The Art of Manliness Suit School: Part I – Fused vs. Canvassed Suits

by A Manly Guest Contributor on February 12, 2010 · 41 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style

Editor’s note: The AoM Community’s resident style hobbyist, Leo Mulvihill, posted a series of posts on the Community blog to help men understand more about buying and wearing a suit. We’ll be publishing his entries here every other week. Thanks for sharing your sartorial knowledge, Leo!

Those of you who are active on the forums are aware that I believe every man should own a fine suit. As men, all of us are going to need suits, whether for interviews, work, or socializing- life occasionally demands it of us. Because we’ll all need a good suit for such occasions, we might as well make the investment in a quality suit that will provide us years of enjoyment.

Today, I’m going to start the first of a series of articles on how to find yourself that high quality, all-purpose suit.

I’ll begin by saying that price is not necessarily indicative of a suit’s quality. At least equal of weight with the elements of cut, fabric pattern and fabric quality is construction.

Today, we’re going to focus on the construction of a jacket – namely, whether a jacket is canvassed or fused.

In this picture, taken from the blog Made by Hand- The Great Sartorial Debate, we can see an example of three different horsehair canvassing materials on the left, versus fusible on the right. Note the fullness of the canvas materials, while the fusible appears limp by comparison.

Canvassed Jackets

A Little Bit of Suiting History

Traditionally, men’s suits were constructed with a layer of horsehair canvas underneath the wool fabric shell. This canvas holds the shape of the suit and keeps it from sagging or deforming, much like the foundation of a house keeps it upright. The canvas is cut to the jacket’s shape, then the wool is stitched to the canvas. Over time, as you wear the jacket, the canvas conforms to your body’s shape, creating an excellent fit.

The canvas lining allows the suit fabric to drape naturally, allowing a clean, well put-together look.

Fused Jackets

Many suit manufacturers, as an effect of increased production, no longer use a canvas interlining in their jackets. Rather, a fusible interlining is glued to the wool shell of the suit. And while this does an adequate job of keeping a jacket’s shape, it often creates an unnatural stiffness in the jacket, making a fused jacket appear lifeless compared to a similar canvassed coat.

It’s not just budget brands that construct jackets in this fashion. Many designer labels construct their suit jackets this way to save themselves money.

What is sometimes problematic with fused jackets is the fact that the glue degrades over time, or may come unstuck during the dry-cleaning/pressing process. Where the wool detaches from the fused backing, the fabric ripples around the chest and lapels, a phenomenon known as “bubbling.” Unfortunately, there is no way to fix this problem once it’s occurred – as I’ve learned the hard way.

Nowadays, fusing technology has improved to the point where you may never experience bubbling problems, but there’s always the chance that this might occur.

Half-Canvassed Jackets

Between the two extremes lies a compromise – the half-canvassed jacket. Half-canvassed jackets have canvas material running only through the chest and lapels of the coat. Past that point, the jacket is fused.

Half-canvassed jackets have several benefits. First, they generally have a lower price than a similar fully canvassed jacket. Less handiwork means a lower overall cost to you.

And because the top half of the jacket is not fused you’ll not run into any bubbling problems as you might in a fused jacket. This adds to the lifespan of the garment.

Finally, the canvassing provides the proper base for the jacket to drape naturally across your chest, rather than appearing stiff and lifeless as many fused jackets do.

Let’s see the difference between the three different types:

First off, I’d like to give credit to JefferyD of StyleForum for this excellent diagram.

In the full canvas garment, you can see how the jacket is composed entirely of cloth and horsehair canvas. The fabric is stitched directly to the canvas.

In a half-canvassed garment, fusible extends the entire length of the coat. However, the garment is stitched to the canvas material, assisting in the proper shaping and providing life to the coat.

In the fused jacket all the way to the right, the fusible interlining is glued the entire length of the coat.

How to Tell a Canvassed v. Fused Jacket

Pinch Test

The pinch test is an excellent way to determine whether a jacket is canvassed or fused.

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 cloth below the bottom buttonhole from both the inside and out. Gently pull the layers apart. If you feel a third layer inside, then the coat is fully canvassed.

If you don’t feel a third layer, or the fabric feels stiffer and thicker than that of the sleeve, the jacket is more than likely fused.

Lapel Test

Note that fusing has gotten a lot better nowadays and is not always as stiff as it’s been in prior years, making it a little more difficult to determine whether a jacket is indeed canvassed. Accordingly, use your eyes to help figure it out.

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. This can be very difficult to see, often virtually invisible under normal lighting.

What Does This Mean to me Anyway?

