Spotlight: The Notched Lapel

(Roberts-Wicks Co. tailors, 1928)

(Roberts-Wicks Co. tailors, 1928)

Menswear discussion boards occasionally feature lively debates about the appropriateness of a notched lapel on a dinner jacket.  Most commentators will argue that it is a modern trend imported from the common business suit and thus has no place on formal attire.  But some will inevitably counter that it is legitimized by historical precedent and adoption by sophisticated dressers.  So let’s take a look at the evolution of this contentious jacket flap to find out the facts behind the arguments.

The Formative Years

Opponents of the notched tuxedo point out that the dinner jacket evolved from a merger of the tailcoat and the smoking jacket and therefore should feature the peaked lapel of the former, or the shawl collar of the latter.  (Technically, the tailcoat also featured shawl collars at the time of the dinner jacket’s debut but this only adds to their formal legitimacy.)  The notched lapel, meanwhile, was imported from the ordinary business suit – or lounge suit as it was then called – and consequently was not considered appropriate for tuxedos.

From a 1902 UK tailoring book that referred to the notched lapel as a “right angle step-roll” and noted that it “finds much favour”.

Patterns from an Edwardian British tailoring book that referred to the notched lapel as a “right angle step-roll” and noted that it “finds much favour”.  (Cutter’s Practical Guide, circa 1902)

Supporters of the notched tuxedo don’t dispute the lapel’s origin but consider it moot in light of vintage illustrations of such jackets, which they regard as historical validation. However, random depictions do not necessarily represent past validation.  We need to find broader evidence of the notch’s relative popularity and acceptability during the tuxedo’s early years when modern formalwear etiquette was being established.

Beginning with popularity, I delved into my extensive image archives and counted the number of notched-lapel tuxedo jackets versus shawl and peaked versions.  This is what I found:


total tuxedos

total single-breasted

total notched lapels (% of single-breasted*)

1880s, ‘90s



1 (4.5%)




1 (1.6%)




2 (5.7%)




14 (18.2%)




2 (2.1%)




2 (7.1%)

*notched lapels do not appear on double-breasted jackets

Assuming that these results are representative of trends in general – and I don’t see why not – we can conclude that the notched lapel was indeed prevalent in the 1920s (when it virtually replaced the shawl collar option) but outside of that period its popularity was negligible.

Furthermore, actual period surveys of tuxedo styles suggest that my results may be exaggerating the extent of the notch’s popularity in the 1920s.  For example, Men’s Wear surveys  in April 1924 and March 1926 both revealed that only 6% of Palm Beach’s best-dressed men sported notched lapels on their tuxedos.  A similar sampling conducted in New York in 1928 found this style was preferred by only 4% of men.

1922 Saks ad.  The notched lapel’s popularity in the 1920s came at the expense of the shawl collar.

1922 Saks ad for “new” notched-lapel tuxedos.

As for appropriateness, it is highly relevant that the majority of the notch illustrations in my archives derive from tailors’ advertisements and tailoring pattern books, and not from the editorial content of menswear magazines.  By far, authoritative periodicals such as Men’s Wear, Apparel Arts, and Esquire tended to ignore the notch in their features. (In fact, not a single issue of Esquire from its debut in 1933 up until the early 1960s contains an illustration of a notched-lapel tuxedo jacket.)  Just as importantly, the lapel was typically excluded from their correct dress charts, just as it was omitted from other authorities’ dress charts and from etiquette books in general.   Once again, here’s a summary of its appearance in such sources that specifically provide lapel descriptions (the majority do not), as drawn from my collection:


shawl collar and peaked lapel (only) mentions

notch lapel  mentions

various Men’s Wear correct dress charts from 1920s and 1930s



various Apparel Arts correct dress charts from early 1930s



various other dress charts and etiquette books from 1900s-1940s



So unless someone with a more extensive sartorial database can prove otherwise, the fact of the matter is that, during formal wear’s defining decades, the notched-lapel dinner jacket had limited general popularity and very limited official acceptance.

Mid & Late 20th Century

Regardless of its relative rarity in the early part of the century, this formal bastardization would go on to become the most common tuxedo lapel in today’s world.

The formal notch’s rise to widespread popularity began slowly.  In the 1950s, the shawl collar ruled supreme in tuxedo fashions and the only etiquette reference I have to the notched-lapel tuxedo prior to 1957 is the original edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette which grouped it with the shawl collar as being a “more casual” choice than peaked lapels.

Then, in the late 1950s and early Sixties, manufacturers became eager to reinvent the tuxedo for the modern world.  They initially focused most of their attention a slimmer cut and unique lapels.  Thus it was that lapels with embroidered edges, moiré facings, and cloverleaf cuts were all trotted out along with the “novelty” notch shape.

