As ever in the lovely, international, interactive community that is Permanent Style, this article was spurred by a reader.
He asked about the appropriate configuration of jacket pockets on a suit he was ordering, and I realised we hadn’t covered it in our Guide to Suit Style. So here we go: everything you wanted to know, and probably some things you didn’t, on jacket pockets.
Do ask questions on anything I’ve missed out, in the comments below.
Let’s start with an easy one. The outbreast pocket, which is the one sitting on the left of your chest on the outside of the jacket (hence outbreast, not inbreast) is nearly always a welt.
This means there is an opening, with a strip of cloth just below it, reinforcing it (shown above).
The alternative is a patch pocket, where a piece of cloth is simply laid on top of the jacket, with the top open. This is not very common as a breast pocket, because it stands out much more than a hip pocket, and so makes the jacket look much more casual.
As a result, I wouldn’t recommend having it on a suit, only a sports jacket.
And, I would only do so with a Neapolitan maker, personally. Most other tailors – particularly the English – have a tendency to cut larger, squarer patch pockets, which are not that elegant and are better suited to actual sporting jackets.
I have had dinky Neapolitan patch pockets on the breast of some sports jackets – as shown at the top of this piece on my Caliendo jacket. But even there, I more usually have a welt.
That welt can also vary in shape and direction. Most are straight, and angled slightly up towards the shoulder. This creates an impression of breadth.
Some tailors though, particularly Neapolitans, like to curve that pocket, making it scooped, perhaps a little like a boat. They call it a ‘barchetta’ as a result (shown above). It can be an attractive little touch.
Other permutations of the outbreast pocket include flaps, bellows and jetted. I’d recommend against all of them though, unless you have a strong preference, or they are also on a functional jacket, like a piece for hunting or walking.
Otherwise they tend to look gimmicky.
The hip pockets on a jacket are where there is most choice.
There are generally three options here: jetted, flapped or patched, in descending order of formality.
As is the case elsewhere on a suit, that formality is determined by how much bulk there is – how much the pocket gets in the way of the smooth run of the cloth. It’s the same principle that makes checks or textured cloth less formal too.
Black tie, being the smartest thing you are likely to wear, should always have jetted pockets (above). A smart suit should usually have flapped pockets. And a very casual sports jacket will usually look better with patches.
But there is leeway with the suit and the jacket.
For example, my Ciardi suit (above) is formal in colour and lack of pattern; but it is informal in its soft Neapolitan make, and details like pick stitching around the edges. The cloth is also a high-twist wool, not a sleek worsted.
Its formality, as a result, is middling. Flapped pockets would have been the safe choice, but patches are fine also. And those patches make it a little more casual.
A patch outbreast pocket, however, would have looked odd.
In general I want to make my tailoring more casual, rather than smarter, which is why so many of my suits and jackets have patch pockets.
But I would always have flapped pockets on an English-cut suit, and my more structured sports jackets also often have flaps.
For example with my donegal jacket from Steven Hitchcock (above), I wanted it to be a little smarter than you would otherwise expect from tweed, hence the dark colour and the flaps.
English tailors also have a tendency towards those large, square patch pockets when asked to put them on the hips. Partly because they were mostly commissioned for things like hunting jackets in the past.
Have a look at the size of the patch pockets on the hunting jacket made for me by Huntsman, below.
Also, remember fashion has a big role to play here, as it does in any questions of suit style.
Patch pockets have become fashionable in the past 20 years, along with a lot of things unstructured and Neapolitan. That might change in another 10 years. Indeed, jetted pockets are seen more commonly now – perhaps because the suits that are being bought are often for the evening, or for dressing up in other ways.
And remember that a well-made flap pocket can also have its flap tucked away, making it look just like a jetted one.
Other, more minor options are slanted pockets – sometimes called hacking pockets – and ticket pockets (shown above).
Slanted pockets originated on riding jackets, where the angle made them easier to access. They are also supposed to be thinning, drawing the eye away from the waist.
I’ve had them occasionally (eg on that Hitchcock jacket), and think they usually look better on English tailoring. But I don’t think they make a big visual impact; if you like them, go ahead. Just not on the most casual jackets.
I feel the same way about ticket pockets. The small, additional pocket on the waist seemed very exciting and dandy when I was first getting into tailoring. But today it just seems unnecessary.
Have it if you want, but on smarter commissions. And don’t worry about it too much as a decision – certainly compared to patch vs flap hip pockets.
What else? A hidden change pocket inside the hip pocket can be useful, unless you carry your change elsewhere. This is usually made of the same cloth as the lining.
Edge stitching on pockets can be nice, but the more you have, and the more visible it is, the more casual it makes the style. Bear that in mind before having two rows of it. (Above, from Solito.)
Patch pockets can have bar tacks on the top corners, which is a harmless piece of adornment – but usually not actually required.
Flaps can be both slanted and curved, as on my Rubinacci below.
The welt of an outbreast pocket can also be slimmer, or more angled. But in general anything unusual here is a bad idea. It’s too close to the face and risks being a distraction.
And there are far more variations and idiosyncrasies with overcoats, such as patches with flaps (below), postbox pockets and so on. But they deserve to be covered separately.
Now let me know everything else I’ve forgotten.
[All images shown are from Permanent Style commissions – if you want to know which articles they are from, do also ask in the comments]