Rakish Tip: Basically,
there is an underlying architecture to your shoulder that must be
respected. Observe the related diagram. If your shoulder were a
mountain then the 'acromion bone' would be the summit. Now slip on
your suit jacket. Try cupping a hand over your own deltoid with the
acromion dead centre in your palm. The shoulder seam of your jacket
should be at the same position as the outer edge of your palm.
Another way to calculate this is to place one finger to the outside
of your acromion - two if your shoulder development is broader or
the suit has a more built up shoulder. This is where the shoulder
seam should meet the sleeve head. If you've got this fit right
you've taken the first step down the path to suit
Now that you've determined the fit of your shoulders is correct,
what type of shoulder should you select? Generally shoulders fall
into one of three categories: unpadded, moderately padded and
structured. What may surprise you is that what works best on you is
already pre-determined by your physicality.
Say you are a large man - one who wears his prosperity well, or
damn it all; whose physicality is just an expression of his larger
than life personality and extraordinary largess. Or say you
participate in sports that result in above average shoulder
development, such as Canadian Lumberjack competitions or Bear
wrestling. You may wish to select a moderately padded or totally
unpadded shoulder. Why? Because more pronounced shoulder pads will
emphasize your horizontal lines and could make you look a little
too wide or top heavy.
One popular unpadded choice is the Neapolitan shoulder, which is
distinguished by the gathering of pleats that resemble a
shirtsleeve at the shoulder seam, and is available in ready-to-wear
by brands such the originators of Neapolitan tailoring, Rubinacci.
However, other non-Neapolitan brands that use unpadded shoulders
include British menswear firm Hardy Amies and the Solomeo-based
Brunelo Cuccinelli. For many years, Brooks Brothers has been making
unpadded shoulder jackets as part of their New England WASP
uniform. One man that pairs minimally padded shoulders with
shorter, fitted jackets to create a heroic silhouette is Lino
Ielluzi, proprietor of Milan's Al Bazaar.
Normal Frame: Unpadded, Moderately Padded and
If you have a normal frame, rejoice. Do a jig. High five your
dog. High five yourself. Open a bottle of Cros Parantoux and pass
around the Behikes. Don't forget to light one for your dog. A
by-product of winning the genetic crap shoot is that you can
generally wear any of the three types of shoulders: structured,
moderately padded and unpadded allowing you to experiment in the
arts of sartorial self-expression with the fullest sense of
Slender Frame: Structured Shoulders
If you have a slight physique due to a highly enviable
metabolism, or have narrow shoulders or a large head due to your
immense brain capacity, you may wish to offset these attributes
with a suit jacket with a more structured shoulder.
Be cautious of wildly expressive suits that boast the sort of
concave, extreme-padded shoulders created in the mid-70s by Savile
Row maverick Tommy Nutter, (and recreated several years ago by
designer Thomas Maier at Bottega Veneta) which are spectacular but
perhaps somewhat costume like. Instead, the Rake prefers a more
natural shoulder line that transitions smoothly into a tastefully
built up shoulder, as popularised in England by the amazing
Huntsman of Savile Row or in Paris by the equally amazing tailoring
firms of Cifonelli and Camps de Luca.
Amusingly, during the preceding decade devotees of tailoring
seemed wholly focused on singing the praises of the unpadded
shoulder, but today the same cognoscenti is fixated on the more
structured shoulder. In London, Edward Sexton and Joe Morgan are
both masters of the structured shoulder, while when it comes to
ready-to-wear The Rake's favourite structured shoulders are created
by Ralph Lauren Purple Label (which manages to keep these shoulders
wonderfully soft) as well as Cifonelli ready-to-wear, which has
retained the bespoke firm's wonderfully louche 'cigarette'-styled
sleeve head. Gieves & Hawkes also does an admirable to job
incorporating the traditional British roped sleeve head into their
contemporary British style.
Two: The Armholes
As with the shoulders, if the armholes of your jacket don't fit,
the garment will never look good, as they absolutely cannot be
altered. A bespoke tailor will try to get the armholes of your
jacket as small, and to sit as close to you, as possible. Why? For
Firstly, a small armhole and a large sleeve head work together
to enable the greatest range of motion while still having a jacket
sit in composed, Bodhisattva-like equanimity as you move.
Conversely, a large armhole will cause the entire body of your
jacket to flap around, wanton and indecorous, with your every
Secondly, it's because a high armhole is essential to a
well-shaped coat because it allows it to begin its suppression
early enough to flow gently into a well-shaped waist.
Rakish Tip: How much space should you have?
Slip on your jacket. Next place your fingers under your armpit.
Ideally, you should have two to three fingers space between your
armpit and the bottom of the armhole, anything more than this and
the armhole is too big. If you've got the right amount of space
don't forget to move your arm. The correct shoulder and armhole fit
should allow you completely unhindered motion while allow your
jacket sit flatteringly close to the body. Note that if the jacket
pulls or bunches at the front of the shoulder your sleeve head is
too small, and sadly there is nothing that can be done about this
Readers can find the next instalment of The Noble
Ninefold Path to Suit
exploring jacket length, the suit's skirt and
pockets. The introduction to the series can
be read here.