To Vent or Not to Vent

Words by: Chris Hogan

In fashion, as in many global industries, certain cultural indicators are resoundingly obvious.  They are the things that 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. A classic of traditional American style is being exported. The single vented jacket is becoming quite popular overseas. In return, American men are fast becoming quite the devotees of the double vent. 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 used in equestrian endeavors, 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 the single vent is to the double what banging rocks together is to a Cartier lighter. When seated on a horse or at the dining table, the double vent not only prevents your jacket from encasing you like a sausage, it continues to cover your posterior while comfortably draping the jacket’s skirt over your rear. Another benefit, discussed by noted clothier Alan Flusser in the current issue of Menswear, 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. Double vents are more elegant and generally seen as formal in design.  Single vents are less elaborate and therefore considered more casual.

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. Think of JFK. Traditional British tailoring produces the classic English cut: defined and padded shoulders, nipped waist, a double breasted front and, of course, double vents.  Think of the Duke of Windsor.

To put it in simple terms, single vented suit coats, sport jackets and blazers are sartorially American. Their double vented counterparts are English. At least they have been.

Over the past few years, many retailers have re-discovered the sport coat and it is now a quite common sight on decidedly mid-market racks. H&M, Gap, Tommy Hilfinger, and J. Crew have all added this staple to their seasonal lines. Very often they are of the double vented variety, seen by Americans as a more classy option. On the other side of the coin, traditional American preppy style has had a strong resurgence both in the states and Europe. 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. It is smooth, elegant, uncluttered. Can’t actually sit down or bend over to retrieve your pen? Irrelevant. I have owned several jackets without vents and I have to say that, except for a lone Nino Cerutti, for me it just doesn’t work.

Regardless of your preference, choose what best fits your style 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.