When friends of mine ask advice about whether to buy off-the-rack or made-to-measure, my first question is always what they want, and expect, to get out of a made-to-measure suit. Invariably, they respond that they want their suit to ‘look’ tailored. Nice materials, buttoning cuffs and other details are ‘also rans’; the vital point is that the suit should appear that it was made for them.
When I ask what they expect from an off-the-rack suit, the most that they expect is that it should fit ‘fairly well.’ When pressed, none of them expect a fit approaching anything like that of a made-to-measure suit and the only reason many of them choose to purchase off-the-rack suits that cost as much as a reasonable made-to-measure is brand loyalty; having never heard of most of the tailors out there, rabbit-in-headlights suit buyers head for the safest ground.
It was interesting therefore that when I recently purchased an unstructured jacket from a high street store recently in an attempt to cobble together a humidity friendly summer wardrobe, a friend of mine asked why I didn’t just get one made. I didn’t have a ready answer. It hadn’t occurred to me that such an item of simple construction required a tailor to get it right; in fact, I once had half a mind to ‘have a bash’ at producing one myself. It seemed so simple; try on the smallest size, and see what the result is. If satisfactory, take item to the till. Not once did I consider that I should save money for the tailor. This absence of thought is unique to the unstructured jacket; any other jacket and I would umm and ahh about the value of buying off-the-rack.
Unstructured jackets are, unsurprisingly, lacking in internal structure. On structured jackets it is the structure underneath the external fabric, the skeleton if you will, which provides the shape to the garment; shoulder padding, canvass and lining. An unstructured jacket has no such structure and is very often unlined; the external material simply lays upon the wearers points and bumps without any affectation of shape created by padding or canvass. For many, this item is too casual and too lacking in, well, structure to be appealing; it’s flimsy, they say, and lacking in cut and character.
Indeed it is true that the unstructured jacket is cut looser than structured jackets and that the lack of weight in the jacket is liable for the wind to blow it open as though it were merely an open shirt in a boy band video, but that is part of the charm of the item; it is flimsy, and casual, and lacks the haughty stiffness of structured jackets. It’s for summer days, travelling in the tropics, dinner in the Seychelles.
The whole point of an unstructured jacket is that it doesn’t attempt to affect any kind of sartorial hauteur. A lot of people might look at the jacket hanging there and consider it little better than a linen shirt-jacket – a muck around item for laying in muddy pools for ladies to walk-on. Such a view is misguided; the lack of formality in such a garment, the positively wrinkly and uncertain character of it, mean it is the perfect foil for pocket silks and stiff collared shirts. Wear it with a t-shirt, and you truly relegate it to anonymity; wear it with items of comparative formality and it takes on the attractive complex of an Edwardian lawn jacket.