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The Compass  /  JacketsStyleSuits  /  Suiting 101: An Introduction to Suit Jacket Construction

Suiting 101: An Introduction to Suit Jacket Construction

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When you think about suit quality, what are the first few things that come to mind? How killer it makes you look (fit) is obviously numero uno. How nice it feels (fabric quality) is an obvious second. But what about construction? Unlike fit and fabric quality, you may not care about the construction of a suit. But lucky for you, we care because when it comes to determining the overall quality of a suit, construction plays a large role.

In this post, we’ll discuss the different types of suit jacket construction—namely, fused vs. canvassed and why they should matter to you. Yep, we just got real technical up in this joint. And before you stop reading because you think this article is only of interest to suit junkies who spend their Saturday nights brushing their suits while listening to opera music, let us give you two simple reasons why you should care to understand canvassing:

  1. Canvassed suit jackets drape better (and hence, will make you look even more killer).
  2. Canvassed suit jackets last longer (so you can look more killer for a long time).

Do we have your attention now? Let’s begin.

A Primer on “Canvassed”

First off, what does it mean for a suit to be “canvassed”? The term canvassed refers to a the construction of a suit jacket (not the pants)A canvassed suit jacket has layers of canvassing material (the canvas), generally comprised of wool and horsehair (sometimes camel), that sits between the outer suit fabric and the inner lining of a suit jacket. While this canvas is hidden from view on the exterior, it plays an incredibly important role in keeping the proper balance, structure and shape of the suit. It’s all about form – the form of the suit to your body. And as you wear a canvassed suit over time, the canvas itself begins to conform to your body’s shape, thereby becoming a better fit the more you wear it. So on your running list of “Things that Age Nicely”, put “quality canvassed suit” right under red wine and scotch.

Canvassed Suit Jacket #1: Full-Canvassed Suit Jackets

If you frequent menswear forums and blogs, you’ll see this term being tossed around quite often…and for good reason. A properly constructed full-canvassed suit jacket means the best of the best when it comes to construction quality. So what exactly is it? A full-canvassed suit jacket is one that is constructed with canvas fabric spanning the entire inside front panels and lapels of the jacket. As a middle structural layer, the canvas is hand stitched to the fabric rather loosely (i.e., a “floating” canvas), so the garment can move with you. What results is a suit that drapes much more naturally, conforms to the body and looks much better, especially when you’re making moves…like a boss. Full-canvassed jackets are the most labor and time intensive, require a higher level of skill to make, and thus, tend to be pricier. In return for the premium paid, you get a suit that not only molds to you, but will last the longest.

Pros:

  • Conforms to your body and fits better with time. Armor for the modern gent.
  • Gives your jacket body the most fluidity and support. Good for businessmen and b-boys alike!
  • No delamination or bubbling. De-lama-what? Yeah, none of that.

Cons:

  • More expensive to make = more expensive to buy. You might have to stay in a couple of Saturday nights to save up.

Non-Canvassed Suit Jacket: Fused Suit Jacket

You know that cheap suit you got off-the-rack from that huge chain or department store that’s one-step away from finding a new home at the Salvation Army? Yeah, the one that feels a bit like thick office paper but has lapels that look like they’re on Viagra? Strong chance that it’s a fused jacket. Unlike the full-canvassed jacket that has layers of canvassing stitched onto the wool shell, a fused jacket has a fusible interlining that’s glued to the wool shell of the suit – both in the front panels and in the lapels. Fusing the jacket gives the jacket shape, but doesn’t conform to the wearer, so it may lack the nice, natural drape of canvassed jackets.

So why does it exist? Somewhere along the way when mass production became the name of the game, suit manufacturers started using this construction method to increase production capacity while keeping costs down – its construction is not only quick, it doesn’t require any skilled labor. It serves its purpose in the mass market. But you’re no mass market fella, so beware! Although improvements in fusing technology has made this rarer, poorly fused jackets can bubble (delaminate) in time – this occurs when the fusible interlining comes apart from the suit fabric, air gets in and there are literally spots in your jacket that look like bubbly wrinkles. Taking a fused jacket to the dry cleaners can also act as a catalyst for bubbling.

