Regular readers may have noticed that I have an aversion to vents on my tailored jackets, which has become an occasional topic of discussion on menswear forums.
A recent e-conversation provoked me into thinking when and why it was that I began wearing ventless jackets. I THINK this was a stylistic holdover from the suits I was wearing from the nineties onwards. I started my first ‘proper’ job in 1991 after grad school wearing a couple of jackets I’d acquired in vintage resale shops and had been wearing for a few years since the latter revival days, which happened to be ventless. At that time a wardrobe overhaul was much-needed but my beloved three-button jackets were just not available anywhere.
There was a big box menswear shop in Houston named ‘Suitmart’ which sold overstocks and last year’s models at cut prices. Neither the quality nor the prices were high, but at least they were mostly 100 percent wool which was about the only criteria my largely clueless mind required back then. I had little choice but to succumb to the then-current trend of wide-shouldered double-breasted style jackets with pleated strides.
Looking back – and taken in context of the times – this look was not too cringe-inducing. I’ve probably made more egregious sartorial errors over the years, but this was hardly my stylistic finest hour. One thing I did like about those jackets was that despite the oversized shoulders and severe taper from shoulder to hem, when worn buttoned the ventless backs hugged your bum and made for a nice smooth expanse of cloth when seen from behind, from the neck to the lower hem. This style of jacket was obviously influenced by the suits of the thirties and forties, often on display in classic movies of that period. One point of reference that sticks in my mind is the memory of Kirk Douglas in ‘Out of the Past’ (a great film noir remade in the eighties as ‘Against All Odds’, for which I have a soft spot not least because of the Cozumel locations!). Kirk was seen wearing some very sharp threads, but I particularly liked the elegance in the huge expanse of smooth, unbroken real estate on display when he turned his back! There was added menace in the broad-shouldered tailoring, especially when compared to the heavier but down-at-heel anti-hero Robert Mitchum in his rumpled trench coat.
The next stop on my suit journey was when the gods of fashion eventually moved the prevailing cuts away from double-breasted suits back to a single-breasted three-button version. I noticed this in America in the late nineties and was happy to load up on these at the time, but at length realised they weren’t nearly so stylish as those three-button versions influenced by the sixties Mod look, and the tubular cut without waist suppression was not very flattering. I recall having this style of suit in black, navy, olive green, silver-grey microcheck, tan microcheck, and the cream sharkskin shown below. Again, for me the saving grace was a lack of vents which at least kept the view from the rear somewhat smooth and refined.
By the time I rededicated myself to Mod style in the late aughts, use of the internet had exponentially increased the available resources for clothes shopping, and three-button suits and jackets with a desirable fitted shape were readily available both online and sometimes in the high streets and malls. Even J. Crew for a while offered their Ludlow suit jackets in a choice of two- or three-button versions. I was likely influenced by my previous ventless predilection to have all the vents closed on all my new acquisitions, and that’s the way it’s stayed for the most part ever since.
For those who choose to sneer at my preference I would remind them of a few iconic examples of ventless suits, which just happen to be at the top of my list of best suits in popular culture. Perhaps the most famous suit in movie history as worn by Cary Grant in ‘North By Northwest’ was ventless, as were a couple from one of my favourite Bond movies (certainly my favourite from a style perspective, along with FIVE – count ‘em – of the best looking beauties of the entire canon!)
Often people cite the utility of side vents in accessing trouser pockets, but as a kid my Mam always told me it was bad manners to put your hands in your pockets so it’s something I try to avoid these days.
Despite Bond as played by Connery having side vents in his debut dinner jacket in Dr. No, and Tom Ford’s baffling and unsightly centre-vent creation for Daniel Craig, the gold standard for dinner jackets continues to be sans vents. An example of how the elegance of ventless jackets can be disrupted is seen in ‘Casablanca’, in which we see Bogart, in conversation in his office above Rick’s nightclub, turn his back to the camera as he hikes up his iconic ecru dinner jacket to put his hands in his trouser pockets. The audience is then presented with the very inelegant view of his arse! (I couldn’t find a screen shot of this snd I’m not sad enough to go and play my DVD and do a screen grab of the film, but there seems to be plenty of evidence that Bogey didn’t follow my Mam’s advice regarding hands in pockets!)
My Dad was built similar to me – the same height but a bit more stocky and he gained weight in the last few years of his life. I think we also shared the anatomical quirk of having a bit of shape in the bum. I recall him telling me he hated jackets with side vents as they flapped around his behind. His remedy was to favour single-vent jackets which always seem to me a bit old-fashioned, notwithstanding the hook vents admired by Ivy Style advocates. I do agree with his dislike of the way double vented jackets with too much material in the lower rear cause the back panel to flap around like a pair of curtains on a windy day. I also dislike the look of gaping vents on jackets made with too much waist suppression. I will admit that on a few of my more recent suit and odd-jacket acquisitions I decided to either leave the vents open or have them only partially closed to make a short vent. In the saga of acquiring my bespoke wedding suit I ended up with two almost-identical silver sharkskins so I had one made with five inch side vents just to add a note of distinction between the two.
In recent years I’ve also come by three Ted Baker sports jackets and one from DNA Groove, each of which is so beautifully tailored that I halted my alterations at the sleeve length (and adding a third button when needed!)
I’m hoping that my next commission is going to be a cobalt blue Prince of Wales checked jacket which will be made by Jason at Thick as Thieves. As I intend this to be a travelling jacket which may mean being worn while cramped into aeroplane and/or car seats, I’ll most likely be asking Jason for five inch vents to add a little more flex for wearing while seated. Watch this space for details on how that turns out.