The real reason to buy a good, canvassed suit is for love of dressing well. Because of advancing construction technology, there isn’t necessarily a huge advantage for canvassed jackets anymore: a good fused jacket can last awhile and is often much, much cheaper than a similar canvassed jacket.

However, I stand by my preference of canvassed jackets for three reasons:

1. Canvassed jackets look better on you.

2. Higher-end manufacturers using canvassed construction tend to have a better mastery of style and cut.

3. Canvassed jackets generally last longer.

This makes sense – those companies willing to invest the time in making a better-quality suit also have the history to understand how a suit should be properly cut and constructed. And if you’re going to make the investment in a suit, you want to look your best.

Know Your Market

With all of this in mind, understand that it’s less important where you buy something, and more important to understand the different markets to which suits are sold.

Companies like Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse sell to the office-wear crowd (people who wear suits because they have to). These suits are generally cheaply made and won’t last.

Fashion designers sell suits as design statements for those interested in appearing the most fashionable, but just because a suit’s designer does not mean that it’s quality; often you’re paying for the label itself.

Finally, there are companies that sell to those who appreciate classic, high-quality suits. Usually companies in this last category have control over their own production and have been doing what they do for a long time (Canali, Brooks Brothers, Brioni, Kiton, Isaia, etc.).

Many consumers fail to see these distinctions and simply construe a better-worse spectrum, most often with designer suits at the top. But now you’re armed with the knowledge to know better.

Where Can I Go for a Canvassed Suit?

Many quality retailers still stock canvassed and half-canvassed suits that won’t cost an outrageous amount of money. Here are a few of my recommendations for those of you starting out on your quest.

Brooks Brothers

Brooks Brothers is a bastion of American menswear. Founded in 1818, they’ve provided clothing for every American man, from college students to businessmen to American presidents (they even made TR’s uniform for the Spanish-American War). Their 1818 line is half-canvassed, available in three different cuts (from slim to more traditional), and priced very competitively.

Their Golden Fleece line is fully canvassed and substantially more expensive that the 1818.

Ralph Lauren

If you have a Ralph Lauren boutique in the area, check them out. Ralph Lauren has several different suiting lines as well – Polo Ralph Lauren (Blue Label), Ralph Lauren Black Label, and Ralph Lauren Purple Label – in increasing quality and price. The price tags of these suits usually reflect Ralph Lauren’s designer status, but they are often available on sale for a great percentage off retail price.

Purple Label is generally made in Italy and generally more conservative in appearance. Black Label is all Italian, slim, and fashion forward. Polo Ralph Lauren is the more affordable and often conservative line of the three.

Avoid Lauren Ralph Lauren (green label) suiting, often available in department stores. It has nothing to do with the Ralph Lauren company – another company who licensed the name manufactures it.

Local Tailors

You can get a custom suit from a local tailor, if you’re willing to pay a bit more. Many local tailors offer in shop made-to-measure, or if they’re more accomplished, full bespoke. The difference between the two being that made-to-measure works from a general pattern adjusted for your size, whereas bespoke involves drawing individual patterns for each customer and several intermediate fittings to get it all right.

Online Made to Measure

There are many online made-to measure companies as well, including A Tailored Suit and Thick As Thieves. While these companies offer a fantastic bang for your buck, I don’t generally recommend online MtM for a first suit. Too often, there are so many variables and room for error that the result is less than ideal. Ready to wear companies have invested a lot of time into perfecting their patterns to suit a variety of body types and are often the best choice for the beginning suit buyer.

Traveling to Asia?

If you have money to burn and enjoy traveling, Hong Kong has a great selection of tailors who can tailor custom suits relatively inexpensively. Several of these tailors also travel in circuits around the globe, so keep an eye out for appointments in your city.

Well folks, that’s it for now. I hope that you learned something to help you in your suit search.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I can’t promise to have all the answers, but I’ll do what I can.

If you want to read further, please check out the excellent blog Made by Hand- The Great Sartorial Debate, from whom I borrowed the canvassing diagram. The blog has an excellent article on canvassing that goes into far greater depth than my personal knowledge could ever explain to you.

I’d also like to thank the members at StyleForum for their continuing contributions to my sartorial knowledge and their assistance in preparing this article.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Art of Manliness Suit School.
_______________
Art of Manliness Suit School: Part 2 – The Alterations Every Man Needs
Art of Manliness Suit School: Part 3 – A Primer on Suit Buttons

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 poopsie February 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Several of these tailors also travel in circuits around the globe, so keep an eye out for appointments in your city…
that sounds really awesome but where do i even begin to get info about that?