Pros:

  • Inexpensive compared to canvassed jackets. You’ll also save money on taxes when you donate it.

Cons:

  • Stiff lapels on a stiff suit without the fluidity of a canvassed suit. You’ll look like a square, literally.
  • Risk of delamination / bubbling. Bubbling is good for champagne on a celebratory night, not for your suit.

Canvassed Suit Jacket #2: Half-Canvassed Jackets

Why didn’t we put this one right after the full-canvassed section? Because a half-canvassed suit jacket has elements of both a full-canvassed and fused jacket. It’s like the Daywalker of suit constructions. A half-canvassed suit jacket has a thin layer of fusible throughout the front panel of the jacket; on top of this layer of fusible, the front panel has a layer of canvassing stitched on that extends from the shoulder down through the chest.

Alright, in English please! Basically, what this means is that you get the benefits of the natural drape and shape that canvas provides where the suit needs it the most—the chest and the lapel. At the same time, you enjoy some cost savings in terms of materials and labor. If you want to maximize your value, a half-canvassed suit jacket is the way to go.

Pros:

  • The major benefits you’d get from a full-canvassed suit jacket can be had here:
    • Good drape and shape in the chest. Cake.
    • Nice lapel roll. Icing.
  • Usually less expensive than a full-canvassed suit jacket. Take your lady out on a date with those Benjamins you saved.

Cons:

  • May be slightly stiffer than a full-canvassed jacket. Well, you can’t win them all.

How Can I Tell if my Suit is Fused, Half-Canvassed or Full-Canvassed?

You can put on some music, grab a pair of scissors, pour out some liquor on the floor and yell “WHYYYYY?!” as you cut open your lining and actually look inside. Unfortunately, that would be the only sure way of determining how your suit jacket was constructed.  But you just got that slick new custom suit and you love it so much that the idea of cutting it makes you want to cut yourself. So is there any other way to tell? Yes, but note that it is NOT a reliable method.

It’s called the “pinch” test. Grab your suit between the buttonholes with one finger on each side and pinch to see if you can feel a layer of fabric between the inner lining and the outer suit fabric. If you can feel a distinct third layer that’s “floating”, then you may have a full-canvassed suit. If you don’t feel anything, you may have a fused suit. In either scenario, you may have a half-canvassed suit depending on how far down your selected haberdasher cut the canvassing and whether it overlaps with the chest piece.  Compounding all of this is the fact that there are different types of canvas, some thinner than others, which could cause you to miss it. We did warn you.

So your best bet to ask before you buy your next suit. If they can’t tell you, they shouldn’t be in business.

How are Black Lapel’s Custom Suits Constructed? 

With a fierce attention to detail mixed with tender loving care of course! Kidding, but not really. The standard construction of our custom-made suits is always a half-canvas jacket. Full-canvassed jackets are available in our Savoy Line Suits only. We’ve done multiple rounds of testing, diligence and quality control so you don’t have to worry about anything except looking good in your very own Black Lapel custom suit! For some more information, check out our post on Black Lapel Custom Suits vs. Designer Off-The-Rack Suits.

Have a better idea about suit construction now? We hope so. Suit jacket construction is not something readily seen but it should never be overlooked.

Like all things in life, quality starts from the inside out.

Got a question on suit jacket canvassing? Leave a comment below! 

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49 thoughts on “Suiting 101: An Introduction to Suit Jacket Construction”

  1. This was an absolutely enjoyable read, thank you. Could you please tell me how many hours it takes in total to make a suit and roughly how much? If possible, maybe tailored garments are priced. I studied Fashion Atelier which had a project on tailoring that I really enjoyed but no lessons on pricing. Hope you can help. Thank you.
    Linda

    1. Glad you liked it Linda. There are a lot of factors that go into how long it takes to make a suit from materials to equipment to individual tailors’ skills to determining the pattern to use to make the garments.

