The barchetta pocket is often thought to be a tailoring detail exclusively from Italy. The word “barchetta” is Italian for “little boat.” It describes how the pocket floats on the chest, gently angled upwards, like the bow of a sailboat. Most machine-made suits, by contrast, have chest pockets with a more stamped-out, rectangular shape.
Although the barchetta pocket is most famous today in Italian sartorias, it was once found in American suits during the early twentieth century.
The barchetta bestows an elegance that is missing from its rail-car-straight cousins. The pocket's upward curve mirrors the sweep of the lapels as they form a v-shape from the buttoning point to the chest. It also echoes the lively roll of a beautiful lapel that carries the spring of canvas and natural wool. The more horizontal, straight lines of the standard RTW chest pocket fit only the lapels of a stiff, flat, and lifeless suit.
A person who is indifferent to appearance might say that the only worth of a tailoring detail comes from its “practicality,” or whether it makes the suit more durable. By that measure, the barchetta might seem to be superfluous, and the cookie-cutter rectangle an acceptable substitute. This is the same view that animated the modernist architects who declared themselves the enemies of ornament. Form should follow function, and in Le Corbusier’s words, the function of a house is that it is “a machine for living in.”
What this view ignores is that nothing could be more practical than beauty, and there is no higher function than to give pleasure. The Boston City Hall resembles a machine more than the White House, and is perhaps more durable, but which one would you rather live in or look at? Durability without beauty only ensures the permanence of ugliness.
In wearing the barchetta pocket, we are reviving a tailoring detail with real American roots and style. Most of all, we are taking a small step to living by Frank Lloyd Wright’s advice: “If you foolishly ignore beauty, you will soon find yourself without it. Your life will be impoverished. But if you invest in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life.”