A handmade tailored suit combines quality materials with impeccable style and constructions details. An understanding of what you are purchasing will go a long way toward ensuring your tailor delivers what they promised. We've broken the anatomy and make of a suit into essential elements to allow you to make a considered decision when purchasing a tailored suit.
The canvass sits in between the inner lining and the outer fabric of a jacket. It provides the jacket with a degree of structure and will, ultimately, be the main factor of the suit jacket determining the way the jacket drapes on the body. This is most apparent where a jacket lacks canvassing, such as fully unlined and uncanvassed suit. Like a shirt, an uncanvassed jacket will take the shape of the wearer’s body for better or for worse. A canvassed jacket will hold the shape and intentions of the tailor, providing a natural lift to the body. That is, if it is the right canvass.
Canvasses predominately come in two forms: fused and floating. Off-the-rack jackets employ fused canvasses 99.9% of the time. A tailored jacket should contain a floating canvass, preferably woven of horsehair. This reflects one of the untold differences between a tailor-made and an off-the-rack suit. Fused canvasses are actually fused to the outer fabric. A floating canvass 'floats' in between the lining and outer fabric, which requires extra labor and, therefore, cost. Think this is a minor difference? Wait until you see a fused-canvass jacket after a light dampening. The puckering of the outer fabric and loss of structural integrity will destroy a fused-canvass jacket. On the other hand, a floating-canvass jacket will maintain its integrity long after a fused-canvass jacket has lost its shape. If you happen to be wearing a tailor-made jacket when you encounter a clumsy colleague’s glass of wine, you will know where that extra money went.
A suits lining unlocks the hidden world that only the owner will know. This may sound pompous and exaggerated, but once you have experienced the gentle touch of a silk lining against your loins or the effortless slide of each arm of a jacket, you will know what we are talking about. It's difficult not to feel excited about lining.
A suit's lining remains the last vestige of detail in the suit and provides the owner with a degree of comfort depending on the environment. In more temperate environments, a fully lined (and canvassed) jacket and pant option will be warm and comfortable to boot. In warmer climates, there remains the option of wearing a half lined, quarter lined or unlined jacket (and the same applies to pants).
Therein lies a hidden irony of suits. Where a suit is not fully lined, every seam, stitch, button – you name it – remains in full spectre for all the world to see. Unless the suit-maker possessed particular skill and exercised care in constructing the suit, a partially lined suit will appear rather patchy. The calibre of skill and attention that will neatly deal with such things comes with a hefty price tag, and thus the irony is complete. You will often pay more for a suit that constructed of less. Any lover of suits in the tropics will appreciate, however, the breathability and comfort a partially lined suit provides. Contrast this with a fully lined suit, which may have been constructed with lesser skill but can be patched up with lining, which will hide any shoddy craftsmanship.
The lapel distinguishes the suit-jacket from most other jacket designs. It evolved out of the buttoned-up collar on jackets being let down. The notches cut out of each side of the collar to allow them to meet gave way to the notch design and hence the notch-lapel. Buttonholes on either side of the modern notch lapel are another tribute to the past utilities of the lapel collar. There are now three lapel styles: notch, peak and shawl.
The notch lapel, as the name suggests, cuts a small notch at the top of the otherwise regular lapel. The peak lapel ends with a narrow peak on top of each lapel that points toward the shoulders. The shawl lapel falls from the neck and does not have distinguishing features other than a remarkable length.
The lapel holds its shape due to the cut, the canvass, the suit fabric, and the press. This contributes to the 'roll' of the lapel. The canvass will be sewn into the lapel fabric by hand or, in some cheaper suits, it will be machine stitched. When you pick up your tailor made jacket, look at the underside of the lapel for small separate stitches, which is an indication that the lapel was hand-stitched. You should also feel for canvassing between the outer and inner fabrics of the lapel. If the lapel is missing canvassing, it will lose shape rather easily. In an unlined and uncanvassed suit, this may be an acceptable design element, but in hard working suits, such as those warn more then once a week, this will affect the life of the suit and will detract from the suit's appearance as it flaps about. Look for pad-stitched canvassed lapels in any canvassed suit-jacket.