      We don’t make it a habit to talk shop about tailoring on The Compass (this is intended to be a place for people to learn a little more about what to look for in a great suit). We’d suggest checking out some of the resources out there for up-and-coming designers like Startup Fashion that dig into more of the details of production and pricing.

  2. Hi –
    Do you use linen or linen thread in the construction of any part of your suits?

    I can’t have any linen in a wool suit for religious reasons.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hey, Joe. Some of our suits are made of a linen wool blend fabric. However, our expert tailors in Shanghai are able to make any of our suits Shatnez-compliant suits! If you’d like more information on how to get your hands on a custom suit without breaking any rules, email our stylists at concierge@blacklapel.com.

  3. Good day

    Please advise what fabric is used for the chest piece and canvas piece please?

    1. Canvas and the chest pieces are typically made from a combination of horsehair and cotton woven together. Horsehair is wiry and stiff. By weaving it in to the canvas and chest piece it adds structure and helps the jacket mold to your body with repeated wear.

  4. hi i live in india and the problem is every time i get a suit stitched it is tight from arm pits can it be rectify without compromising over the fit

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The modern, slim fit style that you see stylish men wearing today generally has high arm holes. Since our suits are made to your measurements we control the fit precisely and can adjust for higher or lower armholes, but it you’re buying your suits in stores and then paying a tailor to alter them, your results may vary. So while we can say our suit fits won’t be compromised by tailoring them to fit you, when it comes to other company’s suits, we’re not making any promises.

  5. Guy Dawson says:

    Good web site! I really love how it is easy on my eyes and the data are well written about jacket construction.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Thanks Guy. We’re happy to help and keep guys (pun intended) informed.

  6. I have a question. I’m having a suit made with a silk inner lining. The only problem is that every fitting I go in for, while pushing my arms through the sleeves, there is an excess of silk that makes it difficult to get my arms through and at times the silk pushes out the ends of the sleeves. Is this how it is supposed to be or is it shotty craftsmanship? The last time I mentioned the issues they tightened the inner lining which highly restricted the movement. What’s going on with this lining?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Sounds like shotty craftsmanship to us. This place probably doesn’t have their jacket construction down to the right science, but how would we know? If you opted for a Black Lapel suit instead this wouldn’t have happened :)

  7. Dear blacklapel,thanks for your post.I am making a suit for myself,but the challenge I am having,is how to fix the collar,sleeve and how to put in the lining,please can you help me out?Thanks.

    1. It sounds like you’re actually constructing a suit, Orume. Props to you for doing that, but this article is for the consumer to understand the basics of how a suit is constructed, not instructions for how to make a suit like our tailors do. There are some tailors out there posting videos on YouTube that will provide more info, though we can’t vouch for any of them.

  8. Are all quality suits either canvassed or fused (or combo)? Or do some high end suit makers don’t apply these techniques for contemporary styles?

    1. You can find quality suits that have no canvassing, Monica. You can find extremely well-made casual unstructured jackets that include no padding and no canvassing. These require high-quality tailoring but the outcome can be fantastic.

  9. Cheryl Smith says:

    Thank you for explaining all of the intricacies that go into tailoring a suit. I never knew so much went into making one. Usually, how long does it take to sew a complete suit?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      You’re very welcome. We like to think it’s what we do best. Our whole process of sewing and constructing the suit takes us about 4 weeks! Though this can vary depending upon the tailor. If 4 weeks seems like a long time, just think about how much time that gives us to sew a perfect suit :)

  10. I’ve noticed that some lapels on a suit sort of float over the chest, but others hug the chest. I like the look a lot better when the lapels are rolled and it hugs the chest. I was wondering if that has anything to do with canvassing. I have a picture if you want to compare the two differences. Thank you.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      It sounds like what you’re describing is a rolled lapel, Ricardo. This is a construction technique you see on what is referring to as a 3-roll-2 jacket. These jackes are made with three buttons in the front but the top button is not intended for use. The jacket comes together at the center button and the lapels roll over so that the top button and button hole don’t meet, but sit on the outside of the lapels as a decorative element. These jackets used to be more common, especially on stylish tall gents (see early Hollywood’s tall leading men like Gary Cooper and Cary Grant).

