Good taste places fairly narrow bounds on the menu of options in tailored menswear (suits and ties and so on). A suit can have one, two, or three buttons (but it doesn’t matter much since you’ll probably only button one anyway). It can be grey or blue. These days, most men stick to one breast - a second one is likely to elicit comments. You might think that society offers you a choice of suits like Henry Ford used to offer a choice of cars (“you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black”).
And yet there’s one design choice that is rakish, rare, and completely acceptable in polite society - both in the sense that it has strong precedent in menswear history and in the sense that it will not stand out to the casual observer. I present to you the single-breasted peak-lapel jacket, worn by Cary Grant in the photo above.
The pictures of Cary Grant should already be enough to resolve any dispute over this model’s legitimacy (although I imagine the pinstripe one below is part of a suit, and Mr. Grant is wearing it here because all his other jackets are at the cleaners). There are a few style icons whose photos qualify as trump cards in any style debate, and Grant is one of them.
But I need not base my case on these photos, because the lineage of the single breasted peak lapel coat goes back much farther. Back when men always wore a single-breasted suit with a vest, peak lapels were much more common than they are today. Going back further still, the morning coat, which was typical formal business wear before the widespread adoption of the lounge suit, usually had peak lapels.
Anthony Eden and friend in single-breasted peak lapel suits
Perhaps it is these more formal forbears of the peak lapel (and its current use as the default lapel style for tuxedos) that have brought about its endangerment in our informal age. But it need not be so. As long as they aren’t oversized or too highly placed on the shoulder, no one in your office will be appalled at a peak-lapeled suit. Few will even notice. Note the ease with which Grant wears his peaks. Personally I like putting them even on suits in more casual fabrics like linen.
The peak lapel experienced a recent resurgence at the hands of Tom Ford, who combined it with chiseled tailoring and outsized hip pockets to great dramatic effect. I find these jackets particularly attractive on the broad-shouldered athletes who seem to wear them most often. But you don’t need to be Tom Ford or one of his customers to have a peak lapel suit. They’re for everyone, and always have been.