in matters of elegance, as in many other matters in life, common preconceptions die hard. Said preconceptions often seem to secretly rule the judgement of many a man. And what’s worse, is that no one ever seems to question their veracity, let alone their origins.
In the realm of classic men’s style, preconceptions are, of course, numerous, and more often than not— spread and maintained by shop clerks, either out of interest (to boast the so-called merits of a specific piece) or out of sheer lack of education.
The most infamous of these preconceptions are those pertaining to details that allegedly denote the quality of a garment. Widely believed and still very much alive, those preconceptions include, but are not limited to : working buttonholes, (flashy) monograms on the linings, top-stitching, and other so-called “tailored” details that are overblown selling points to which dishonest clerks, capitalizing on the revival of interest in men’s style, like to play on.
To avoid further flogging a horse that’s been dead for years, let’s just say that what really denotes a quality piece is not a few non-important details (a fortiori easily imitated), but a more global feel pertaining to the line, the cut, the posture, the flow of the piece, and the general ease of wearing.
Contrary to what one might think, the bespoke world is not devoid of some of those erroneous beliefs. The best example would be the belief that on a quality stripped jacket, the stripes should form a continuous line at the shoulder seams.
I’m not taking many risks by saying that I’m sure that at least some of you reading this, have fallen for that fallacy, supposedly guaranteeing that you have purchased a true tailored good. But, as can be demonstrated further on, nothing could be further from the truth.
The example you’ll find below illustrates that the “continuous line” gambit is used a lot by some low-end ready-to-wear brands to pass their fused goods off as handmade pieces. The jacket below boasts, and we quote, “matching lines, a detail you won’t find in ready-to-wear“. The punchline ? This “traditional” suit is sold at 250 euros.
Without passing judgement on the quality / price ratio of the suit above (after all, at 250 euros it might be the catch of the century, although the ad seems a bit too raucous for our taste), it does give us a perfect opportunity to tackle a fundamental principle, well-known by real tailoring and bespoke houses around the world, that not only dismiss this ridiculous “continuous line” claim, but goes on to show that far from being a telltale sign of handmade tailoring, it is in fact a clear indicator that the suit is most likely … machine-made.
The shoulder area is very complex to work with; although, it may seem to be a rather plain and straight surface with a well defined bone structure, it is, in fact convex, curved, and very muscular (especially in the back).
For your typical jacket, the fabric is cut into two major parts, which will be stitched together at the shoulder line. The fundamental rule is that the cut of fabric meant for the back of the jacket will always be slightly larger than the one for the front of the jacket, as a simple matter of respecting human morphology…which begs a very simple observation : when a stripped fabric is cut into two parts slightly differing in size, it becomes extremely problematic (if not impossible) to have the stripes align perfectly.
Bespoke tailors usually deliberately leave 3/4″ (around 2 cm) of fabric in excess in the back of the coat (as you can see on the image below) as it enhances the comfort, the flexibility, and the overall sharpness of the line.
If you leave it to the know-how of your tailor (and of his trusty steam iron) to “insert” this excess fabric into the seams, you’ll end up with a very sharp and natural shoulder as seen below.
In the case of ready-to-wear, so as to allow the machine to assemble two pieces of fabric in a few seconds (which is impossible with 3/4″ / 2cm difference), the difference in the front versus the back is reduced to 3/8″ (less than one cm), and sometimes even less… which, with the insertion of padding (amongst other “technicalities”), results in a shoulder line very neat indeed, but (at least as far as we are concerned), way too artificial looking.
Although it may seem to be a paradox, the rule of thumb is : the closer you get to mass RTW, the smaller the difference in dimension between the front and the back part of the jacket — and the higher the chances to get perfectly aligned stripes !
While the final aspect of matching lines is not an unpleasant one (it’s a matter of taste), you should bear in mind that it doesn’t guarantee anything at all as far as quality goes, and guarantees even less in terms of whether or not the suit is handmade. Of course, your tailor could, when working on the back of the shoulder, make it so the lines match as much as possible, perfectly even, but it will almost always be detrimental to the comfort and the overall line and flow of your jacket (this is particularly true for neapolitan shoulder, which by definition lacks padding).
So the next time you put on your magnificent double-breasted — with misaligned stripes — suit, shed the complex and relish in the fact that you are knowingly out-of-line in a world where the norm rules supreme and commonplace is king.
“Any fool can know, the point is to understand. ” Einstein.
Source : The English Cut