Gradually I’ve come to the decision that the two most important characteristics in a sportcoat are natural shoulders and the right lapel width. Everything else — two or three buttons, darted or undarted, patch pockets or not — is negotiable. Things like lapped seams and hook vents are cool Ivy details, but are far outweighed by lapel width.
I like a lapel that’s a bit slimmer than the industry standard of 3.5 inches, but not so narrow that when I’m walking down the street everyone says, “Here comes Narrow Lapel Guy.”
The magic lapel width for me is about three inches. Ditto for the item lapels most closely correspond to: neckties. But while three-inch ties are easy to come by these days, three-inch lapels aren’t — especially if the other requirement is natural shoulders.
The new Norman Hilton sportcoats fulfill both requirements beautifully, with Nick Hilton agreeing that 3.5 inches was too wide for the lapel while 2.5 — J. Crew territory — was too narrow. But at $695, the Hilton jackets lack one other desirable quality: affordability.
With my closet freshly purged I was down to few options in the jacket category. Then last month Ralph Lauren came to the rescue with one of his historic reproductions: The Dartmouth sportcoat, which was offered a year or two ago and is now popping up on eBay from professional sellers.
The jacket features natural shoulders, three-inch lapel, lapped seams, swelled edges, 3/2 roll and patch pockets. The jacket is made in Italy, which won’t win over the sartorial patriots, and is darted, a dealbreaker for certain orthodox trads.
The seller of my jacket said the Dartmouth originally sold for $1,300, which is probably right since that’s about the price of Polo’s current “updated sack” sportcoats. I got mine for considerably less, so when I say the Dartmouth is affordable, I mean only when it’s being liquidated on eBay long after its original release.
I like the jacket so much I set up an eBay alert to find more, and recently a batch of eight — all new with tags and in several patterns — came up. Sadly there’s nothing in my size, but you should considering grabbing one while you can. And when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner tonight, give a little thanks to Ralph for keeping things like this alive. — CC