, usually on the left.
What is a lapel? With most jackets, the lapel design comes in three different forms. There are variations, but they fall into one of the three families of style or cut. The first is a notch lapel. This is probably the most recognizable in business suits and tuxedos. It has a clear break in the lapel that juts out, comes back in, and then goes out again, like two teeth on a saw. It’s not as dramatic as that, but a similar concept. The second is a peak lapel. Finally, the third is the shawl lapel, which is only found on tuxedos and never seen on a business suit jacket. The shawl actually looks like a tightly wrapped sash or ribbon from a distance wrapped around the neck and down across the front of the jacket, but it is actually part of the jacket edge itself.
Practical Function of the Lapel
Generally, the lapel has no practical function. People might see a suit wearer on a really bad day fold up their collar to protect from the wind or rain, but that happens out of necessity or desperation. It’s really not meant to have any purpose aside from decorative appearance. That said, a lapel finishes off the look of a suit or tuxedo jacket, and socially has become an expected design form of a suit. One can see this comparing suits when looking for a tuxedo rental in Sacramento or elsewhere, especially when looking at three different jacket styles at the same time.
Picking a Lapel Style
If one wants big collars and flare, then the peak lapel is definitely the way to go. It produces a significant and visible cut pattern of the jacket. There is plenty of room for accessories to be attached as well, whether a membership pin or flower. It’s been around a very long time, easily going back to the 1970s when the lapels were a bit over-sized and distinct in that period.
The shawl label is a bit muted, but it works really well on hybrid jackets that involve two different colors. Probably the most visible form of this jacket was on big band musicians and entertainers who wanted a tuxedo look, but something easier to move around in onstage. This kind of jacket works well with a vest as well, especially when the inner vest is the same color as the lapel, but the jacket and pants are a different color.
The best strategy if not sure what to wear is to try on different jacket styles and see how they look in a mirror. And this is extremely easy to do at a tuxedo rental venue where lots of options are available in one place.