Why Do Suits Have Lapels?
There’s nothing strange about the lapels of a suit jacket—until you start to think about them. Why is that suit jackets have a stretch of upturned fabric running from the top button to the collar? To answer that question, we’ll start by defining the lapel itself.
What are lapels?
“Lapel” refers to the fabric that is folded over the edges of the suit jacket and sewn onto the collar. A lapel is given its shape by canvassing, a material made from horsehair that that is placed between the suit’s layers of fabric. Both fully canvassed and half-canvassed suits feature canvassing along the lapel.
The lapel and the collar are buttressed by a small, triangular-shaped opening called a “gorge.” The gorge is typically cut at an angle below 90 degrees and sits at the collar bone.
Why do suits have lapels?
The answer is simple: decoration. Lapels make a suited ensemble look more formal by drawing attention to the face and the tie. The style of lapel—whether notched, peak, or shawl—can also greatly influence a suit’s visual presentation.
That’s not to say that lapels are 100% impractical. If you find yourself caught in a winter gust, you can always fold them up to rely on a (minimal) amount of protection from the weather (though you’d be much better off with a topcoat).