Suiting 101: An Introduction to Suit Jacket Construction
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:
- Canvassed suit jackets drape better (and hence, will make you look even more killer).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Inexpensive compared to canvassed jackets. You’ll also save money on taxes when you donate it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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