The Unstructured Travel Jacket

January 6th, 2015

While we’re on the topic of traveling in style, and comfort, I just got my hands on the perfect travel jacket.

    mensstylerollupjacket (1 of 5)

    As you may already know I love casual, unstructured, “soft” tailoring.  In my opinion it’s the ideal way for a modern gentleman to dress.

    I designed this jacket with the NYC-based team behind online custom clothier Black Lapel (as seen in our Online Custom Suit Review) for two reasons. First, I wanted to test their ability to create a fully unstructured made-to-measure jacket (which they just about nailed) and second, I’ve been researching and sampling different manufacturing techniques for my own collection – which will be available later this year. More on all that later.

    mensstylerollupjacket (2 of 5)

    This particular jacket, a sort of experiment for Black Lapel, has no shoulder padding, no sleeve heads, and no chest canvas whatsoever. The result is a “shell” of a jacket, made from a soft wool flannel fabric.

    In my opinion, this makes for a jacket that strikes the perfect balance between dress and casual. It’s still a sharply cut sportcoat, but it looks and feels less rigid and more causal than a traditional tailored jacket.

    mensstylerollupjacket (3 of 5)

    The advantages of an unstructured jacket:

    • it’s a versatile piece that can truly be dressed-up or dressed-down
    • it’s lightweight on the body and very breathable
    • it’s flexible, making it more comfortable than a canvassed jacket
    • it’s easily packable. I rolled this one below to show that it’s really just one piece of cloth.

    mensstylerollupjacket (5 of 5)

    Thanks, as always, for reading.

    Yours in style,

    Dan Trepanier


    Photography by Alex Crawford

    • Nia Lorre

      Thank you for this peek inside the workings of this jacket. It was exactly what I was looking for to solve the front facing problem with lesser quality unlined jackets – in my case – women’s blazers.

    • ToKyoDandy

      The idea is not new at all – Japanese menswear have a lot of these for quite awhile now.. try to look for RingJAcket brand.. you’ll learn a lot from them..

    • Miguel

      I have a couple of this jackets, not Black-Lapel but I kind of understand, it’s like they attached to your body, giving you a different vibe, they flow with you, I guess that’s they way I can explain it.

    • Rob

      Great article, absolutely love that jacket and waistcoat! I gotta say, it’s good to see photos of yourself as model again, makes visiting the website feel more like coming home.

    • JoeFromTexas

      Ok, so I’m showing my ignorance a bit here – when a jacket is described as unstructured, does that necessarily mean it’s not canvassed and doesn’t have shoulder pads (I’m not even going to pretend that I know what sleeve heads are). I always read that a well made jacket should be fully canvased – I suppose that only refers to structured jackets then? Any help here?

      • TO

        Usually a jacket has a canvas, unstructured or not. The lack of one here is a rarity, as far as my knowledge. As for what unstructured does refer to, I’ll copy an excerpt from “AdamE” below- “as for unstructured, that usually refers to the shoulder areas, and the lack of padding or materials added to provide structure to the jacket, allowing it to mold to the shoulders of the wearer. ”
        As far as I can tell, the sleeve head is the bit of roping, or perhaps just slight overhang as in some suits that have more of a ‘shirt’ shoulder that drops off just past the shoulder line. Perhaps someone else could provide a more concrete answer as to what this refers to than me though, as I am curious.

    • HLS

      An avid lady reader here: The unstructured construction is the approach that most women’s jackets have, so I can say with some authority that the lack of canvassing gives better drape and flow to the garment.

      That said, I do envy men for the consistency that well-made clothing has and for the staying power of menswear trends. For example, when the 70s flavor came back around to menswear, you got funky suits and fun lapels. Ladies received pantsuits, flowing “fashion” that looks good on models and no one else, and a plethora of craptacular platform shoes. In addition, finding the equivalent of a women’s made-to-measure service is almost impossible.

      Anyway, I love the jacket and your blog. You are one well-dressed gentleman; my husband is overhauling his look based on your advice. As you can imagine, I’m enjoying his sartorial obsession quite a lot.

