Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Structured v. unstructured shoulders: Worlds apart?

Let's talk about one of the most common tailoring polarities discussed on the discussion fora. And it rests on the shoulder, so to speak. It is often asserted that structured shoulders (e.g. the classic Savile Row cut) look and feel substantially different than unstructured or soft shoulders (Anderson & Sheppard or the Neapolitans). That would seem to make sense but we humans have a curious way of believing what we want to believe.

For the new entrant to bespoke, these polarities sometimes create a false choice. Consequently, many are led to think that the question of the shoulder is an either/or question. As I wrote in an earlier entry, if you have relatively normal, squared and even shoulders, you'll look good in both structured and unstructured cuts.

I'll use myself as a case in point.

Exhibit 1 is Kilgour, often characterized as "highly structured".

Kilgour bespoke Lesser 13oz small

Exhibit 2 is a Neapolitan style jacket by Nedo Bellucci. It has no shoulder padding, just a very thin piece of wadding.

Bellucci petrol blue VBC 9oz small

So which jacket shoulder feels better? The truth is that I love the look and feel of both. In my mind, the wrong answer is the absolute, unequivocal one - especially one that reaches for the obvious. For instance, "Well, the best is a light unstructured shoulder of course!" Either way, we're talking about a few ounces of cloth and fabric on your shoulder. If you're unable to shoulder the burden of a "heavier", structured jacket, perhaps you shouldn't be wearing a jacket at all?

I'm being a bit provocative of course. But there are good reasons and there are better reasons to distinguish between structured and unstructured shoulders. And the better reasons are perhaps not the obvious ones.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on structured v. unstructured shoulders


angrymachao said...

Rather than an unequivocal, definite favorite, I prefer the soft, unstructured blazer for my weekend get-aways or other similar casual pursuits.

My business flannel pinstripes and solids all have a slight padding so as to not "over-accentuate" my granite block-like shoulders.

That said, A&S make some superb lightly-padded business suits, which will always be an aspiration-al acquisition of mine :) Together with a Kilgour one of course...the drape...oh the drape...

sleevehead said...

That's a refined distinction you're making and that's exactly what I'm talking about! I see you're a scholar of the shoulder.

The ability to fluidly move from one to the other shoulder and have a reasoned thought behind it is a nice thing to see. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

By structure, do you mean padding? If so, I'd like to cast my vote on the side of the absolutists. Shoulder padding is vulgar. There are many different ways to construct a shoulder, and it's fine to wear more than one. I've always liked the idea of wearing a set-in shoulder in town, and a shirt-shoulder in the country. Padding is just not a legitimate style though, at least not for gentlemen.