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Shoulder Expression On Custom Suits

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In our Elements of a Custom Suit series, we go over all the basic design options we offer. This is extensive enough, but there’s an element of suit design that’s not so, well, elemental: shoulder expression on custom suits.

What Is “Shoulder Expression?”

In short, “shoulder expression” refers to the style and look that the shoulder of a jacket has. More specifically, it refers to the degree to which it’s structured or unstructured. It also deals with whether or not the top of the sleeve (its “crown”) is in line with the jacket’s shoulder seam or above it.

This design detail is very “inside baseball,” and most of our clients are happy with our default shoulder style. Still, our custom suits and custom sport jackets can be made up in a variety of shoulder expressions, and we’ve accommodated even the most particular of men in this regard.

Suit Shoulder Styles

You may have seen terms like “natural shoulder” or “roped shoulder” when browsing suits online. What does this mean? There are a few styles that have made themselves known over the decades, and they all relate to how structured – or unstructured – the shoulder is.

Below are the main shoulder expressions you’ll hear about in the world of men’s custom-tailored clothing.

Natural shoulder

natural shoulder expression on jacketIt’s best to start with the default so you can see how the other styles look in relation to it. A natural shoulder is just that: a shoulder style that has some structure, but not a lot. The sleeve crown is in line with the shoulder seam, which more or less traces what your shoulder does naturally.

Con rollino (Roped Shoulder)

roped shoulder coat illustrationRoughly translated, con rollino is Italian meaning “with a little roll.” It’s also referred to as a “pagoda shoulder.”

A more structured shoulder in the Neapolitan tradition, you can see that the crown is a bit raised above the shoulder line. It looks like a little rope of fabric in the area, hence the name.

Spalla camicia (Shirtsleeve Shoulder)

shirtsleeve shoulder jacket illustrationAnother Neapolitan style that literally translates to “shirt shoulder,” it’s more or less the opposite of a roped shoulder. Shirtsleeve shoulder jackets have very little structure and are arguably more “natural” than natural shoulders since their silhouette is completely true to your own shoulders’.

Shirtsleeve shoulders tend to look best on casual jackets, with linen and cotton being two materials that are very sympathetic to this construction.

Roman Shoulder

The Roman Shoulder originated in the house of Brioni. It’s very similar to a natural shoulder – a bit of structure with a natural look. It’s called a Roman shoulder to differentiate it from its Savile Row cousins with similar shoulder styles.

Shoulder Pleats

shirring on custom spot jacket shoulder
A pleated shoulder on a custom sport coat.

At some point in your life, you may have seen sleeves with little pleats at the crown. This is referred to as “shirring,” and though it looks like a bug, it’s actually a feature. And a desirable one, at that.

There are two reasons that shirring is prized in menswear circles:

  1. It requires handwork to complete, which indicates a handmade garment. Handmade garments made right are always superior to machine-made ones.
  2. It’s relatively rare, which translates to exclusivity and luxury.

Further Reading

We hope you enjoyed this deep dive into a little-discussed-but-important aspect of custom menswear. Reach out at 215-310-0219 or info@henrydavidsen.com with questions. In the meantime, enjoy a few of our previous articles:

Please consider supporting those that have been displaced due to COVID-19 to get back on their feet with a donation to Career Wardrobe’s OutFIT for Work campaign.  $50 provides a full interview outfit for an individual seeking employment.

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