Sean Connery dinner jacket in 1964’s Goldfinger is one of the most cited examples of notch lapel legitimacy.  However, the scene’s context suggests otherwise.

Sean Connery’s dinner jacket in 1964’s Goldfinger is one of the most cited examples of notch lapel legitimacy. However, the scene’s context suggests otherwise. (Danjaq LLC / United Artists Corporation)

Narrow notched lapels edged in silk were a big trend in the 1960s (1966 Raleigh Suits ad)

Narrow notched lapels edged in silk were a popular trend in the 1960s.
(1966 Raleigh Suits ad)

Etiquette authorities weren’t quite so enamoured of the new development: Of the five conduct manuals I own from this period that specifically mention tuxedo lapel types, none referred to the notch.  Even the revised edition of Amy Vanderbilt’s book dropped her original allowance for that lapel.

The style then went back into limbo in the Seventies only to re-emerge with a vengeance during the 1980s formalwear renaissance.  By 1988 the revised edition of Dress for Success was reporting that it was “the model worn by most executives today.”

Wide lapels returned to popularity in the 1980s greatly exaggerating the droopy look of notched lapels.  Seen here is Timothy Dalton, the worst dressed of all the Bonds.

Wide lapels returned to popularity in the 1980s, greatly exaggerating the droopy look of the notched shape. Seen here is Timothy Dalton, the worst dressed of all the Bonds. (Danjaq LLC / United Artists Corporation)

By the late 1990s, one- and two-button notched-lapel tuxedos modelled after common business suits had become the most popular style and even designers as conservative as Ralph Lauren were including them in their formal lines.  (Worse still, Ralph Lauren proffered four styles of notch lapel tailcoats in the 2000s.)  Said The Indispensible Guide to Classic Men’s Clothing in 1999:

The notched-lapel tuxedo is, in essence, a formalized single-breasted suit coat.  It is considered bad form in some circles, because it is perceived as less formal and therefore less traditional, than coats with shawl or peaked lapels. Nevertheless, [it] has earned its place among the classics of men’s formalwear.

The New Millennium

Prince Philip in 2005 photo portrait, President Obama at his 2009 Inaugural Ball.

Left: Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in a 2005 portrait.  Right: President Obama at his 2009 Inaugural Ball.

At the dawn of the new millennium, notched lapels had become the norm on tuxedos and were increasingly seen with other business suit-like accompaniments such as an uncovered waist and a long tie.  In Europe they have been endorsed by royalty and the US they are seen regularly on the red carpet and on President Obama who has worn his two-button, flap-pocket, centre-vented version regularly since his 2009 inauguration.  Even etiquette and style books regularly treat the notched tuxedo lapel as equal to the shawl and peak.  In fact, it has become so ubiquitous that formalwear manufacturers and fashion pundits often label it as “timeless” and “classic”.

Of course, you now know better.


For a description of the notched lapel’s (inferior) aesthetics in comparison to the peaked lapel and shawl collar, see Contemporary Tuxedos in The Black Tie Guide.


  1. suffolk

    I understand the general aversion to notched lapels, although I disagree.

    I think they’re entirely acceptable, infact I own a lovely Tim Everest 3-piece dinner jacket. Notched lapels, black barrathea, grosgrain lapels and buttons, every detail (except the lapels) is completely run-of-the-mill.

    What is more important IMO than stressing about lapels, or the odd academy nominee in shorts, is that the suit fits. If the suit actually fits, then whatever details you choose are fine.

    1. Peter Marshall

      Acceptable maybe, preferable no. I agree that a notch lapel (of moderate width) on its own has a relatively minor impact on the effectiveness of a tuxedo. However, it will never look as striking as a peak or shawl for reasons I explain in the Black Tie Guide page linked at the end of my post.

  2. thecormac

    I quite agree you both your conclusions that notched lapels are perfectly appropriate, but that peaked and shawl imply more formality due to past usage. (I also personally abhor notched dinner jackets.) But I must admit I find your post strange grudging and evasive on stating these conclusions.

    Your anecdotal research clearly indicates that notched/stepped lapels are not at all new but ebbed in flowed in popularity over the years. In the last fifty years hey have become the most popular style. But being appropriate and being fashionable have never been exactly the same thing. And that is what seems to rub people. The anti-notch crowd says that they maybe in style now, but they aren’t appropriate. The pro-notch can just as easily say that they may not have been in style in the teens or the thirties, but they were appropriate. Perhaps this is why the anti-notch folks cling to the fantasy that stepped lapel dinner jackets are a post-war invention, and/or the result of a conspiracy of penny-pinching suit manufacturers. (Truly the most absurd and idiotic idea to anyone who knows anything about the mass-production of suits.)

