Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Soft v. structured tailoring: Myth and reality

I think one of the most widely held assumptions of men's clothing aficionados is the belief that softly tailored jackets offer more freedom of movement and comfort than structured jackets. And why not? It seems intuitively obvious. However, as many a philosopher can confess, unexamined beliefs are often the cause of much misunderstanding and misinformation.

I raised the question of myth v. reality in soft and hard tailoring in this AskAndy thread. I did so because my own experience tells me that structure is not restrictive. In fact, I have structured jackets in heavier cloth that offer greater freedom of movement than jackets in lighter cloth with less padding. Hence, the statement that more structure means less freedom of movement does not ring true to me.

Let's dissect the claim often made on behalf of soft tailoring. It is argued that less (or lighter) canvas and padding and handsewing of seams are important to maintaining freedom of movement. I contend that these add little to a jacket's freedom of movement compared to other factors, namely, cut/pattern. The real benefit of handsewing is primarily a psychological one for the wearer. Compared to machine sewing, handsewing might give you an additional millimeter of flex across the seam. But this does not make a material difference in what is called the "primary range of motion" (POM).

In the discussion thread, AskAndy member (and tailor) jsprowls9 wrote these two following insightful gems:
  • "A structured garment and a soft-styled garment should feel equally comfortable when worn. Each will weigh differently upon the body by the nature of their styling and how the components are distributed. But, the myth about understructure impeding Primary Range of Motion (POM) is just that - a myth."
  • "Structured garments, when properly executed, promote greater POM because there is understructure (more than just canvas) which ensure the garment hangs from the body properly and accounts for POM with the greatest degree of accuracy."
Hard v. soft tailoring is one of the basic divisions of men's style. My advice is to understand what each tailoring concept is ultimately capable of in theory and practice before consigning one or the other to the sartorial dustbin.

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