Italian suits : which (shoulder) side are you on ?

Italian suits : which (shoulder) side are you on ?

As we all know, us aesthetes often must suffer the daily grind brought about by certain endless debates. One of the most virulent polemics (within reason) opposes the finesse and style of the Blake shoe construction to longer-lasting and comfortable Goodyear-welt. Suits also follow this state of affairs. Case in point: the historical style dichotomy between Italy and England, the two great countries of masculine fashion.

When one really thinks about it, it becomes clear that differences in style are merely the direct expression - through clothing - of each country’s specific social characters. Traditionally, a stylish Brit will go to any length to abide by the rules (often passed down from father to son) and remain discreet, whereas the elegant Italian will go the opposite direction and will hone at his own individual style without any fear to break, daily, some rules that are consistently respected in England.

In England, men seek discretion, while their Italian counterparts like to state their individuality. English men like strictness and follow conventions. Italians express through their style a constant longing for freedom and extroversion, even bordering on extravagance. In other words, the hallmarks of each country’s style are in perfect sync with its stereotypical values and lifestyle, and shoes can be seen as a direct translation of the gap opposing these two schools. On the blue corner, Blake-constructed monk shoe, and on the red corner, full brogues and oxfords with Goodyear welt. A battle opposing style at any cost -with little to no regard for comfort or sturdiness - and practicality and comfort on the other side, at the expense of shapes and lines.When it comes to suits, the ideals clash in terms of fabric choice and cuts. Again, the English gent traditionally prefers heavy fabrics with rather conservative patterns that leave little to the lightness and fluidity that the Italians tend to seek.

Things get even more complicated within the countries themselves, where style subdivisions further diversify historically unique national traits. In Italy, for instance, there are two main types of shoulder construction.

I will not go into as much detail as Michael Anton -- aka Nicholas Antongiavanni, author of The Suit -- did in his wonderfully detailed article on the subject (Neopolitan Shoulder Explained). I will instead go for a shorter and more synthetic description that will shed, I hope, some clarity on the subject.

In Italy, as we've established, two shoulder traditions prevail: the dropped Neapolitan shoulder construction (which itself is divided in two different schools), and the more structured and British looking Roman shoulder.

At first sight, the Neapolitan shoulder is meant to look natural and has minimal to no padding (padding is traditionally added to structure British jackets and coats). The Neapolitan shoulder is the signature of Kiton, a very high end Italian RTW house.

Above are examples of the spalla camicia school of Neapolitan shoulder construction (which roughly translates by "shirt shoulder"): it follows the natural shape of the body, just like a shirt normally would. This construction is typically found only in very high end RTW or Neapolitan bespoke tailoring houses.

The second main type of Neapolitan shoulder is the con rollino: it has a very narrow and slightly puckered sleevehead, and is normally left unpadded. You can clearly see in the following image the difference between the two Neapolitan shoulder constructions: the con rollino is on the left and the spalla camicia is on the right.

Then there is the “Roman” shoulder. It tends to be a lot more structured than the previous two, and, unlike the puckered con rollino shoulder, is unpleated and slightly padded. This gives the jacket a more masculine, even manly, look. The Roman shoulder (despite its very clear British influence), is standard in several Italian houses, including some of the most prestigious, like Brioni (below).

If this sounds overly greek to you, fear not ; it’s not that complicated.In fact, choosing a shoulder type (which is extremely important for the overall silhouette of a garment) goes beyond mere aesthetic considerations. It involves strictly anatomical factors and follows a simple formula: broad shoulders or muscular builds (earned after hours spent at the gym) should avoid excessive padding. Alternately, narrow shoulders and skinnier builds call for a more padded jacket. The idea is to work with your body shape.

Simple isn't it ?

Cheers, HUGO

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