A Tale Of Two Shoulders

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Mr. Williams wrote a little while ago about the Rope and Pagoda shoulders, two of the less common shoulders available on men’s jackets. To go back to basics for a moment, I wanted to discuss the difference a soft versus hard shoulder makes on the overall look and feel of a jacket. Oscar Wilde always said that a man dressed from his shoulders in reference to braces and trousers, but I think its a good rule overall.

What spurred me to write about this was the arrival of both the Polo and Ede & Ravenscroft catalogues in my mailbox this week. The Ede & Ravenscroft book is full of crisp, cleanly tailored suits in beautiful worsteds and flannels, all of which have a razor-sharp shoulder silhouette. Shot against the backdrop of London architecture, the suits’ silhouettes have lot in common with their art deco surrounding. Lines are clean and sharp, with a broad, structured top cementing the look. From this broad shoulder line, the rest of the coat comes to a pointed closure at the waist, and then the trouser crease keep the long, lean line going all the way down to the highly polished oxfords.

ede-r-shoulder

The opposite is present in Ralph Lauren’s fall presentation. The jackets seem to have only slightly more structure than a piece of knitwear, and without the sharp shoulder line, they look effortless and comfortable, not to mention much more casual. Because these jackets don’t have darts to help pull the back and waist in, they rely on a slimming drape, barely grazing the body, and Mr. Lauren chose to finish them off with odd flannel and corduroy trousers and hefty brogues in the provided images – all of which have a 1920s countryside vibe to boot.

prl-shoulder

The differences in these shoulders serve not only to define the shoulder-line of the wearer, but also serve as a basis for the entire fit of the coat. I happen to have a suit from Ede & Ravenscroft with a similar silhouette, which seems right at home wandering through London, but something about that line just seems too harsh for wandering around campus in the fall. Something about that soft sloping shoulder and sack cut just screams fall casual to me.

There’s lot of talk about “no brown in town” and similar rules about colors, cloth, &c. and what one can and cannot wear in certain situations, but I think cut deserves debate as well. What do you all think about various types of tailoring and the environments they look/feel best in?


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Stephen Pulvirent blogs at thesimplyrefined.blogspot.com. Striving always for elegance and excellence, Stephen believes that whether it be dress, drink or diversion, it should be considered, explored, and enjoyed.

Comments

  1. Kai says:

    I wear soft shoulders exclusively.

  2. Adam L says:

    My current wardrobe is mostly off-the-rack with a lot of shoulder definition, but I have broad shoulders to begin with. I’m in the process of trying to create my own jacket by hand and as a result of my natural body shape and experiences with casual unstructured jackets, I’m experimenting with soft shoulders on that one. The result remains to be seen, but right now I’m of the mind that the structured shoulders common on the racks today are a bit less versatile in today’s relaxed environment. Furthermore, they make it more challenging to present the effortless airs of a well-suited man, whereas soft shouldered jackets still retain plenty of sharp lines without trying as hard, and can be just at home in the office as on the weekend if the rest of the details are conservative.

  3. J A Wellington says:

    the edes look appeals more to me. how much should the shoulder be “build up”?

  4. Jesse says:

    i completely agree with what you’re saying. The strength of the shoulder reflects the formality of the occasion. I could wear a natural shouldered sportsjacket on campus and be comfortable, but if i wore a structured suit, I would feel out of place, and not to mention would get looks and questions.

  5. Pontus says:

    I prefer soft shoulders. This is a matter of taste, possibly about formality, but ultimately it depends on your own shoulders, and how happy you are with their natural look. A “bottle-shouldered” man may prefer a more build up style, to compensate for nature.