2 Donald February 12, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I have a question. I am looking at an online MtM tailor ( http://www.mycustomtailor.com/ ). Now you mention that using an online tailor for your first suit is a bad idea, which I totally understand. The reason that I am looking at My Custom Tailor is because they do road shows, one of which will be near me in early March. Will getting an appointment with one of their tailors fix the issues with using an online tailor?

3 Andrew February 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Fantastic! No one ever talks about specifics like this. I knew very little about differences in construction.

4 Nate @ Practical Manliness February 12, 2010 at 5:44 pm

@ Donald I am certainly not an expert on suits, but I would expect that seeing the tailor in person would eliminate all the problems with an online tailor.

5 Leo February 12, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Just for the record, I am still very much in the process of learning the tradition of men’s clothing; there are far many people in the world who know a great deal more than I. I would call myself more a hobbyist than an expert. I’ll leave that title to men like Alan Flusser, Andy Gilchrist, Nicholas Antongiovanni, and the many other men who’ve written excellent treatises on the subject. Without their works, and the many knowledgeable men of Styleforum and Ask Andy About Clothes forum, I would be wholly in the dark regarding much of this subject.

I hope that this short article can help you all expand your knowledge a bit on the subject. Enjoy!

6 Brett McKay February 12, 2010 at 6:54 pm

No need for the caveats, Leo. I said that you were the resident fashion expert of the AoM Community, not the whole world, and inasmuch as you seem to know the most about style of all the guys there, it is a wholly true statement!

7 MH February 12, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Im wondering… are Zenga suits fused or canvassed? What about the Z Zegna line? These suits run $1,200 to $2,500… is it possible they are fused? Some are labeled as made in Switzerland, Mexico etc…

8 Leo February 12, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Depends on the line.

Z Zegna are generally fused. Mainline Zegna is not, AFAIK.

There has been much discussion about this topic of Styleforum. Use the search function there to find the threads, rather than starting a new topic.

9 James Boulton February 12, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I’m a suit aficionado and would like to clarify a few points. First, I’ve ordered several suits from A Tailored Suit and would like to clarify that they are NOT a Made to Measure suit company. They are full Bespoke. Every customer gets a unique and custom pattern cut just for them. I’ve bought Brooks Bros., Armani, Hugo Boss, and had custom suits made in India, A Tailored Suit beats them all.
Also, while I see your point that a person buying their first suit might find difficulty in ordering a suit online, most people who already own suits have little more knowledge about them than a complete newbie. A Tailored Suit’s measuring guide is very in depth and there is a growing amount of information on the internet to help anyone looking to become more knowledgeable about suits before they buy. Not to mention the option of having a free consultation with the very knowledgeable owner of A Tailored Suit, Tony Centeno.
Lastly, most online suit companies make allowances to have a local tailor measure you, alleviating some more of the confusion involved in ordering online.
Personally, I feel bad about the poor quality of my first 3 suits which were worn for a few years and thrown out. I wish that I had taken the time to research and buy a good high quality suit that would still be wearable today.

10 Leo February 12, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Bespoke usually requires an intense, personal measuring experience requiring several fittings to get everything right. This is impossible via the internet.

Much confusion comes from the distinction between MtM and full-bespoke. While MtM can be done online, true bespoke really cannot.

I’ve spoken with Tony as well and he offers a great service at a very reasonable price. He knows his stuff well.

11 Bill February 12, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Great article. I had no idea about canvassing.

12 Andrew Hill February 13, 2010 at 9:16 am

I highly recommend Hickey Freeman for great off-the-rack suits. They are expensive, but they have a few sales a year. For those of you who live in the Northeast, J. Press (NY, New Haven, Cambridge) also carries high quality suits. Nordstrom is an excellent place to shop for a suit, as its one of the few retailers that still values a knowledgeable sales staff (though you may run into an exception). The higher-end suits at Nordstrom are generally quite good.

Finally, a warning about Brooks Brothers: yes, their golden fleece suits are good quality, but they are terrible value compared to other sources.

13 Brian Sullivan February 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

Great article! If anyone is heading to Hong Kong, I would recommend David Chow of DC Mohex Fashions. His shop is #52 Mirador Mansion (Ground Floor) 56 Nathan Road in Kowloon. You can email him at dcmohex@hotmail.com to get his schedule. He usually tours the US once a year. Once he has your measurements in his files it’s easy to order suits, slacks, blazers or shirts. He will even send you cloth swatches in the mail.