      This effect is related to the canvas of the jacket, but ultimately it’s about the hand work that the tailor does when making the lapel roll. That’s probably why you don’t see it as much these days. As suits have become less and less handmade these kinds of elegant details are being lost.

  11. I am a beginner, so please bear with me. I am making a medium weight wool frock coat for my adult son. I have done a full floating canvas on the upper front parts of the frock coat, but I am not exactly sure how to handle the lower part below the waist seam. Do I attach a full canvas section on that part? And for the waist seam, do I trim the canvas at the seam and press open the seam? it seems like it might be a weak point if I do.

    1. I think by now you’re probably a pro, unless you’ve been waiting for my response and are therefore still a beginner. Nonetheless, whatever tips I can offer are in this post :) Anything else I would be giving away company secrets! Happy suiting.

  12. dickson akobi says:

    wow this is an explosive work here, you guys are great. but I really need to be clearly given the cutting basics of a suit.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      That’s like asking Michelangelo “Hey, how do you paint something like that Mona Lisa thing you did?” To learn to make a suit your best bet is to apprentice for a master tailor or study it at a school like The Fashion Institute of Technology.

      1. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. Which is widely agreed in the art world to be unfinished, and not actually that good. Are you saying your suits are half finished, of subpar quality, and made by someone else? 😉

        On a more serious note, this is a great article/post thing and was really helpful. Thanks.

        1. LOL, Kiki. Good point about the Mona Lisa. All we can say is that if people are flocking to see one our suits in a museum years from now like they do for the Mona Lisa, we’ll know we’re doing something right.

          Glad we could offer up helpful info (and a little humor)!

  13. First of, real good post I am very happy to see so many people still respecting REAL clothes. I have a question too: could you explain how bespoke shirts are made, surely there is a much better alternative than fusible interfacing for the collar and the cuffs? I wonder is it canvas too or is there another way?

    1. The world of bespoke shirts is a little different from what we do, Tony. Bespoke clothes are made using the individual’s body as the sole basis for making the garment. Ours are made-to-measure. In other words, we take your measurements and adjust a pattern to customize it for your body. As far as construction, both are handmade products and both are cut to your specifications but there are some differences.

      As to your question about fusible interfacing, it’s pretty standard in the dress shirt business. We’ve seen some pretty fly dress shirts with fusible interfacing, including our own, that hold up well to repeated wear. Are there other approaches? Sure,there are always more ways to skin a cat, to use an old idiom. But, to paraphrase another old medium, if the current way ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  14. David Aldred says:

    This is fascinating. Istudied fashion design at St Martin’s, London – and a lovely old tailor would come in to teach us how to pad-stitch a lapel, and all about all of the layers. At the time I thought “To heck with this! Where’s the iron-on interfacing?” Since leaving college I now enjoy wearing suits, but find that iron-on interfacing is awful – espesially if you get caught in the rain: it wrinkles forever. But I recently had a cotton suit made, and I asked for no interfacing (and it was a cheap suit, so I don’t think they even knew what canvas was!) i now find that the front of the jacket has no shape, and the front and the facing “bag out”; I feel like I should just make some tiny stitches, maybe around the pockets, to keep its shape. Would this impede the flow of the garment?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We wouldn’t presume to advise you on how to tailor another brand’s clothes to get them up to snuff, David. Sadly, this will likely require some experimentation to fix. That means risking a disaster.

      For a less risky option, try getting a Black Lapel made-to-measure suit that is backed by our flawless fit promise. Sorry to sound like a commercial, but you kind of teed it up, there David ;).

  15. Hello, I am a retired bespoke tailor in the UK. I have purchased the materials to make myself a 3 piece suit. I want the fronts of the jacket and waistcoat fusing with lightweight fusible canvas I purchased with the trimmings. Can anyone tell me where I can have the garment parts fused? There is a company somewhere in the UK I can send the pieces to to be fused-believe it or not I used to use the company regularly when I was in business as a tailor, but have forgotten the company’s name nad where it is in the UK.
    Many thanks, I hope someone may be abole to help me.
    Pete.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Since we don’t make fused jackets, we wouldn’t know where to point you for that, Pete. We say, if you’re going to make it, go all the way and go with a full canvas.

