In fashion, certain cultural indicators are reassuringly obvious. They can clearly say “French,” like a Hermes briefcase, or “American,” like a Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Often, they are immutable, solid and stable examples of permanence in a fast changing global marketplace.
However, as the saying goes, the only constant thing in life is change. The classic American single vented jacket has become quite popular overseas. In return, many American men have become quite the devotees of the double vent, also referred to as side vents. Only a short time ago it seems wearing one or the other put you in a clear camp; American or Anglophile. Not so much anymore.
While both these innovations can trace their roots back to hacking jackets worn during equestrian activities, each varies in form and somewhat in function. The single vent ably accomplishes its primary task of allowing the jacket’s skirt to drape more naturally across a horse’s hindquarters. However, when not on horseback, the single vent is not entirely ideal. When seated more conventionally in a chair, the spreading vent produces an unattractive gap which some find unattractive. The single vented jacket also bunches awkwardly to one side when you try and retrieve your keys or money clip.
Though it functionally accomplishes the same task, stylistically speaking double vent are to the single what banging rocks together are to a Cartier lighter. When seated on a horse or at the dining table, the double vents not only prevent your jacket from encasing you like a sausage, they continue to cover your posterior while comfortably draping the jacket’s skirt over your rear. Another benefit, discussed by noted clothier Alan Flusser, is that when you put your hands in your trouser pockets the double vent allows easy access while not disturbing the lines of your jacket.
The options: Single, Double, None
Double vents are more elegant and generally seen as formal in design. The single vent is less elaborate and therefore considered more casual. Also tied to the single vented jacket is its inherent American egalitarianism – formal, but not too formal – whereas the double vent speaks to an additional level of sophistication.
The sack suit helped define what is to this day seen as the “American” shape: natural shoulders with minimal padding, a less defined body shape and a single center vent. Traditional British tailoring produces the classic English cut: defined and padded shoulders, nipped waist, a double breasted front and, of course, double vents.
Over the past several years, designers and retailers have re-discovered the sport coat and it’s more focused cousin, the blazer. More often than not, retailers are offering sport coats of the double vented variety, seen by Americans as a more classy option. Blazers, for the most part, with their defined sartorial role, tend to retain their East Coast center vented construction.
This is in part due to the sustained resurgence in traditional American preppy style, both in the states and Europe. After all, what is more preppy than the single breasted, center vent blue blazer? This theme has carried over to all sorts of variations, from patchwork madras summer jackets to heavy tweed Ivy League versions for the fall.
Don’t worry; I have not forgotten the ventless jacket. This definitive example of form over function is, at its soul, an Italian fixation. Ever seeking the perfect unobstructed line, Italian tailors embrace the ventless jacket like no other. It is smooth, elegant, uncluttered. Of course when buttoned, it is exceedingly difficult to actually sit down or bend over to retrieve one’s pen, but, in matters of fashion that is irrelevant.
Regardless of what’s in vogue at any given point in time, choose what best fits your personal style, body shape and needs. The classic American center vent is functional and speaks of practical, classic style. Double vented jackets have an inherent air of elegance and Britishness. The ventless jacket is an homage to sleek and stylish Italian tailoring.
You may have your favorites, but when it comes to any of these, there are no wrong choices.