14 matt gaston February 13, 2010 at 10:54 am

excellent article… I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy bespoke tailoring for a few years now. Living in rochester, NY (home of Hickey Freeman)… there a re a number of custom tailors in Compition with each other. One of the best is Adrian Jules … Fantastic suit coats a cut above Hickey and just below Zenga in quality… Highly recommended (they also travel to you)

15 Vision Tom February 13, 2010 at 11:03 am

Thanks Leo for the very informative article. I’ve been wearing suits for over 45 years, ever since my Dad bought me my first when I was just a lad. I learned more about suit construction from this article then I have in all those years of buying and wearing suits. Armed with this knowledge I’ll be more discriminating in my next suit purchase.

16 Blake Helgoth February 13, 2010 at 11:23 am

Ok, I am relatively new to the suit world. I started wearing suits regularly about 4 years ago. My first few suits did not last 2 years, even though I hung them properly, brushed them, etc. No I know to buy better suits that will last. Is regular steaming bad for a fused suit? I often steam the wrinkles out of a suit coat.
Also, on another point (almost entirely), there needs to be an article run about the reason men wear suits at work. I often show up at a client’s house or office and hear, ‘you didn’t have to dress up for me.’ My reply is, ‘well, it is important business, so I dress for it.’ I think that is lost on most men. They think the only reason to dress is to impress so they can make a sale, or because they have a dress code (for some reason unbeknownst to them). I know you have mentioned this in a few articles, but never has there been an article specifically addressing this point.

17 JohnO February 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I’m surprised no one’s dropped http://www.englishcut.com/ yet. Fantastic blog. Fantastic suits. Fantastic bespoke who travels often.

18 Leo February 13, 2010 at 1:02 pm

http://www.styleforum.net/showthread.php?t=72485

Check out this thread for a better explanation.

Steaming can cause the fusing to come apart from the wool – this is how one my fused suits was ruined.

19 James February 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Bespoke tailoring does not require multiple intense fittings. Those are a service high end (and high cost) tailors offer. Bespoke refers only to creating a unique pattern for each customer, just as Made to Measure refers to adjusting an existing pattern to fit a customer.

Bespoke is about quality of construction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bespoke

20 Chris Kavanaugh February 14, 2010 at 1:00 am

Online ordering can be less painfull with a few preparations. It may sound contradictory, but if you know a reputable tailor seek their help. Not every tailor can provide, ie a hunting jacket from http://www.bookster.com in a tweed or english cloth. They may be semi retired or specialising in repair or merely fitting OTR. A tailor’s eye on a website ordering page and instructions can sort out what is being said better than a customer nervously trying to self measure with a cheap plastic tape or in self denial ( of course I can still fit in my uniform issued when I was 18 !) The first item wont be perfect. It will be light years ahead of 3 day suit Broker and your tailor can do some tweaking both with the garment and future orders. You’re going to like the way you look, I garantee it.

21 Chris Kavanaugh February 14, 2010 at 1:08 am

You can succesfully order online. This is a contradiction, but enlist the local aid of a reputable tailor. He may not want to make a keeper’s wieght tweed hunting jacket like http://www.bookster.com or is semi retired or specialising in only refits or repair. Let him look over the website and take your measure. He will better decypher the instructions and is not prey to our sub conscious fears of accuracy with a cheap plastic measure ( left sleeve 26.125″ right sleeve 26.325 for my hubcap russian chronograph) or self delusion ( I can fit into my uniform I owre at 18.)
Will the suit be spot on? No, but he can probably make it very close and tweek the next order even better. In any case, baring calamity it will be years ahead of 3 day suit broker in California ( please don’t ask.)

22 Leo February 14, 2010 at 2:23 am

@James.

From my understanding, bespoke is generally difficult if not done in person. And truly, multiple fittings are required for a bespoke suit, with a pattern made from scratch, to have it fit perfectly.

Even the best tailors of Italy, Saville Row, and Hong Kong, use multiple fittings to have the garment fit as a bespoke garment should.

23 Doug February 14, 2010 at 9:29 am

Can anyone suggest a place to find these traveling suit makers from Asia in my city (Boston, if it matters)?

24 Leo February 14, 2010 at 11:49 am

Doug, I would not be surprised if there aren’t several MtM/bespoke tailors in Boston already. While traveling tailors may be excellent, there’s often a long wait between the initial measurement and delivery of final product.

I have heard good things about WW Chan, but I am not sure if they come to Boston.

25 Vincent DiMarco February 14, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Excellent post on a little known subject.

Some examples of fully-canvassed suit makers include the following:

Canali, Vestimenta, Hickey-Freeman, Oxxford, Brioni, Gianluca Isaia, Kiton, Zegna (not the Z line), Pal Zileri, Corneliani, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Gieves & Hawkes.

Avoid Armani and Boss unless you are a label whore. Total crap.