  16. I’m a very new designer and without any college training, but I’d really like to make some suit jackets for my friends and I to show our creativity at my Aunts upcomming wedding this summer. We reside in Cali, so the weather is way too hot for a wool shell. What fabrics are normally used for the outter shell of a suit Jacket thats is Half-Canvassed? I Really have grown to respect the way you all construct your suits. So I was wondering, did your team have a prefrance when it comes to shell fabrics for warmer weather?

    1. You’d be surprised, Joshua, with the versatility of wool. It’s the most common fabric in all-season suit construction for a reason.

      Don’t confuse the wool used to make a suit, with the wool used to make a chunky sweater. We’ve got Southern California guys who swear by the Solid Tan Tropical Wool suit and the Solid Cool Gray suit. We’ve even had guys in Dubai (where temps reach well into the triple digits on the regular) get wool suits from us. Suffice it to say, wool can handle the heat with a little planning and smart choices like partial lining.

      With a little forethought, you make yourself a killer warm weather suit that will keep you feeling, and looking, quite cool.

  17. This is what I needed to hear. My mom has been sewing men’s suits for years and I never seen her construct a full canvassing jacket. But now I will sew my own full canvassing suits for myself. I’m not going to buy cheap-expensive suits any more. They charge a lot for the suit but its cheaply made.

    1. Like chocolate chip cookies, it’s tough to compete with mom’s homemade, but if you get tired of sewing Black Lapel’s here for you.

  18. So what about the ‘chest piece’? Your diagram shows it, but there’s no explanation of it – or did I miss it? Is it another layer on top of the canvas?

    By the way, how common or uncommon are canvassed suit jackets? When I first read about this issue (about 8 month’s ago), the impression I got was that most RTW suits don’t have it, including many high-end labels. Yet, I now notice adverts by low/medium end RTW labels (e.g. TM Lewin, which sells suits below $AUD500) stating that all their suits are full/half canvassed. Could it be advances in mass manufacturing has made the canvassing versus fusing issue no longer that relevant.

    1. You got it right, Gaz. The chest piece is another layer on top of the canvas below the fabric.

      As for how common canvassing is and why some suit makers offer now canvassed suits, we wouldn’t want to venture any guesses about why or how other brands choose to offer full canvas, half canvas or fused jackets. What we can say is that Black Lapel suits come standard with half-canvassing because they make our jackets drape better and last longer than fused jackets.

  19. After extensive research of made-to-measure custom suits, I purchased the solid navy blue suit from Black Lapel in the fall of 2012. I couldn’t be happier. Truly a great product from a great team. I opted for the upgrade to the full canvas jacket and I must tell you it was well worth the investment. Looking forward to working with you all again soon for my next suit purchase.

    1. Terrence, thank you so much for the endorsement! It’s much appreciated sir. We hope you’re putting that beauty to good use!

  20. Thank you very much for the clear reply. Sure it helps. At the lapels I never felt a third layer but it might be that I pinched carefully and because of the stitches is then rather difficult to feel it.

    Very insightful article!

  21. Thank you very much for the very clear description about canvassed suits and jackets. Regarding the lapels it has never been clear to me whether with the pinch test I should also feel a third layer there. Should I feel a third layer when pinching at the lapels?

    I also feel that for some jackets the canvas is slightly fused to the outer layer. Is that common?

    1. Michiel, on a half-canvas or full-canvas jacket, you should feel a layer of canvas in the lapels. However, we don’t recommend you do the pinch test there. If you’ll turn your lapels over, you’ll notice (or rather you should notice) some very faint stitches in the back of the lapels. These stitches are there to give the lapel its shape and so you wouldn’t want to compromise this stitching with the pinch test.

      The canvas really shouldn’t be fused to the outer layer. You might be feeling the chest piece instead.

      Hope that helps!

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