Style tip: the position of your top-button and length of the lapel may act to increase or decrease your perceived height depending on its position. In taller individuals, the top-button may be positioned toward the centre of the jacket. In shorter individuals, positioning the button lower will lengthen the lapel and their perceived height.
Pants are half the suit, although they often receive less than half the attention. At a minimum, tailored suit pants should contain a number of features that reflect the quality you have paid for. We’ve broken down some of our favorites, below.
A French fly is standard on most suits, whether they be tailored or off-the-rack. Regardless of the suit's make, the French fly will require solid stitching and buttons. Remember, this area of your suit will experience the most pressure.
Belt loops or hip cinches?
Your suit pants will primarily stay attached to your body via one of either two methods: a belt or hip cinches. Belt loops appear on most men’s pants, whether they are suit pants or a pair of jeans. They provide undeniable practicality: you can tighten your belt and decrease the pant waist to a greater extent than you can with a pair of hip cinches. This may be a practical option if you fluctuate in weight or the pants do not fit you particularly well. But the pants you are purchasing are tailor made, and they should already fit comfortably. Hip cinches may be preferable, as they will allow minimal distraction from the pant fabric, which will be uninterrupted by a belt or belt loops. Although you will not be able to fluctuate in weight and wear your hip-cinched pants without a trip to an alterationist, you will be able to tighten or loosen your pants to a reasonable degree. More importantly, the fabric and cut of the suit will be uninterrupted by a belt.
Pleated or flat front?
Pleats fill out the front of your suit pants. We are of the opinion that, unless you really (really) love pleats, experienced aficionados of the suit should be the only people employing pleats in their pants. While there may be limited situations where pleats will be a nice design feature, this will not usually be the case. Flat fronted pants are more versatile than pleated, and, until you develop an understanding of the pleat and where you intend to wear the pants, flat fronted pants are a relaxed and versatile finish. If you’re thinking about purchasing pleated pants on your suit, consider the places you intend to wear them.
Turn your suit pants inside out to have a look at what holds them together. Like your suit jacket, the inside of the pants contains the last vestiges of detail. Taped seams, the additional strip or ‘tape’ of fabric sewn over each seam, hides stitching and acts to reinforce each seam of the pants. Taped seams should not be exclusive to the main seams, but should also be on each pocket seam and along the strip of the zipper. Even the least worn pair of pants will experience more wear than your day-to-day suit jacket, so additional reinforcement will prolong their life.
The pants may or may not be lined depending on what you've asked for. We prefer half lined pants as a minimum. Like the jacket, the lining provides a degree of luxury to the individual. (No exaggeration, lined pants are the greatest comfort in the world.)
Cuffed or uncuffed pant
You suit pants will either be cuffed or uncuffed. The cuff is the small fold of fabric at the base of the pants. You may wish to avoid cuffs in a suit intended for strict business purposes, as it can sometimes appear to be too casual. We prefer them in.
There are other design elements to a tailored suit that deserve a mention. Below are some of our favorites.
- buttons: buttons should be made out of an organic material, such as cow or buffalo horn. Avoid tailors that provide plastic buttons on their suits, which detracts from the suit’s natural appearance.
- fabric: the suit's fabric should also be made out of natural fibres. Wool, silk, mohair and cashmere are the primary materials that make up most suits. Wool breathes easily; mohair does not crease easily; silk provides sheen and does not crush; and cashmere's warmth and softness created its reputation as a luxury fabric. Consider where you will be wearing your suit and the properties of the suit fabric when making your choices. You’ll also need to consider your fabric patterns when purchasing a suit.
- jacket length: the jacket should fall from your shoulders and end just past your buttocks.