    So why does it seem like you wish you found otherwise? Your column reads like a Creationist sadly admitting that the earth really must be more than 7000 years old (“OK, it is – but I’m still not buying this man evolving from monkey stuff!”) You don’t need etiquette books to validate your good taste and common sense, Peter.

    Peak and shawl look more formal to our eyes because they were they were the styles popular in a more formal era that is accessible to us in mass media. (If they had motion pictures in the time of Louis XIV, our views of a lot of things sartorial would be different.) Also, as you have pointed out, they look more formal to us because they repeat the look of other evening wear (tailcoats and smoking jackets) as well as formal day wear (morning coats). So they do and so they – therefore – are.

    1. Peter Marshall

      I wanted to remain relatively impartial in this historical review and let the facts speak for themselves. And the fact is that the great majority of pre-war etiquette and style authorities did not consider the notched lapel to be appropriate. As for explaining why it is inappropriate (or, more accurately, less appropriate), I spell that out quite clearly in the Black Tie Guide page referenced at the end of the review.

  3. Duncan Pike

    There are two lessons that Peter has repeated to us many times, that I have found particularly valuable. Both are appropriate here. The first, is that a tuxedo adds a sense of occasion to any event, and that makes it worth being different than a suit, just to be different than a suit. The second is that, if you are going to bend the rules, do so sparingly, and very well. So, peaks, or shawl, are preferable, even if only to create a difference between the dinner jacket, and suit jacket. If you still prefer to wear a notch lapel, make sure those lapels are stunning, and do everything else classically.

  4. Cajetan

    Evan if the broad use of notched lapels on contemporary tuxedos would make them appropriate, they still don’t look good and, especially because of their ubiquitousness, boring.

    So why not leaving them to the grey (or here: black) masses and adding some tasteful distinctiveness to one’s own dinner jacket?

    By the way Peter, good empirical research!
    Like all real-world samplings the selection can be critizised as not being representative, but as long as there is nothing better to demonstrate the opposite…

  5. JM

    Simply put, in my opinion, the droopy and flaccid-looking notch-lapel is infinitely inferior to the elegance and beauty of a shawl or peaked lapel. Why bother with it when you can look so much better with such ease?

  6. Jay

    I’ve always thought that a notch lapel would look a lot better if the collar were silk-lined as well as the lapel, something like the edged-silk notch in the above 1966 Raleigh ad.

    That way, it doesn’t leave the eye drawn to the mid-chest, but it still separates itself from a shawl collar.

  7. omschiefslr

    I embarked on a formalwear project over four years ago folowing Peter’s guidance. The first DJ I owned had a notched lapel.

    Once I understood the special nature of the peaked and shawl lapels, I quickly abandoned the notched DJ. Amongst my Formalwear kit are a peaked lapel grosgrain DJ, shawl satin lapel DJ, and self faced shawl lapel Ivory DJ. Although considered ‘acceptable’, I also abandoned a two buttoned peak lapel DJ.

    Peter could do the same empiric research on the one button versus multiple buttoned DJs. The deep ‘V’ created by the one button DJ just looks so much more elegant!

    1. Anonymous

      using my extremist vein i say: In the field of sport coats, suits, strollers, tuxedos and blazers, if you have a one buttom peaked lapel jacket, the other type of jackets are redundant.

  8. DB

    I think a notch lapel tuxedo would be great to wear to the opera or vaguely defined “formal” parties where there might be no one else in black tie.

  9. Evans

    i wanna learn tailoring so badly

  10. Faux Brummell

    Sorry for commenting on a blog post from 2014 but I don’t know of anyone else who would care about this. 🙂

    I’ve been a black tie enthusiast for about ten years, and I’ve obsessively poured over every page of the guide. I have 7 or 8 dinner jackets (eBay is incredible). From the beginning, I’ve said that the three gents who epitomize black tie style and elegance to me are Sinatra, Dean Martin, and in a very, very solid first place, Cary Grant. (James Bond is in 4th place, if fictional characters count!)
    I’ve often said that Cary Grant can do no wrong when it comes to black tie. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this photo a few days ago:
    Frank rocks the hell out of a shawl collar, but look at that, Dean Martin is next to him in a notch. And…in the back, with the white hair and glasses…Cary Grant. Also in a notch lapel jacket.
    And just like that, I swear to you, I experienced an immediate paradigm shift when it comes to my view of dinner jackets. I’m now completely ok with notch lapel tuxedos. Funny how that sort of thing can happen.
    P.S. Peter, I hope you’ll consider continuing to blog on occasion, especially if it involves yours and Brandon’s black tie outings.


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