Canali tends to be widely available. Brioni and Kiton tend to be only in the largest cities, given their stratospheric pricing. Check Off Fifth if there is one nearby as well.

Check ebay if you don’t mind buying used. New items can be had at substantial discounts as well. Obviously, make sure the garment fits, as a sloppy-fitting fully canvassed coat is of little value. The should-to-shoulder measurement is the most important as this cannot be changed.

A note about Thick as Thieves-I contacted them once and they indicated that their patterns only go up to a size 42. Something to keep in mind for the larger man. I am a rather snug 48, moving up to a 50 soon.

Hope this helps!

26 suba February 15, 2010 at 7:23 am

Good call on Asian tailors. The last time I was in Thailand I was really surprised about how cheap their custom made suits were. And the tailors cater to tourists who travel there for only 3-4 days, thus they can whip one up in about 2 days and offer to deliver it to your hotel for free.

27 DJ Wetzel February 15, 2010 at 8:35 am

Wow, there is definitely a whole new side to buying a suit that I wasn’t even aware of. Since I have been needing a new suit, this is great information!

28 Mark Cummings February 16, 2010 at 10:22 am

Great article! I did not know any of this. As I am trying to improve my dress and casual wardrobe this year this article certainly helps. On a different note, I checked out the Brooks Brothers website to check out their suits. Those people have lost their minds! There is a pair of boxers on there that cost $125! I am resonably certain that at this point in my life I can never envision myself buying anything from Brooks Brothers. It would be cheaper for me to learn to knit! LOL! Great article though, thanks!

29 Diego Ybarra February 16, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Great piece, very informative…
Question: Where and/or how could one find out if Asian Tailors are in our area(s)?
Thank you.

30 Charles Martin-Shields February 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Good article! Just a thought on suit cost, since Brooks Brothers 1818 suits were mentioned; I own a suit from the 1818 collection and would never pay full price for it ($900-1,000). That said, Brooks Brothers has really good seasonal sales and I was able to pick up a three-season 1818 suit for about 60% off. Stores like Bloomingdales and Nordstrom run these kind of sales as well, for those interested in other makes. In my experience these sales tend to happen around February, August and November for those who might be looking for a new suit or jacket. Happy hunting-

31 Mike February 22, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I can highly recomend one of the Hong Kong traveling tailors – mytailor.com. You can check their web sit for schedules. I’ve had 3 sport coats, four suits and numerous slacks and shirts made by them and have been very satisfied with the quality and price.

Another advantage to having a suit made is you get an enormous variety in fabrics and specify the features exactly how you want them.

32 Alison February 22, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Freaking smart post, love it! Men need more knowledge of tailoring!

33 Ola February 24, 2010 at 7:58 am

Great article, I’m eagerly awaiting the next in the series!

34 mindaugas March 8, 2010 at 11:30 pm

yes, i just have a quick question. you say that in hong-kong you can get relatively low-priced tailored suits. i was just wondering how low-priced? could you provide an approximate price range?

thank you

35 Benjamin J April 6, 2010 at 2:04 pm

@mindaugas – This might be too late to post a reply for you, but I picked up a tailor-made, three piece in Hong Kong in 2006 and paid US $375 for the suit. When you go abroad, remember that exchange rate factors into the overall price. My friend is in Pakistan right now and just got around the same deal: about $385 for a rather dapper 3-piece that has lots of useful particulars he wanted, like slanting pockets and functional buttons. Places like Hong Kong has tailors who offer a custom suit for US $200, but they tend to be extremely low quality. My own experience is to expect about $300-500 for a suit costing at least double that state-side.

36 John Hult November 18, 2012 at 1:47 am

If you’re ever in Mumbai India, pay a visit to the people at SS Homme. They offer completely bespoke suits, with an option of choosing between Fully Canvassed(Floating canvas) or fused. The canvassed suits I ordered were impeccable & they also had a great range of Scabal, Loro Piana & Hunt & Winterbotham options.

Young dynamic people behind the company & much more valuable than any of the other options in India.There website – http://www.sshomme.in .

Also, another feasible option were a local tailors in HKK, not as personalised, but very efficient.

37 Mz February 8, 2013 at 12:36 am

Don’t forget about Oxxford Clothing! Still hand-made in Chicago!

38 Jason July 1, 2013 at 4:18 am

I think MatthewAperry uses the full canvas interlining.com ,Cause I took the suit bought from them to my local tailor for evaluation.

39 David March 29, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Not all of Brooks Brothers’ Golden Fleece suits are full canvased. Some are half-canvased.

40 A.A.Bambardekar April 8, 2014 at 11:35 am

Would like to know more about the fabric suitable for Full canvas suits.

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