Peak Lapel vs. Notch Lapel - Suit Lapel Styles 101
In the art of men’s fashion, the devil lies in the details. Sometimes so subtle they’re easy to miss (if you don’t have our expert team of Oliver Wicks tailors on your side). Nowhere is that more apparent than with suit lapels. Often unconsidered as to the impact they have on your look, they can also make a big difference in the mood and tone you set with your choice of suit. Luckily, we’ve prepared this easy guide to walk you through lapel basics. Soon you’ll be styling yourself like a pro. It’s time to take the fit that suits you and make it your own!
The lapels of a suit are the folded ‘flaps’ at the neckline of the jacket. Historically, men’s jackets and coats had large lapels designed to be lifted to protect the neck against rain and wind. Reaching a peak in the English Regency, today, they play a more stylistic role in fashion and are typically slimmer and thinner. While their size and shape have changed a lot with trends, it’s rare to find a man’s jacket, be it as outerwear or as part of a suit, without lapels. They finish the neckline of a jacket with suave sophistication and act as a frame for your tie and face, drawing attention upward.
Today, you’ll find 3 key lapel styles in play. While the shawl style, iconic to the look of tuxedos, is seen as more of a niche offering, both the peak and notch offer small visual twists that can have a surprisingly impactful effect on your overall look. Let’s break them down a little further.
Let’s start with the basics and break each style of lapel down in greater detail. Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll wonder how you ever missed them in the first place!
While both the notch and the peak lapel can fit well into formal arenas, style gurus will typically assign the peak lapel the most formality. They can also be seen as a little vintage but with an innate elegance that still looks fantastic on modern-styled suits. Our friends over the pond in Britain may better recognize this style as the ‘pointed collar,’ and that really encapsulates the essence of the peak lapel well.
The peak lapel has a notched, backward-pointing, and almost arrow-like shape, adding extra flare around the face. While you will find them used on more casual wardrobe items like sports coats, they best suit formal styles and are considered a fashion ‘must’ on things like tailcoats (yes, they are still a thing). They’re also often used on double breasted suits to add the right air of vintage elegance, and are seen as the standard for this design. They’re rarer to find on single breasted suits and often have to be a custom request (at OW, you simply tick a box when ordering!).
There was a moment in the fashion world, from the end of World War 2 to the 70s, when peak lapels went out of fashion entirely. However, they’re back with a vengeance and fantastic for the man looking to add a layer of extra formality to his dress. This is the perfect lapel type to add to your eveningwear arsenal, and they make a great addition to wedding attire.
Because of this formal air, they’re also the only other lapel type that’s appropriate for tuxedos. While the standard shawl collar looks just as good, adding a peaked lapel to your black tie attire is a nice way to add flair and personality.
Because lapels act as a frame for the face, giving some thought to how your lapel compliments your face shape is always a smart idea. Because of the angularity of this lapel style, they’re a fantastic choice for men with rounder or boyish faces who want to introduce some ‘adult’ elegance to the table. It’s also a great choice for oval and heart-shaped faces.
This drawn-out length in the peak lapel can also do a lot to elongate the torso, making them a great choice for shorter men. Because the peak lapel tends to be both a little broader and longer than the notch lapel, they can also help heavy-set men better balance their physique.
Known as a ‘step collar’ in Britain, the notch lapel is found very commonly on single breasted suits today and has become the ‘default’ lapel type of choice. Primarily due to a strong association with business- and today, that’s where most men are exposed to the suit.
So while the peak lapel is technically dressier than the notch lapel, you have severity and seriousness in the notch lapel that can make it just as suited to formal events if styled well. It’s common, easy to find, and just as simple to wear.
Look at the back of the lapel on our model above. See how instead of the winged, backward-facing flair of the peak lapel, we have a strict 90-degree notch? We did mention that the difference was subtle! Sometimes you will find a narrower notch, technically called a ‘fish mouth’ lapel, but falling in the notch family.
While anyone can wear a notch lapel and look good, it favors the oval, square, and oblong face types. This is because the notch's easy, open angle helps emphasize heavier faces' best features. They’re also great for men who lie on either extreme of the size and height spectrum. Because they have such a ‘neutral’ feel, they de-emphasize body type without overwhelming anyone.
In today’s fashion world, there’s something of an ‘anything goes’ attitude, and as we’ve mentioned, both the peak lapel and notch lapel can easily be dressed up for formal functions. However, part of the art of elegant dressing is knowing how to make the right fashion choices, so let’s dig a little deeper into the lapel world with some tips on when and how to wear each style. Looking for more tips on the art of dressing well? Don’t forget that our Oliver Wicks newsletter is packed with fashion must-knows like this. You can sign up from any page on our site and have all the latest from the world of men’s fashion delivered right to your inbox weekly.
The notch lapel will be the default on most single breasted suits you find today, and it can easily be dressed up or down, so it’s a great first-choice lapel style to have in your wardrobe. For any business situation, be it business casual or formal, opt for the notch lapel first. It should also be your go-to for situations like job interviews, funerals and somber occasions, and conservative events.
If you favor the double breasted suit or use the double breasted cut for outerwear with lapels, you will want to take the peak lapel. If you want to add a jazzy personal touch to your single breasted suits, you can opt for a peak lapel, too, as it will draw a little attention without dominating the room. But remember that it has a more festive and celebratory feel and will not transition well into business situations and events where joie de vivre isn’t appropriate. It is, however, the only other appropriate choice for a tuxedo if you’re not wearing the standard shawl lapel.
As far as sports coats, and blazers, you will be best served by the slightly less formal notch collar. You can certainly find these items with peaked lapels, but it tends to be a bit of a sartorial mismatch unless you’re specifically looking to stand out from the crowd and feel confident doing so. For the same reasons, if you favor a more relaxed suit fit, you may like to stick with notch lapels.
The width of your jacket lapel should roughly match up with your choice of tie - For example, you shouldn’t wear a wide tie with narrow lapels. This is another topic in itself, but generally your choice will depend on your body type. People of average build tend to favor mid-widths, while skinny/larger gentlemen would opt for narrow/wide respectively.
Lapels bring a subtle, yet impactful, twist to any jacket, and picking the right lapel shape will elevate your style to new heights. Want to see the difference in action? See if you can spot the lapel type used in this in-depth review. Luckily, Oliver Wicks is proud to offer a range of lapel styles for any of our custom suits, so if you’re looking to create a look that’s uniquely your own, drop us a line at email@example.com to discuss your options further.