Art of Maniless Suit School - Canvassed v. Fused Suits

All of us are going to need suits. For interviews, for work, for socializing- life generally demands it.
Suit-shopping can be a tedious and painful experience.

It doesn't have to be all bad, though! Today, I'm going to start with a post that explains the difference between a well-made and a cheap suit. I'll begin by saying that price is not necessarily indicative of a suit's quality. Much of a the quality of a suit depends on its construction, namely whether the jacket is canvassed or fused.


Canvassed Jackets.

A little bit of suit history. Traditionally, men's suits were canvassed. This means that between the lining of the suit and the wool on the outside, there's a layer of canvas. This canvas creates the foundation for the suit, much like a foundation for a house. The canvas is cut to your body shape and the wool is hand-stitched to the canvas. As you wear the jacket, the canvas conforms to your body's shape, creating an excellent fit.

Because the wool is hand-stitched to the canvas, the fabric also drapes much more naturally, allowing a clean, well put-together look.


Fused Jackets.

Nowadays, however, most suit companies don't take time time to do this. Instead of a canvas lining, they companies fuse stiffer fabric to the wool of the jacket with glue.
This creates an unnatural stiffness in the jacket which does not allow the wool fabric to drape properly over the body. It's not just cheap brand that do this; Armani and HUGO BOSS, among others, construct most of their suit jackets this way to save themselves money (while still charging an arm and a leg for their 'designer' suits).

What complicates the problem of fused jackets is that the glue degrades over time, or may come unstuck during the dry-cleaning/pressing process. When that happens, inevitably, you are left with the problem of bubbling. Where the wool detaches from the fused backing, the fabric ripples and generally looks horrendous. Moreover, there is no way to fix this problem once it's occurred- the jacket is basically shot.


How to Tell a Canvassed v. Fused Jacket.

In a canvassed jacket, most of the stitching attaching the canvas and wool is behind the lapels. If you look carefully on the reverse side of a jacket's lapel, you can see the tiny stitches holding the layers of fabric together. A fused jacket will have no such stitching.

It used to be the case that pick stitching, the stitching around the edges of a jacket's lapels, was indicative of a canvassed jacket. This is no longer the case, however, as many fashion houses now add pick stitching merely for the look.

The single best way to determine whether a jacket is canvassed or fused, however, is the pinch test. Because most of the stitching holding the canvas to the wool is on the lapels, the canvas "floats" under the wool fabric, allowing the wool to drape naturally. What you can do is first pinch the fabric on the sleeve of the jacket to get a feel for the wool's thickness (sleeves are not canvassed). Then, pinch the fabric on the chest of the jacket.

Does it feel the same thickness as the sleeve fabric? If so, it's canvassed.

But if the chest fabric feels stiffer and thicker, the jacket is more than likely fused.


What does all of this mean to me anyway?

Generally speaking, fused jackets do not last as long as canvassed jackets, nor do they look as good.

When you look at the price of some fully canvassed suits, you might get sticker shock. However, if you're going to be making the financial investment, it's better to spend $600 on one canvassed suit that on two $300 fused suits, or even for three $200 suits!

The canvassed suit will look better on you and outlast any fused garment you buy. Moreover, the canvassed suit is more than likely of generally higher quality construction.


Where Can I Go for a Canvassed Suit?

Thick As Thieves makes excellent custom, fully-canvassed made-to-measure suits at around $500. Their style is very 60s, but they offer more conservative suit cuts as well. Check out their website, ThickAsThievesLa.com for more info.

Ralph Lauren Purple Label and Black Label are also excellent suits. They are, however, prohibitively expensive on full retail. They generally go on sale at the end of each season from an initial retail of $1700-$2100 to about $450-500. Purple Label is all made in England and generally more conservative in appearance. Black label is all Italian and cut generally slim and a little more youthful or aggressively, depending on your perspective. Ralph Lauren POLO, or blue label, is fused as far as I know, but generally of a high quality. Check out what they have in their store on the west side of Broad at Walnut.

You can get a custom suit from a local tailor, if you're willing to pay a bit more. Ernesto's Custom Clothiers on 5th and South is a solid place to go. Not only to they make suits, they also make shirts and will alter any clothes you already have. They are my go-to guys for alterations.

Nordstrom Rack is your friend too. You have get great deals on excellent clothing there.


What to Avoid.

Avoid most department stores. The staff are relatively ignorant about how suits should properly fit. The clothing quality is sub-par. Also avoid Ralph Lauren's Lauren (green label) line. These are poorly constructed. Exceptions to this rule would be places like Lord and Taylor, Neiman Marcus, or Nordstrom - but these stores are so expensive to begin with that it's almost unimaginable for many to spend $5000 on a Brioni or Isaia suit.

Fashion brands like Kenneth Cole, Hugo Boss, Michael Kors, etc. are generally poorly constructed in 3d world countries and then sold to you at a ridiculously inflated price just because of their brand name. I used to think Hugo Boss was the top of the line (as I sure many others do). However, when I learned about the poor construction of their clothing, and when my navy Boss suit from them started to bubble, I was enlightened. Their clothing is NEVER worth full retail price, and hardly worth it on sale, even at 50% off. The employees generally work off commission and will generally tell you anything- wheeling and dealing- to get you to buy a suit. Although they stood behind their product when I took my suit back to them, and tried to correct the bubbling with my suit, you can save yourself the trouble by avoiding fashion-house brands.

Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank also make generally poor quality suits. The staff can by pushy as well by telling you that clothing that does not fit you actually does, or that your style is somehow wrong. Generally not worth the price.


Well folks, that's all I have for now. I hope that you learned something to help you in your suit search!

Stay tuned for the next installment of Suit School on the Art of Manliness.

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Comment by Vincent DiMarco on November 1, 2009 at 12:30pm
Great article. I haven't purchased a fused jacket in 10 years. Once you've been spoiled by full canvas construction there is no going back! I am going to look into Thick as Thieves, never bought custom before. I usually buy Canali or Hickey Freeman. And yes, Hugo Boss and Armani are garbage! Highway robbery!

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