What is an unstructured suit?
Have you heard either the term “unstructured” or “unconstructed” before in the context of men’s suiting? When shopping for a suit or jacket these days, it’s becoming more and more common that you’ll have a choice between structured and unstructured (unstructured, by the way, is the same as unconstructed). But what is an unstructured suit, and more importantly, is it right for you and your needs?
In short, an unstructured jacket is one with minimal canvas, very little lining inside, and a thin shoulder. The resulting jacket is lightweight and breathable and has a more casual look. This style of suiting has become common in recent years and makes for a particularly great looking summer suit or sport coat.
Let’s take a look at the unstructured jacket in a little more detail, with the aim of learning if it’s a worthwhile investment for you.
You might recall that a full canvas suit is one that is manufactured with canvas throughout the chest portion of the jacket. It helps your suit or sportcoat to form to your body over time and also gives the suit some life. A traditional canvas is made of horse hair and the result is a springy, yet strong and resilient, material that makes possible that “soft roll” that we like to see when shaping garments.
With an unstructured suit jacket, the use of canvas is minimized. For instance, it might not cover as much area as it would under normal circumstances, or it might be thinned down. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a trade off. On the one hand, you want the canvas there to give the jacket some life, but sometimes you want a lightweight and breathable jacket, where shedding layers would be a good thing.
Be sure to ask your clothier how much canvas will be used in your unstructured jacket. Better yet, ask to see a finished jacket, if possible.
The absence of the jacket lining is the most noticeable difference between a structured and an unstructured suit. While the lining doesn’t have the same impact on the suit’s drape as the canvas might have, it certainly has an impact on how breathable the jacket is.
Most linings are either made of viscose or bemberg, two practical alternatives to expensive silk. Not without their benefits, these linings are far from breathable. So, if you’re looking to build a summer weight suit or sportcoat — something that will keep you cool and comfortable — you’ll definitely want an unstructured jacket and forgo the lining.
But similar to our discussion on canvas, the amount of lining coverage on an unstructured suit jacket varies by manufacturer. Here at BE, we use what’s called a “1/8 lining” or a “butterfly lining.” This means that the lining is only around the upper back and around the arm hole because we want our jackets to still have a little protection from sweat, and such that it can slide around on your shoulders when you’re putting the coat on. The resulting shape resembles a butterfly, hence the name.
[By the way, jacket sleeves are always fully lined. Without lining in the sleeves, the jacket cloth would stick to your shirt sleeves causing all sorts of aggravation!]
And the thin strips of lining that you see running down the length of the jacket, in the image below, are covering the seam edges of the suit fabric. This is called piping and without it, the edges would fray over time. But you can see that there is no lining covering the back of the jacket or the inside of the chest portion.
Since shoulder pads add structure and heft to your suit, in an unstructured jacket — that’s right, you guessed it — they are often minimized or eliminated altogether.
In our suiting, we choose to only tone down the thickness of the shoulder pads versus getting rid of them entirely. Shoulder pads do a lot of good things for a suit jacket and are central to creating that look of confidence and stature that so many of us want in our suiting. And when you remove it, you introduce the potential for wrinkling on the shoulder; something especially evident with a fine cloth.
Although many unstructured suits are summer weight, an unstructured coat can be made in any fabric. That can mean linen, cotton, bamboo, even a high Super Number woolen cloth.
But because these jackets have a somewhat relaxed look to them, we recommend sticking to more casual fabrics, such as linen, cotton, or fabrics intended for sport coats. Fabrics with pinstripe patterns or otherwise very refined woolens should be reserved for your dressy occasions, and they therefore look best in a structured style.
Is an unstructured suit jacket right for you?
As is often the case in menswear, there’s a wide spectrum of quality and interpretation of styles, and unstructured suiting is no different. Sometimes you’ll find an unstructured jacket that comes off looking lifeless and dull, whereas other coats will still have a nice smooth roll to the lapel and a subtle rigidity to the chest and shoulder.
I believe that it’s important to work with a clothier that can show you an example of his/her unstructured suit jacket and articulate how it was manufactured.
And when you do find an unstructured jacket that you like, I think you’re really going to enjoy wearing it. Compared to a traditional coat, these jackets are just so much more lightweight and simple. You’ll probably stay cooler wearing them and consequently, find them invaluable during the summer months.
But I want to be clear: that by no means is the structured jacket as risk of being overshadowed by its unstructured counterpart. A fully canvased suit or tuxedo, devoid of wrinkles, and perfectly fitted, is a thing of beauty. It should always be your go-to suit or jacket for dressy occasions. But if you have the room in your budget, and the need, I think that you’ll certainly find a place for the unstructured jacket!