      • Dan Trepanier

        Perhaps one of my favorite comments of all time. It’s ironic, because I often look to womenswear to find inspiration, then spin it into a tailored version or men…

        Nothing like a well tailored couple. Perhaps we could run a profile on you two, you know, after the overhauling is nearing completion…

        • HLS

          Gosh, I would love that. My husband is having a lot of fun learning the lingo and taking a hard and long look at what works and what doesn’t work. One of his biggest challenges is his height; he’s 5’4″, so all of his off-the-rack dress shirts look horrible right now. We’ve invested in some made-to-measure dress shirts, and he has ordered a beautiful jacket from Black Lapel (who have nothing but nice things to say about you, by the way). It’s amazing how clothing and grooming can make the man. He’s always been a looker (and a keeper), but I’ve noted lately that his focus on personal style has upped his game by a mile.

          • jtrucks

            (full disclosure: HLS is my wife)

            We have found fitting me RTW or even OTR so difficult over the years that none of my clothes quite fit me right. I certainly can’t look decent in a tie unless I cover up my shirt because I have a 16″ neck and 39″ chest on a short frame (5’4″ as HLS mentioned). Everything is too long and too tent-like making me look like I left renn faire and forgot to change. I’m excited to finally fix this problem, especially now that I just started a new client-facing job giving me impetus to up my game.

            Black Lapel had great things to say about you and your work, and I now use this site as my reality check against other things I read or see.

            I am slowly acquiring new MTM pieces through Black Lapel, Proper Cloth, Knot Standard, and Modern Tailor, among others. There are some others I want to try, but if one of these nails my fit and has fabric options I like, I’ll stick with it. Some day maybe we’ll go for a full bespoke option, but for now I need to feel it out and get a style dialed in before it’s worth spending the money on the top end.

            Thank you for a great site!

    • Jeanscuffed

      Great article Dan! The color/pattern of that blazer is amazing. As always I have a plethora of questions. A. Obviously you have the waistcoat to accompany the blazer, but did you request the whole suit or just the blazer and vest? B. Maybe you went over this in a past post but what is the difference between Full Canvas, Half Canvas, and Unstructured? (Visuals would be great). C. Besides formal occassions, does getting a suit with an unstructured blazer still hold it’s weight in an office setting or anywhere else where suits are welcomed?

      • AdamE

        It’s been discussed on TSB before, also there’s a great post on canvassing in the Black Lapel site’s blog as well. Canvassing refers to the inserted material between the layers of the jacket (the front of the jacket), most inexpensive (and expensive for that matter) OTR and a fair number of MTM suits use fusable linings (material that is glued in between the layers, which can be prone to bubbling, it is faster to make, cheaper to mass produce). Canvassing is traditionally done with horeshair or a similar material and is a layer sewed in rather than chemically fused to the material, it allows the shape to better mold to the owner (and a cleaner drape). Obviously, it’s more time consuming and requires more manual work, so it drives up the cost. Half-Canvassed, is a hybrid of fused and canvassed, with the more important areas (usually the upper/breast portion of the front of the jacket, near the chest piece) are canvassed, leading to a cleaner drape, with fusable used in the rest of the front. It gives the best of both worlds, better drape (than fused), but some cost reduction (compared to fully canvassed).

        as for unstructured, that usually refers to the shoulder areas, and the lack of padding or materials added to provide structure to the jacket, allowing it to mold to the shoulders of the wearer. Dropping structure gives a more natural line in the shoulder area (and can be great for people with good symmetry and muscularity, but can’t correct for unevenness or other flaws).

        As for holding it’s weight in an office, I think it depends on the office… The more formal the office, the more of a bias towards structured jackets. But I would argue that most offices you could easily go unstructured for most occasions (my personal bias especially in summer months is towards unstructured and ideally unlined (therefore no fusable or canvassing, since it’s essentially a single layer) or partially lined blazers… (since I’m a furnace, I overheat pretty easily so I like something that breathes well… Obviously good fabrics in lined blazers breathe well, but noting is airier than a lightweight wool or linen unlined unstructured blazer…

        I’ve found some great cotton and cotton linen blend unstructured and minimally lined blazers OTR for dirt cheap that are summer workhorses for me at the office (one’s from Zara and one’s from Uniqlo, they definitely bias towards the casual side, more than the formal, but given the bias at our office to the casual end of business casual… I can pull them off and still be one of if not the most formally dressed people in a meeting…), my next acquisition will likely be a MTM linen (maybe summer weight wool), unstructured/unlined blazer… Still have to settle on whether I want just the blazer or a full suit, and for the fabric, but I’ll have to order one up at the local shop in early spring…

        • Dan Trepanier

          Adam E: any interest in becoming a more formal contributor to AOS?

