Soft Shoulder & Deconstructed Suits Ireland

The shoulder is the most defining aspect of a suit’s silhouette. Shoulders can be padded or unpadded, straight, curved or pagoda-shaped. But what is a soft shoulder? Neapolitan tailoring probably comes to mind. Soft shoulders have little or no padding and follow the line of the shoulder. Some may call this a natural shoulder, but what a “natural shoulder” is varies depending on who you ask. A natural shoulder generally does not have roped sleeve heads, and can have a varied amount of padding. A soft shoulder, on the other hand, has little padding.

To some, a soft shoulder has no structure at all, neither padding nor canvas. That would follow an unstructured jacket. But most jackets have canvassing, and it’s still very much possible to have a soft shoulder on a canvassed jacket. The canvas extends from the shoulder seam down the entire front length of the jacket to give it its shape.* Canvas can be very light and soft, as found in Neapolitan tailoring, or heavy and stiff, like in some English tailoring. The amount of canvas in the chest and shoulders varies from tailor to tailor and can determine how natural a shoulder is. Neapolitan tailors are known for having unpadded shoulders, and traditional American tailoring is known for the same. But the English don’t as often get their credit when it comes to unpadded shoulders.

Soft shoulder suits are very difficult to find off the pegs since they need to closely match the natural shoulder line. They also need to be the correct width; if the shoulder is too wide it will droop down since there is little or no padding to support it. When the slope is off the jacket will look sloppy and the only practical way to fix it is to add padding. Some off the peg examples of a natural shoulder include Kiton, Isaia and Polo Ralph Lauren’s “Polo” model.

With spring and summer on the clock, lighter weight suits and jackets in more casual forms comes into foreplay with the desire for a less structured feel. Integral to this is the the soft shoulder – a lightly padded shoulder construction, giving a softer, more casual silhouette to a tailored jacket. Soft shoulders have little padding and follow the contour of the individual’s shoulder to accentuate the wearer’s natural features.

Traditionally favoured by Europeans, particularly Italian tailors, and further afield with American tailors, the soft shoulder is becoming more popular, especially among younger customers.

Traditionally there would a built up shoulder, with heavy roping to give a larger sleeve head that extends upward at the shoulder seam. This type of shoulder has thicker internal padding and a thicker sleeve head, resulting in a more pronounced sleeve head roll. A soft shoulder is the opposite of this.

Soft shoulder Jacket by Bangkok Tailor

In general, our business suit customers tend to opt for a more structured shoulder choice, with padding to hold the shape of the fabric and create a stronger silhouette. The soft shoulder option is more commonly selected for casual wear – in sports jackets and blazers for example – with the natural sleeve head roll, less structure and less padding all combining to create a more relaxed overall look.

Individuals with broad shoulders or square shoulder are generally well suited to a soft shoulder construction, as they have less need to create added structure in this area. On the other hand, those with sloping and less defined shoulders benefit from the structure that the prouder sitting, more padded, roped shoulder can provide. This is where the expert advice and guidance of your tailor comes in.