Since Schölte’s day, certain tailors have tried to distinguish themselves from their ostensibly fustier peers by “taking the stuffing” out of coats and jackets, removing pompous padding and stiff interlinings to create softer, more comfortable clothes for modern living. It’s a compelling pitch -- in keeping with the last century’s narrative of progressively virtuous and vigorous informality -- and it has produced some seriously beautiful clothing from London and Milan to Naples and New Haven. In the echo chamber that is #menswear, however, such “soft” tailoring has become somewhat fetishized, leading to exaggerated distinctions between makers and styles which obfuscate the common project of any good tailor: to make clothes which help his or her clients look their best.
Anyone who’s ever handled a modern bespoke coat (or even high quality MTM or RTW) knows that they’re all pretty soft. The chest may be clean or draped, the shoulders structured or natural, the sleeveheads roped or shirred, but in the end it is primarily handmade construction and the relative lightness of the cloth and canvas used which makes coats supple, regardless of styling. Moreover, where a garment truly needs stiffness (notably the coat collar and the trouser waistband) the really good stuff all still has it.
In this latest episode of “The Making of a Coat,” Rory Duffy describes the elements of traditional internal structure he puts into his own coats, and the philosophy it’s based on: that well-tailored clothing should not only complement, but improve its wearer’s figure. Whatever the latest fashion for unstructured coats may be, it’s worth remembering that the core clientele for bespoke tailors like Duffy are men whose irregular proportions preclude buying off the rack; they’re looking for their clothes to give them a more idealized shape, and structure is how this is accomplished. This does not translate into an uncomfortably heavy or stiff coat; notwithstanding #menswear’s penchant for pinch-testing, the guts of a coat aren’t there to be felt, and in a properly cut and balanced garment, they never are.