A reader asked this a few weeks ago now, and I thought I’d illustrate my answer by showing the widths that five tailors have cut for my body and proportions.
As you can see from the images below, some lapels are wider than others, but they are all within a range. No one is as skinny as most ready-to-wear suits out there today, and no one is 1980s super-wide.
Tailors usually stick within moderate limits because they know that a lapel looks more classic, subtle and harmonious when it is proportionate to the rest of the suit – it is balanced somewhere around halfway across the width of the chest.
The width of tailors’ lapels has changed markedly over the decades. It’s probably the key indicator of period when it comes to suits, closely followed by trouser width. But they always tend to move less than ready-made fashions.
Of course, there are much broader bespoke lapels than those shown here. I haven’t used my Chittleborough & Morgan jacket, for instance, which has 11.5cm lapels. And other tailors like Sciamat are also deliberately wider.
But there’s the rub – the lapels are deliberately wide as a point of fashion, or design. There are precious few things you can do with the line of a classic suit to make it stand out from the crowd, but changing the lapel width is definitely one of them.
So when you’re deciding how wide you want your lapels to be on a bespoke suit, bear this in mind. If you want it to be more unusual (and potentially be less versatile, and riskier in terms of going out of style) then go slimmer or wider, but if you want a classic, stay within the boundaries of what’s on display here (bearing in mind that this is for a 39-inch chest – bigger sizes would have bigger lapels).
Within the range of these tailors, I probably prefer a slightly wider lapel today – around 10cm. It has a little more drama than 9cm and is further away from the horrific skinny lapels on the high street. The Huntsman is too narrow at 8.5cm.
However, because they are all within a fairly conservative range, there are none that I just wouldn’t wear any more. It doesn’t bother me that much that the Huntsman is narrower (it bothers me that this is what they consider a casual jacket, but that’s another story). And I never notice that the Anderson & Sheppard is a touch narrower than the Europeans.