          • AdamE

            Might be.

        • Juan Zara

          While I agree with most of this, there are some inaccuracies in what you wrote, and mainly that has to do with the fact that there are different kinds of fusible materials, and different ways to set them. Hugo Boss only makes fused jacket as far as I know, but their fusible are not the same as those used in a $30 suit from Walmart.

          Furthermore, 99.9% of jackets have a sewn-in chest piece (and that is why I asked Dan if this great-looking unstructured jacket was missing its own), whether they’re fused, half-canvassed or fully-canvassed.

          This makes it harder to determine if a jacket is half-canvassed or fused. You can tell if it’s fully-canvassed by just pinching the fabric below the buttons on the front and “feeling” for a third layer, but this would be impossible on a half-canvassed jacket, as the front of the jacket below where the lapel roll ends is fused.

          Then there’s the question of the material used for the canvas: whether it’s cotton+horsehair, wool+horsehair (more expensive, more insulating, molds to the wearer’s body more easily), a blend of both, or even a blend of one/both of them with an arbitrary amount of synthetic materials. Premium retailers only use wool and horsehair for their canvasses (and people don’t realize this is also why Brioni or Attolini charge the price of a bespoke suit for one of their sport coats), but what’s usually a constant is that the percentage of horsehair is much higher in the chest piece and the lapel than the rest of the jacket.

          • AdamE

            Agree 100% with you Juan, I tried to err towards a more simple explanation and not get into the multiple types of fusable and combos for canvassing… And the difficulty with knowing without taking them apart… But agree fully that in terms of construction while there are deals to be had, you often get what you pay for, and it comes down to what you are willing to or can afford in terms of where on the construction spectrum you are comfortable. I’ve got fully fused MTM suits that feel amazing and fit and drape better than half/full canvass suits that use lower end materials, they certainly won’t compare to Bironi’s or the sort but I’m ok with that…
            I’d love to one day get to the point where it’s realistic to stop looking at the price tag and full on nerd out on the construction and fabrics, but at the moment that’s not in the cards, so I go for good construction and great fit, with all the details I love and get them at reasonable price points…

          • AdamE

            Construction is also a factor in what can be done tailoring-wise (makes perfect sense, but I had never thought about it). My most recent MTM suit from my local shop (they have a great model, very thorough local fittings, the heavy lifting of the build is done overseas, then once it arrives back in canada, multiple in person fittings and an on-site tailor to dial it in and finish… great balance of quality and price, and basically can do anything construction wise, although they usually limit some high end options on your first suit to dial in the fit (since unlike fully-bespoke, since it’s done off site, they can’t check and adjust as they go, it’s shipped as a mostly ready garment with just tweaking and finishing to do)). I got a great suit (fused since they limit canvassing from your first order), but the chest was just slightly off. After a few adjustments and tweaks, some digging out of some of the fusable and tweaking to the chest piece (and numerous fittings), they said it was great but not perfect, which was unacceptable to them, and that it was definitely a build error (and that rather than keep trying to make it fit and ruining the fit and drape from all the meddling, just to make another jacket and do it right), so they went through a thorough re-fitting (had two of their fitters verify every adjustment, they have a few locations in a couple of cities, so they actually had one of the managers who travels from shop to shop to oversee things supervise and take notes, so that they could provide detailed feedback to the tailors overseas on the errors made on the first go, since they were still dialing things in with a new higher end facility over there), and had it re-made from scratch (ended up with some comped accessories too for the additional delays). This time when it came in, they nailed the construction, I came for the first fitting, literally they adjust the sleeve length by 1cm, slimmed the jacket by half an inch to get the fit the way I like it, had it ready a few hours later…
            The end result was a beautiful suit, that draws tons of compliments every time I put it on. I’d certainly go back to them since the service was incredible, and even though it took some time, they wouldn’t settle until it was perfect.

