"Fused? Half-Canvassed? Fully Canvassed? The pinch test? Huh?"
Not too long ago, this was me. Then I thought about it. I like them. I wear them. Almost everyday. Shouldn't I know how they are made? So where to start? After a bit of research online and months of reading and re-reading, pinching suits all over the place, I would like to thank the gentlemen over at The Art of Manliness.com and Style Forum (where I lurk and learn), particularly JefferyD. for the most straightforward explanation on how a suit is constructed. The article below is sourced from the Art of Manliness.com.
Traditionally, men’s suits were constructed with a layer of horsehair canvas underneath the wool fabric shell. This canvas holds the shape of the suit and keeps it from sagging or deforming, much like the foundation of a house keeps it upright. The canvas is cut to the jacket’s shape, then the wool is stitched to the canvas. Over time, as you wear the jacket, the canvas conforms to your body’s shape, creating an excellent fit.
The canvas lining allows the suit fabric to drape naturally, allowing a clean, well put-together look. In the photo to the left, you can see an example of three different horsehair canvassing materials on the left, versus fusible on the right. Note the fullness of the canvas materials, while the fusible appears limp by comparison.
Many suit manufacturers, as an effect of increased production, no longer use a canvas interlining in their jackets. Rather, a fusible interlining is glued to the wool shell of the suit. And while this does an adequate job of keeping a jacket’s shape, it often creates an unnatural stiffness in the jacket, making a fused jacket appear lifeless compared to a similar canvassed coat.
It’s not just budget brands that construct jackets in this fashion. Many designer labels construct their suit jackets this way to save themselves money.
What is sometimes problematic with fused jackets is the fact that the glue degrades over time, or may come unstuck during the dry-cleaning/pressing process. Where the wool detaches from the fused backing, the fabric ripples around the chest and lapels, a phenomenon known as “bubbling.” Unfortunately, there is no way to fix this problem once it’s occurred – as I’ve learned the hard way.
Nowadays, fusing technology has improved to the point where you may never experience bubbling problems, but there’s always the chance that this might occur.
Between the two extremes lies a compromise – the half-canvassed jacket. Half-canvassed jackets have canvas material running only through the chest and lapels of the coat. Past that point, the jacket is fused.
Half-canvassed jackets have several benefits. First, they generally have a lower price than a similar fully canvassed jacket. Less handiwork means a lower overall cost to you.
And because the top half of the jacket is not fused you’ll not run into any bubbling problems as you might in a fused jacket. This adds to the lifespan of the garment.
Finally, the canvassing provides the proper base for the jacket to drape naturally across your chest, rather than appearing stiff and lifeless as many fused jackets do.
In the full canvas garment, you can see how the jacket is composed entirely of cloth and horsehair canvas. The fabric is stitched directly to the canvas.
In a half-canvassed garment, fusible extends the entire length of the coat. However, the garment is stitched to the canvas material, assisting in the proper shaping and providing life to the coat.
In the fused jacket all the way to the right, the fusible interlining is glued the entire length of the coat.
How to Tell the Difference...
The pinch test is an excellent way to determine whether a jacket is canvassed or fused.
First, pinch the fabric on the sleeve of the jacket to get a feel for the wool’s thickness (sleeves are not canvassed). Then, pinch the cloth below the bottom buttonhole from both the inside and out. Gently pull the layers apart. If you feel a third layer inside, then the coat is fully canvassed.
If you don’t feel a third layer, or the fabric feels stiffer and thicker than that of the sleeve, the jacket is more than likely fused.
Note that fusing has gotten a lot better nowadays and is not always as stiff as it’s been in prior years, making it a little more difficult to determine whether a jacket is indeed canvassed. Accordingly, use your eyes to help figure it out.
In a canvassed jacket, most of the stitching attaching the canvas and wool is behind the lapels. If you look carefully on the reverse side of a jacket’s lapel, you can see the tiny stitches holding the layers of fabric together. A fused jacket will have no such stitching. This can be very difficult to see, often virtually invisible under normal lighting.