Italian vs. English Tailoring
Written by Claudiu Pascalau
Photography by Dany Dao
"When the styling of the suit speaks for itself".
Menswear tailoring has come a long way since its early days. The evolution of classic tailoring, considered slow by today’s standards, has reached a point where it is distinguished by the garment’s geographical provenance. The English have their iconic British tailoring, while the Italians take pride in the nonchalance that their tailored suits evoke. Of course, other parts of the world have developed their own unique style over the years (France, the United States and Japan, for example), but the two dominant players remain the same.
With the growth of the Internet came a resurgence of classic tailoring, with an increasing demand for quality tailoring and an appreciation for garments that are made to last. This growth also meant that tailoring establishments had to get slightly more creative in order to satisfy the needs of today’s diverse clientele. Thus, lines have become more blurry than ever before when it comes to tailoring. Italian tailors constantly borrow elements from British tailoring, and vice versa. So let’s embark on a journey and try to define these two great schools of classic menswear tailoring.
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Before we dig into what makes Italian tailoring unique, we must first discuss Italian cloths, as that is the starting point of any garment. Contrary to what many people think, up to this day, clothing remains functional. A garment is highly influenced by the climate in which it is intended to be used. Italy, being geographically located in a more moderate climate than England, has of course developed fabrics that work well in its climate. Light wool, cotton and linen are all part of a collective of fabrics woven by Italy’s finest mills, such as Vitale Barberis Canonico, Guabello, Fratelli Piacenza and REDA. Of course, there are exceptions. VBC offers a beautiful range of flannels, ideal for a colder climate.
So, what is the Italian style? In his book The Italian Gentleman, Hugo Jacomet (a menswear writer and a sartorialist himself) explains just how difficult it is to document the complex history of Italian tailoring. The following statement will give you a better idea of what exactly he means: “Several times during my three-year Italian odyssey, I thought I had got it — that I would be able to trace the family tree with a modicum of chronological and stylistic accuracy. But every time I would then encounter an old maestro or the owner of a historic Sartoria in Naples, Florence or Milan who would shatter my desperate attempt at constructing a sensible narrative after being told, very convincingly and very movingly, thirty different versions — all true — of the real history of Italian tailoring by thirty different tailors”.
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Style-wise, Italian tailoring projects an effortless aesthetic. It’s light, deconstructed and perfectly imperfect (yes, you read that correctly). It seems that Italians embrace having slightly more room in their jacket and trousers, allowing the garment to be extremely comfortable, even if it means compromising the straight lines of a perfect fit (a perfect fit according to British tailoring). However, it’s important to notice and be aware of the fact that Italian tailoring is simply not just Italian tailoring. Various regions of the country have developed their unique interpretation of Italian style over the years. The main styles include the Neapolitan, the Roman, the Milanese, and lately, the Florentine style, which is gaining lots of attention lately. The most covered and perhaps the most iconic is the Neapolitan style of tailoring. It features unique characteristics such as the famous spalla camicia shoulder and the barchetta pocket, and when it’s well executed, many believe it’s the epitome of Italian elegance. The more northern you go in the Italian peninsula, the more constructed the suit jacket becomes, approaching more to the British style, which we will discuss shortly.
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This is where it all started. Just like the Italians, the British have adapted their tailoring to their geographical location. Because England is colder and experiences more rain, tweed and heavier wools became favourites among British tailors over the decades. After all, the U.K. supplies tailors around the world with some of the best cloths such as Holland & Sherry and Alfred Brown, just to name a few. Contrary to the Italians (and even the French, for that matter), who enjoy unique details in their tailoring, the English remain slightly more conservative when it comes to decorating the suit.
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In British tailoring, the cut must never, at any cost, be compromised. A classic British suit will feature elements that are true to the origins of classic tailoring such as a stronger shoulder expression and clean lines following the natural shape of the body. Padded shoulders are often seen in British tailoring, with some tailors creating exquisite roped shoulders. Just like in the case of the spalla camicia, a properly done roped shoulder is incredibly satisfying to look at. Besides these two recurring characteristics, one will often encounter details such as slanted pockets on the jacket, a lower gorge line, and more rigid canvas inside the jacket — which further emphasize the clean lines of an English suit that I have mentioned earlier.
Of course, just as with Italian tailoring, there are exceptions. Due to an increase demand in classic tailoring, many British tailors now “break the rules”. What I mean by that is the following: It is not uncommon to see a classic British suit made with light-weight wool (just like it’s very common these days to come across Neapolitan style jackets made with Harris Tweed).
Perhaps, the most beautiful thing about classic British tailoring is that it's adaptable. People across the globe enjoy it, simply because it offers a very stylish, appropriate business attire. Its versatility turned many sartorial enthusiasts into returning customers, and many Savile Row tailors now do trunk shows around the world, serving loyal customers enjoying well made garments.
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I believe it is fair to say that tailoring has come a long way, and it’s increasingly more accessible to a wider audience. The art of blending elements from different regions in the World helps with the expansion of the sartorial realm, and a respectable tailoring house will embrace the demands of the clients who want to venture on that path. After working in this industry for several years (already!), I can say with much confidence that one is not better than the other. They are different, and they serve different purposes. When well done, both styles are admirable and won’t go unnoticed to the trained eye. At Maison Leporem, we are striving to adapt to the demands of our diverse clientele, and the various patterns we work with will be able to accommodate both styles.