Suit Lapels: The Very Good and the Very Bad

Suit Lapels: The Very Good and the Very Bad

A nice illustration of a full canvass, chest piece and suiting shell by The Compass, with an article expounding upon the subject.

How good a lapel looks on a suit coat has a lot to do with the quality of canvassing on the jacket.

If you have a little experience with sewing, then you will have a clue about what canvassing means. But for the rest of us, researching the finer points of canvassing can seem rather technical at first, and looking for simplified information on the subject can be elusive.

The above picture is a simple way of communicating how a coat is put together and helps us quickly understand the meaning of canvassing.

Canvassing simply means sewing pieces of fabric inside a suit coat to help support the jacket. Quality canvassing causes a jacket to conform better to the body, often causing the jacket to become more beautiful with each wear. Canvassing also helps hold the lapel shape, as well as support a lovely lapel roll.

As you can see,  the suit coat above is fully-canvassed. However, if a jacket is half-canvassed, then the long blue canvass piece above is cut by half this length.

The term fused canvassed suit simply means that the pieces illustrated above are glued together, instead of sewn together.

Notice the long piece of fabric in blue that is sewn into the coat to give it structure and a nice drape. Sewn or basted on top of this long piece, is another chest piece called ' haircloth ' (in brown).  The Haircloth further supports the lapel area. This chest piece contains horse hairs that have a lot of ' spring ' by nature, thereby lifting and providing body to the lapel and chest area of the coat---and thus is one of the secrets to a beautifully-bodied lapel and chest.

With this basic definition of canvassing in force, we now focus on a problem in suiting that is hard to miss: the lapel gape.


A poorly crafted lapel is easily identified when the lapel exhibits a "lapel gape". A lapel gape usually occurs on only one side, characterized by a collapsing of fabric along the lapel roll line (see above).

A lapel gape on a suit immediately signals that something is wrong. Even if the brain does not register that the suit has a gaped-lapel, a suit will look cheap with such a fault.


Here are some potential reasons for a lapel gape:

1. The inner pieces of a coat are glued together (fused), instead of sewn together (canvassed).  Glued areas can loose their integrity fairly quickly, causing fabric binding and insufficient support of the lapel.

2. A chest that is too-tight, resulting in an "open tugging area" on the lapel. Sometimes this problem can be cured by moving the coat buttons in a horizontal direction that allows the chest area to widen a bit, and helps the lapel fall straight.

3. Regarding handmade suits with a lapel gape-- "Too many slashes and cuts on a handmade suit can tend to reduce the support that is required from the canvass" (The Tailor and the Cutter, Whilf, 1949, Gentleman's Garments, Jacket and Coat Cutting, p. 121).

4. A low shoulder, causing a collapse of lapel fabric on the same side as the low shoulder.

5. A shoulder that is intentionally cut crooked (on a bias) to provide a nice clean chest, which unfortunately, may cause a gape along the lapel roll line, and the coat to "swing away" from the hem. This can be prevented by inserting a "dart" along the roll line to deal with some extra fabric that has been created from cutting the shoulder crooked to get a better drape (see this post on Made by Hand -- The Great Sartorial Debate).

6. An oversized chest area, with the excess fabric causing the lapel to sag open.

Even if you aren't concerned with learning the finer points of why a lapel gape occurs, simply being aware of whether the lapel fits correctly or not, is enough to help choose the right suit fit.


Conventionally, the inner lapel line  (the lapel line that touches your shirt) should be straight. But since a few years, conventions have been thrown out in favor of individual style. Parisian Gentleman Contributor Paul Grassart shows us a nice illustration of lapel lines both cut on a curve, and cut straight.

In the illustration above, the first two examples show the inner lapel line cut on a curve, while the last two example demonstrate a lapel line that is cut straight.


Hear, we see Oswald Boateng with a straight lapel roll line. Focus in on the "V" formation of the lapel against the forms a clean and practically perfect "V".

And here, yet another example of a straight edge on the inner lapel line. Once again, pay attention to the perfect "V" formation.

In the following, we see an example of a Smalto bespoke house cut with a curving lapel line. Notice the "V" formed by the inner lapel in this photo--if you were to draw this "V" on a sheet of paper, the sides of the "V" would be noticeably curved.

And yet another example of an obviously curved inner lapel line:

Whether a straight or curved inner lapel line is preferred, the real focus should be on avoiding a lapel gape, and noticing that the lapel roll lies flat against the body on both sides of the chest. Simply recognizing the issue of the lapel gape is an easy step forward in making sure you get the highest return on your investment.


As more of us understand what makes a good suit, the market is responding. With the debut of mass-industrialization suiting after World War II, most industrial-made suits like sack suits and zoot suits, had boxy cuts and looked cheap. But these days, high quality suiting is offered by a growing number of ready-to-wear (RTW) companies. These RTW companies are moving rapidly up the quality scale to provide half or fully-canvassed suits---a far cry from the plethora of RTW fused suits produced only a decade earlier.

Some high-end RTW companies hire apt tailors to guide the suit construction process, resulting in an overall better quality product. A portion of these suit "brands" are even owned by renowned tailors who put their reputations on the line by becoming affiliated with RTW offerings.

It can be surprising to realize that a RTW suit has the potential to be superior to MTM (made-to-measure) suit since top RTW houses usually seek the expertise of Master tailors for guidance on points like sleeve pitch, lapel rolls,  and collar and back fit---while many MTM houses may be working with tailors with far less experience.  No longer can we assume that a MTM suit is automatically superior to a RTW suit, because these days, such an assumption is no longer true.

When choosing a suit, perform a simple test to confirm that your suit is canvassed:

* Try to pull the layers of cloth apart in two places---the chest area of the suit, and the area near the bottom-button of the suit coat.

* If you can separate the layers at the top of the coat, but not at the bottom, the jacket is likely half-canvassed, as sometimes the bottom area can be fused on a half-canvassed suit. A half-canvassed suit may also have no fusing at the bottom of the coat, but still be void of inner canvassing material.

* If you can separate the layers at the bottom and top frontside of the coat, and feel the presence of inner-canvassed pieces, then the jacket is likely fully-canvassed.

Any fool can know, the point is to understand. ~Albert Einstein

Sonya Glyn Nicholson, Senior Editor

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