Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Suit: Series I

-by Vikram Nanjappa for Stylefluid Trendz

In my previous article on suits (Read here) I touched upon the various methods that are employed in their manufacturing process and also on what to look for when buying a suit. In this series of articles I focus a little more on the details of a good suit. I have decided to make this a series as I feel one that one comprehensive article might be rather lengthy and could probably result in an overload of information. On second thoughts one can consider my previous article as the first in this series!

Suit Jacket Construction

I am kick-starting the series with an article on the construction of the suit, or to be precise, on the construction of the suit jacket. This of course holds good for blazers and sport jackets too. The suit jacket is the centre piece of your suit and it is for this reason that I am concentrating on it. 

A suit jacket’s construction has an important bearing on fit. As discussed previously a good fit is one of the most important elements of a suit. A well fitting cheap suit is far more flattering than an ill fitting expensive one. Therefore to achieve a proper fit one must start from the inside out. However a suit’s construction is not visible to the naked eye as it lies between the outer fabric of the suit and its lining. So how does one know more about the construction of a suit that one wishes to purchase? There are a few terms that are employed in the trade and in this article we take a look and these and try and unravel what they exactly mean. 

First let us take a quick look at the various components of the construction or the anatomy of a suit. The foundation of the suit is a layer of cloth, called the canvas, between the outer cloth and the inner lining. This is usually a blend of wool or cotton and animal hair (usually horse or camel). Wool and animal hair is used because they can be moulded by a combination of humidity, pressure and heat while retaining shape much like how a hot curling iron is used to shape hair. Horse and camel hair are also very lightweight but resilient. Various grades of canvas and haircloth are available and are used in combination for the foundation of the suit jacket.

Wool canvas forms the main foundation layer and smaller pieces of the others are used to build structure. These pieces are:

Let us start with the shoulder: the shoulder does two things it straightens and broadens the natural shape of your shoulders, this is achieved by the use of shoulder pads which is built up in layers of materials like wool, cotton and horsehair. The shoulder pads not only visually alter your silhouette it also creates a shell which allows the shoulder and the top of the arm to move freely without distorting the line of the jacket.  The shoulder pads extend all along your shoulders, from end to end.  

We now come to the chest: the chest of a suit should give an impression of a smooth, flat figure. This is achieved by a layer of material called the chest piece. The chest piece is a semi rigid layer that extends from the shoulder pads to the front hem and it basically smoothens the line of the chest and the profile. Sometimes both the shoulder pads and the chest piece are covered by felt or flannel to prevent the animal hair from scratching the wearer. 
Shoulder Pads and Chest Piece

The next is the lapel: the lapel frames the tie, neck and face and is therefore an important part of the suit jacket. In a good suit a lot of hand sewing is done in the interlining along the lapels to keep the line of the collar crisp and clean.
Jacket Lapel Interlining

The placement of hip pockets and even pocket flaps provide tension to the hips and sometimes even padding is used in the inner layer to create the ideal shape. And finally the last but definitely not the least in fact some would say the most important are the seams and the darts. These need to be crafted in such a fashion so as to make sure that the suit flatters the wearer.

Now that we have a grasp of the basics of suit construction the question arises as to do all suits have the same basic construction or are there shortcuts that are employed? The answer is yes and unfortunately no salesman or manufacturer will advertise the construction unless you opt for the bespoke route. So what are these shortcuts, and what questions do I need to ask to find out the truth? Enter – the terms - Full (floating) Canvas, Fused and Half Canvas.

The Canvas is the most important aspect of a suit’s construction as it controls the overall shape and also helps in the ageing process of the suit. It prevents the suit from wrinkling easily. To put it simply it results in the suit draping better and lasting longer.

Full (floating) Canvas

A full canvassed suit is a suit in which the suit jacket is constructed with the canvas fabric spanning the entire inside front panels and lapels. The canvas is hand stitched to the suit fabric in a loose manner thus also called floating canvas which allows the suit to move with the wearer. A full canvas suit drapes more naturally, conforms to the body and looks better. They are expensive as they require a lot of labour, time and skill to make. Ready to wear and even made to Measure suits are rarely Full Canvas.
Full Canvas


A fused suit has a jacket in which the interlining ( canvas ) is not made from traditional canvas as described earlier but from a synthetic material that is fused or stuck , glued to the outer shell of the jacket , both the front panel and the lapel . The material simply turns to glue when heated .This method is faster, cheaper and requires no skill and is superbly adapted to mass manufacturing. Fusing gives the jacket shape but it does not conform to the body shape of the wearer and also results in unnatural stiffing. The lapels will also be extremely stiff and it will lack the natural drape of a full canvassed jacket. Another drawback is that poorly fused jackets can bubble – the fused interlining comes apart from the suit fabric and air pockets are created. This can occur even when you dry clean it. However there has been a vast improvement in fusing technology but even then this can happen. A fused suit is relatively inexpensive which seems to be its only saving grace. 

Half Canvas

A Half Canvas suit is a compromise between the extremes of Full Canvas and Fused. In theses the canvas interlining runs only through the chest and lapels, the rest of the jacket is fused. In other words the entire length of the front panel has a thin layer of fusible lining while on the chest area an additional layer of canvas is stitched. This has several benefits, the canvassing results in a proper drape over the chest, a nice lapel roll (the lapels are not fused) and the shoulders (where it is needed most), the canvassing also reduces the chances of bubbling thus increasing the life span of the suit and there is some cost saving compared to the Full canvas suit. This is a nice compromise that appeals to most people and is probably the most convenient way to go.

How to tell them apart?

The easiest way is to ask but that does not always guarantee a correct answer, in fact it might result in a blank stare! One can however fold the jacket in half and run a hand down to the hem, in case of a half canvas you should be able to feel the place where the canvas ends. If you don’t feel anything then you can pinch the lower front area and simultaneously pull the front away from the facing and feel for the third layer in between. In a fused suit you won’t find the third layer. This not always foolproof due to the various types of canvases available , the only option left is to take the suit apart but I would not recommend that for obvious reasons. 

(About the author: *Vikram Nanjappa is a freelance writer on men’s fashion/style and a photographer)

(Cover Image Credit:Vera Wang)

No comments:

Post a Comment