This isn't about the work of Tom Wolfe. If you find his books at a thrift store they make a worthy purchase. This isn't about white suits, either, If I found the right one, I'd snap it up in an instant, then bring it home and hang it in the closet right beside the tuxedo that will also likely never be worn.
This is about the 6x1 double breasted suit, as seen here on our Mr. Wolfe. He gets a pass, because, you know he's Tom Wolfe. You would do well to avoid this style of jacket like the plague.
For those of you who may not know, here's a brief rundown of the terminology. Double breasted jackets come in many different button stances, the most classic and time tested being 6x2, meaning the jacket has six buttons, on the front, two of which are actually functional like so:
This is a style that works well on a suit, and is particularly effective on a navy blazer. Give one a try if you've got it in you. Even if double breasted jackets aren't your thing, it's pretty hard to argue with a guy like Prince Michael of Kent.
6x1 refers to the type of jacket seen on Mr. Wolfe in the first photo, with a six button front and only one functional. It's a style that was popular in the late 80s until the mid 90s, and it can stay there as far as I'm concerned. It's been my experience that the great majority of clothing available at most thrift stores is between fifteen and twenty years old, so the places are currently loaded with these things. Besides closing in an awkward spot across the hips that flatters nearly no one, these monstrosities frequently have a vent-less back (bad) and heavily padded shoulders (also bad). The pants, if we're talking suits, are always pleated, but never with inverted pleats and side tab adjusters (cool). Rather, they feature the standard office jockey style pleated pants (bad) that have fortunately fallen from most men's favor lately.
In a comment made to my very first post in September of 2008, a fellow called Charles, who turned out to be the illustrious Longwing (remember him?) had this to say:
"Thrifters have too much shit. You get used to not getting exactly what you want so you tend to buy everything that even comes close."
He makes a good point. It's easy to get blindsided by cheap prices in a thrift store, and wind up with a bunch of junk in your house. In a sense, you have to be infinitely pickier in these places than you would paying full whack in some nice shop where a modicum of quality is to be expected. In the wine shop where I work, we carry a selection of wines by the front door for twelve bucks or less.I tell customers all the time that we're probably pickier about what we choose for the bargain bins than anything else in the store. It's easy to get a great bottle for $40. For $8.99, there's a lot more crap to sort through. Get it?
So what's this all got to do with the dreaded 6x1 db jacket?
Just last week, on a hunter/gatherer mission I came across two suits made by Oxxford of Chicago. The construction was as great as you'd expect from a high end maker like Oxxford. The fabrics were beautiful, soft to the touch, one navy with pale blue stripes, the other, a muted glen check in a dark tan. Of course, they were painfully cheap. They were too big for me, but I considered picking them up for the shop. In the end I left them behind. Both suits were cut in a vent-less 6x1 style, hopelessly dated. Don't get me wrong, I put them in my shopping cart and schlepped them around the store for a while before I finally admitted the truth: even though they were made of such nice cloth by such a well regarded manufacturer, these suits weren't going to flatter me or anyone else.
Sometimes, frequently, you just gotta say no.
While it's true that I tend to favor a single breasted jacket and plain front pants almost exclusively, double breasted jackets and even pleats have their place. Just be sure and keep it classic. Remember, the styles of the mid eighties were just as bad in their way as anything we saw in the mid seventies. In both decades, classic clothing was still available for the man who cared, but the perils were great. Be careful.