This Is Why Coats Have Lapels

The stylistic flair isn't as functionless as you'd think.

Lapels are arguably the most dominant characteristic of a jacket. But have you ever asked yourself, "Why do so many pieces of outerwear on this planet have triangular folds at the shoulders?" We have, which is why we launched an investigation to find out why this is the case. And the answer to the mystery of why we have lapels—as with all things good in fashion and style—comes down to a mix of form and function.

The Three Lapel Types

To understand why lapels exist, it's essential to become familiar with each of the three principal lapel forms—notch, peak, shawl—and their distinct looks and functionalities.

Notch lapels, the most common style, are marked by a discernible gap between the lapel and collar and are mostly seen on business suits, sport jackets, and blazers. (If you have a jacket on right now, yours probably has notch lapels.) Peak lapels, nearly always featured on double-breasted jackets, are the former's flashier, more sophisticated cousin, characterized by the way in which the lapel "peaks" laterally passed the collar. Modern shawl lapels, which were first spotted on Victorian smoking jackets, are reserved almost exclusively for tuxedos and formal dinner jackets and are unique from the other lapel forms in that they don't sport any kind of notch or peak; instead, they form one seamless curve from the collar right on down to the button closure.

Why Lapels Exist

The earliest lapel style (notch) originated from tailcoats and frocks worn by men in the 18th century. Such coats were worn with collars that rose higher up the sides of the neck. However, when the weather would get hot, wearers would be unfasten those stuffy high collars and leave them flopped to the sides, to ensure maximum air flow and cooling. 

Over time, that more relaxed look evolved into what we know as the lapel today. By the Victorian era, double-breasted frocks featuring lapels that were creased and fixed became the norm. The Edwardian era of the early 20th century saw a decline in frocks, with morning coats, which also featured fixed lapels, taking their place as de-facto businessman attire. 

Lapels would undergo a series of changes in width and shape throughout the years—the razor thin lapels donned by '60s Mods, the clownish flared iterations favored by '70s disco kings—but in recent years the long journey of lapel appears to have come full circle. After all, nowadays, there's nothing cooler than wearing it flipped up. 

And if you're on the market for the newest, hottest fashions, check out the 10 Must-Have Men's Style Buys This Holiday Season.

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