            Also learned a bit about the limits of construction on what they can do…

      • Dan Trepanier

        A) special order :)
        B) See below from AdamE
        C) If you’re on Wall Street or a big time law firm that requires formal business dress, than you’re more likely to climb the ranks wearing structured power suits. Otherwise, you can be wearing soft tailoring for just about any other occasion

    • TO

      Amazing! Love the concept and execution. Now does it make it harder or easier for the maker to not have to set a canvas (but still make it look good on the wearer)? Also, this fabric is outstanding- it makes for one of my favourite waistcoats I have ever seen.

      • Jeanscuffed

        I love the subtle grey sheen it gives off!

        • TO

          The fabric and sheen remind me A LOT of a three-piece windowpane suit Suitsupply did in the spring/summer (in their Lazio model). The main difference with theirs was a grey/silver base with a gold windowpane.

      • Dan Trepanier

        The cutting is harder for an unstructured, as the jacket will more easily show areas that are not properly fit on the body (structure holds shape). But the construction (handwork) of setting a canvas into a jacket is very meticulous…took me about 20 hours my first time! Agreed on the waistcoat, although the button stance is a little too high, would have liked it down a couple inches.

        • TO

          Makes sense… seems there is always trade-offs happening with different levels of construction. It certainly appears Black Lapel nailed the cutting aspect in your case!
          I can’t imagine how hard setting a canvas by hand must be. I would be curious to know if you used blind stitches or not when you did it.

          As for the waistcoat, I kinda disagree- if you look way back you may see me asking when I would see higher gorge waistcoats start appearing on the site, I like how here, for example, it provides the same framing to the dress shirt a deep v-neck sweater would (a la though, I know your preferred waistcoat stance is just a couple inches above that of the suit! The higher one is a little more “traditional” feeling and perhaps a bit less “modern” in feel. I like both anyhow:)

    • Edward

      Great post, love the color palette used. I was just curious if there was a down side to purchasing such a “soft” jacket vs. a more traditional structured one.

      • Jeanscuffed

        In addition to my comment, this would be question D lol

      • AdamE

        The downside primarily would be propensity to wrinkle, in some cases, the less there is to a jacket, the greater the risk of sweating through (i.e. appearance of sweat marks on the outside), and soft suits are a little less versatile, because they can’t be dressed up as much as their structured brethren…

        That said there are a slew of pluses to the soft blazers, an personally (the AoS crew might differ in their opinion) am of the opinion that as long as you have a couple of more traditional suits to fall back on in those cases where a soft jacket might leave you under-dressed, you’re good to do (what that number of suits is depends on how often and in what circumstances you wear them…).

        • Dan Trepanier

          AdamE dropping knowledge. Completely agree.

    • Juan Zara

      Hey Dan, just curious: is the jacket completely uncanvassed or is it just the heavy chest piece that’s missing?

      • TO

        Great question Juan.

      • Dan Trepanier

        I’d have to take the jacket apart to know for sure. If there’s anything in the chest, it’s a very thin and flexible layer that I can’t feel…

    • Herbert Morrison

      Off the hook–I’ve been waiting a long time brother to see you come through with this type of endeavour. Very much looking forward to your own collection–insta copp! Happy New Year to you Alex and the whole team.

      • Dan Trepanier

        Thanks Herbert! We’re sampling the collection now, and it’s looking SICK. Soft, casual, tailoring, designed to last the test of time… More on that soon :)

    • James Wong

      Jacket looks great! This needs to become a thing.

      • Dan Trepanier

        Give me a couple more months for product development, it will be a thing, I promise ;)

    • cam

      I want something like this made from cashmere

      • Dan Trepanier

        1) Me too. I have a feeling there might be one available come Fall/Winter 2015 ;)

        2) A lot of people missing the WIWT feature…might have to discuss brining it back…

        3) Thx Cam

        • David Pardo

          >might have to discuss brining it back…

          Yes, please :)

    • Julien

      Black Lapel have a great blog related to the brand and their tailoring is pretty good from what I heard.
      I gotta say, I’m not a big fan of checked jackets or coats but I really like the idea behind yours.
      It looks like you can really feel free and light even with a taylored jacket so that’s kinda cool.

      Oh and your shoes…Damn, I wish I had those shoes!

      Great article, Dan, thanks!

    • Leroi

      Hey Dan, are unstructured jackets an available option on Black Lapel?

      • Dan Trepanier

        Not yet, it’s more difficult to tailor an unstructured made-to-measure jacket, especially for a first order, especially with self-measuring…