Shoulder Surgery

So, I continued doing  what you should never really do to your suit and sportcoats: alter the shoulder.  I have no regrets, as my vintage pieces are less square and way more comfortable to wear!

Introduction

I love soft shoulders.  I do.  It’s just so easy to wear, whether its the comfortable feel or the resultant slouchy look as they break in over time.   It makes sense considering my approach to menswear (and fashion in general).

Come to think of it, I’ve liked soft shoulders ever since I got into menswear.  You might think that I’m a hypocrite since I like 1930s-1940s style (where structured/padded shoulders), but thats a fallacy! As I’ve mentioned many times before, it was the rounded/blunted, low gorge lapels that really called to me; the padded shoulders were just something I had to deal with.  When my vintage tastes honed in, I found myself drawn to things with less and less padding.  No more pagoda shoulders or built up bold 1940’s stuff!

Keep in mind that unstructured jackets were definitely worn back in the day, but aren’t as common to find (mainly because they are probably destroyed thanks to time).  Things my 1930’s SB beltback and my 1940’s Palm Beach suit became my favorite thing to wear, despite being  only relegated to warm days; their silhouette and structure made it so comparable to modern soft tailoring! In the end, it started to be about my personal aesthetic rather than period accuracy.

A 2014 Ethan with a 1940’s jacket that has unconstructed shoulders.

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A natural shouldered jacket.

Then I discovered the 1960’s ivy lookSure the lapels might not be as wide as my Golden Era ones, but I loved how the jackets fit.  A bit less waist suppression and a natural shoulder.  Not completely unstructured, but still more wearable than say a bold look 1940’s suit with aggressive shoulders and a low button stance.  In fact, it was during this time that I noticed that shoulder pads didn’t help me at all. With a small, skinny-fat frame, I felt like I was trying too hard to look built up whenever I wore some padded shoulder jackets.  Add my extensive trouser journey to the mix (where my pants are now slightly tapered), and you’d get a weird silhouette.

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Soft fall style is the best style.

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Unstructured 1940’s seersucker.

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So I decided to go full force into my ivy-inspired aesthetic with a few neapolitan jackets in the mix.  I wouldn’t necessarily call it Drake’s or Armoury (or even Bryceland’s), but just my own blend of 1930s and 1960’s ivy with some workwear/japanese style thrown in.  Heavily padded shoulders had no place in this look, considering how I like to mix and match pieces together; square/pagoda shoulders definitely weren’t versatile.  I still liked a few suits (even the wide legged ones) but there was one in particular that bothered me.  It had all the bells and whistles I liked; I just hated the shoulders.

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Awful shoulders.

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They’re great after the alteration!

Not wanting to give it up, I decided to spend some money on altering the shoulders of a vintage 1940’s gab suit that had the most aggressive bold mid 1940’s look I had ever seen .  It went pretty well, as the shoulders had to be recut (in addition to removing some of padding).  He made them softer, more comparable to a “normal” suit jacket, but it wasn’t neapolitan soft.  No matter, it was an expensive trial and I thought I was done with it.  That is until I brought in my Uniqlo unstructured tweed jacket.

The Addiction Starts

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The super unstructured jacket from Uniqlo.

My Uniqlo jacket (also owned by Spencer) is completely unstructured and soft. It was cheap and purchased so we could have a beater jacket for the cold weather.  I ended up getting a medium and shortening the sleeves/taking in the body since the small was too short for my liking.  I brought up the fit of the jacket to my tailor who casually mentioned that he could actually do it.  So I brought him one jacket to test him: my beloved 1940’s houndstooth tweed jacket.

Back in 2014 when I first got this.

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2018. Just a bit too square for me.

This jacket was one of the first jackets I ever bought (my very first 3-roll-2 actually), so keen eyed readers from my tumblr days might recognize it!  It shares a lot of similarities to that grey gab suit thanks to its wide lapels, wide patch pockets, and rather closed quarters.  You guys know I have a fetish for brown patterned jacketing, so I thought it was best to save this jacket rather than sell it.  It already had all the extra details I loved (did I mention lapels?) so why junk it?

I simply told my tailor to make it just as soft as the Uniqlo one.  No padding, no nothing. Just as soft and unstructured as he could do it. He said he could do it without recutting the shoulders, so it would be less work (and cheaper) than my gab suit.

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Isn’t that amazing?  Sure the jacket still looks old school thanks to the lapels and front quarters, but the shoulders are perfect.  There’s nothing in there, but the hefty tweed helps it keep shape. Overall, it turns this 1940’s tweed jacket into something a bit more contemporary-classic and can now be worn with my “slimmer” trousers as well as denim!

It’s was completely worth my money.

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Now that I knew I could do it, I decided to just save the money on do it on some of my other pieces! I’m definitely a maximalist with my wardrobe and while I realize that some items are better sold off, I want to make sure that I keep the pieces I do like.  Again, it’s cheaper to simply fix the shoulders of something that has almost everything you want rather than try and replicate a belt back or a vintage lapel through a custom clothier.

So that’s what I did. I went back to my tailor and brought some of my favorite vintage pieces that I love yet find my self hesitant to wear due to the shoulders.

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Before.

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After.  Not too much of a visual difference, but it feels more comfortable.

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Before.

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After.

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Before.

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After. Again, it’s not too visible, but the unstructured feeling is definitely noticeable when wearing it.

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A “natural” sack cut, but there is definitely a stiffer canvas in the shoulder.

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The after is comfortable, if you haven’t noticed by now.

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While the others are hardly noticeable (visually at least), this last one really drives in the point.  This 30s/40s DB belted back jacket is pretty much unstructured save for the built up shoulders.  Like the brown houndstooth, it makes for a a squared off look which I don’t like. As a result, I didn’t like wearing it too much, despite being an awesome piece.

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My tailor took out the pads and narrowed the shoulder a bit. Now it’s absolutely perfect and easily thrown on during a colder day.  It definitely looks pretty damn modern after this alteration, making it worth all the money I spent.  I’m heavily considering using this as a template for a bespoke jacket, way down the line.

When that happens, I’m going to add inside pockets, as this one has none.

 

I’m Keeping These Ones

Even though I’ve been moving away from an authentic period aesthetic, there are a few with shoulders that I want to keep.  For these, I’m comfortable with letting them remain totally period correct so they can act as more statement pieces rather than in my regular rotation (which gets mixed with wide and slim pants alike). In general, these suits will stay together as suits for an intentional look.

I actually don’t mind the structure/pagoda-look in these suits.  It definitely adds to the suit in a way you can’t get from a slouchy shoulder.  There’s some power silhouette and rakishness involved, and while that isn’t something I go for all the time, it’s nice to have it.  Because that way you have it. 

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1940’s Navy suit. The pagoda shoulder is pretty nice!

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1940’s DB suit with double check cloth.

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1940’s suit.

Conclusion

While I didn’t shell out too much for these alterations, it certainly was a sizable amount.  I don’t recommend it to beginners or to guys who rely on thrifting/eBay.  The only reason why I initially entertained the thought was because I treasured the jackets in my wardrobe. These weren’t jackets that I just bought on eBay, but rather old pieces that I already owned.  I didn’t want to give them up simply because of their shoulders, but it really did prevent me from wearing them with confidence.  I see this akin to letting out the waist of a suit that you really want to keep since it doesn’t feel right to part with them just yet.

Out of all my friends, I’m one of the few that attempted anything with the shoulders and had some form of success.  It’s probably because shoulders are a deal breaker for most and in retrospect, I should have simply just passed on buying some of these. I didn’t know that until now so I’m paying for it!  Either way, it’s not something you should jump at doing unless you have a great tailor (which I do) or sky-high self confidence in your skills like my pal Jake Byrne. Most of the time, it ends badly, with drooping over extended shoulders (since there is no padding holding them up); in other cases, it’s just flat out expensive.

Thankfully, I lucked out by having a great tailor who charged me a hefty, but worth it amount for these jackets.  As I continue to cull my closet, I’ll ensure that these alterations did not go to waste and results in me wearing these beautiful vintage pieces for a couple more years.  I just hope I don’t gain any weight!

Always a pleasure,

@ethanmwong 

Street x Sprezza

Photography by me, you doofus

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