A Guide to Shoulder Styles

April 7th, 2015

While the collar is the foundation of the jacket in terms of fit, the shoulder style is the foundation of the jacket in terms of style. Along with the choice of fabric, the manner in which the shoulder is constructed determines a jacket’s level of formality.

Here’s a quick guide featuring some of my favorite stylish gents.

The Unstructured Shoulder

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The “soft shoulder” or “unstructured shoulder” is created using a very thin pad, or no padding at all. Due to the lack of shoulder padding, the line of the shoulder is more sloped and transitions smoothly into the line of the sleeve. This is the most casual shoulder style, making it perfect for sportcoats and weekend suits. Typically the soft shoulder is combined with a light chest canvas (or no chest canvas at all) for a garment that is flexible, versatile, and easy to wear.

This style, in my opinion, is best served for a wearer with a strong, sloping shoulder.


The Lightly Padded Shoulder

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A typical business suit is going to have light padding. It gives the jacket some structure, allows the fabric to hold its shape, and creates a garment that is a little more professional and business minded than a soft shoulder. It also allows the garment to fit more democratically on off-the-rack customers with different shoulder types.

A shoulder pad should not be considered a “bad thing”. In many cases it can help build the silhouette of the wearer, especially on someone with a smaller physique or squarer shoulders.


The Broad Padded Shoulder

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Back in the 1930s, shoulders were cut big and broad as a symbol of strength. The idea was to “build up” the physique using large shoulder pads to make the man look big and powerful. There were also limitations and restrictions on fabric imports during that time, which made it difficult to get cloth. Therefore, a full-cut suit with large padded shoulders was the ultimate sign of luxury, wealth and access.

A large padded shoulder creates a retro look that is best reserved for long, full-cut jackets.


The Roped Shoulder

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A roped shoulder is usually lightly padded, but has a large sleeve head that extends upward at the shoulder line. This is a European, specifically Italian, method of construction. It has become the trademark of many bespoke suit makers out of Naples. “The Neapolitan shoulder” is a dandy, almost Victorian look. Often times this style of shoulder will also be done using micro-pleats, to showcase the level of handwork that went into the jacket (shoulder pleating is one of few manufacturing details that cannot be mass produced by machine). It’s a dandy look, usually reserved for connoisseurs and those who truly appreciate the finest craftsmanship.


Those are the four primary shoulder styles in menswear, and each has its own look and feel. I hope this provides some guidance the next time you’re looking for that perfect sportcoat or suit jacket.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier


Photography by Alex Crawford.

  • Addy Odutola

    i want to be able to master the art of style but i need some tips, i posted a picture for help in this matter.

  • Borna

    Love these guides you’re doing regularly recently Dan. Great job with the site.

    Any chance you could post up some more pics of the green DB suit with the roped shoulders? By far the best example I’ve seen yet so I would love to take the pics over to my tailor so he can try and replicate those shoulders.


    • TO

      It’s been featured at least a few times, try searching for it using the style guide

      • Borna

        Thanks for your reply TO. I already searched the style guide and saw the old pictures of this jacket but unfortunately none of them are from an angle that really show how the roped shoulders look overall (which I would need to show for reference to be properly recreated by a tailor).

        • TO

          I think that there’s not much a tailor will gain from another picture or two to be honest. If the tailor is really good (as in is making a made to measure or bespoke suit for you) then he or she will be able to add roping to the shoulder and the one picture will be a good reference for what you’re looking for, but beyond that you’re not asking for something extremely unusual for a suit. Good luck!

          • Borna

            Good point. I just wanted to approach the tailor fully loaded so I wanted a few pics to use. Either way, I’m sure I’ll be able to guide them through it between the picture and my comments in the fittings.
            I live in Dubai now and the Neapolitan jacket style still hasn’t caught on over here so it’s a bit harder than you’d think to get the point across. Anyways, luckily someone recently recommended a tailor that can make that style of jacket so let’s hope that goes well.
            Thanks again for your replies TO

  • Borna

    Love these guides you’re doing regularly recently Dan. Great job with the site.

    Any chance you could post up some more pics of the green DB suit with the roped shoulders? By far the best example I’ve seen yet so I would love to take the pics over to my tailor so he can try and replicate those shoulders.


  • http://ledebonnaire.tumblr.com/ Juan Zara

    The shoulder style on Khaled’s suits and sportcoats is called “spalla camicia con rollino”. This shoulder style is always completely unpadded (a lightly padded shoulder with a roped sleeve is called a “Pagoda” shoulder, and never looks quite right, in my opinion,) and is different from a “standard” spalla camicia, even though they both have the shirring on the sleeve head.

    It’s worth noting you’ll get a truly well-made spalla camicia or spalla camicia con rollino only in Naples, from suit makers or bespoke houses who manufacture in Naples, employing Neapolitan tailors (although I’ll admit Sciamat does make a great looking shoulder,) as this style is not favored, but rather unknown (or despised) in the rest of Italy.

  • http://mrcavaliere.com/ Mr. Cavaliere

    Awesome post Dan. Its nice to see someone took the time to cover this!

  • Merch Historian

    The roped shoulder is a British tailoring took, which is why you would have thought to compare it to victoriana. And there were only fabric restrictions during world war 2. Hence the soot suit riots.

  • Miguel

    Late but a great article,
    I find myself when measuring jackets to look at the shoulders and the amount of padding along with the arm holes to make sure I don’t get that shoulder thing that looks like a hole below the shoulder line.

  • Esosa

    Most of my jackets have a little bit of shape to them..I have one suit with a Spalla Camicia and its okay (as pictured below) but I feel for my build something with a little structure works better (as pictured below as well)

  • Carl

    Loving the guides! Well done.

  • Dean

    I am a big fan of the roped shoulder while at the same time maintaining a natural shoulder line without excess padding. I’m not so sure that Khaled’s jacket is a fair representation of a roped shoulder. It is more of a house specialty of Sciamat where they do their own personal take. Thoughts?

  • Guest

    Curious, where do you live man?

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Los Angeles currently, although I try to spend as much time as possible in NYC and Toronto. Cheers mate!

  • TO

    Like I said, the increased frequency of these guides are my favorite new thing about the site. Simple, resourceful and with beautiful detailed photog.

    I am wondering, wouldn’t someone with built shoulders not generally need extra padding and a natural shoulder would work well on them? I guess this ‘natural padding’ takes away from more of a sloping natural shoulder look, but does that mean that guys with muscular shoulders should always opt for padding?

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Thanks TO! We have some exciting things coming up with the content, and finally our e-commerce tailoring platform… More on that soon.

      In my opinion, a guy with large square shoulders (think Dwight Howard) needs a light pad, to structure around the muscle. A soft shoulder on a guy like that will look rumpled, and look like his shoulders are blowing out of the jacket, rather than being accommodated. Of course, this should be treated on a case by case basis.

  • Antonio López

    Great post, I’ve been enjoying these “guide to…” articles, they help me understand better the difference between suits, that, sadly, seem to have dissapeared from where I live outside formal occasions.

    • TO

      Antonio, curious, where do you live man ?

      • Antonio López

        In an inland city in Venezuela, so obviously the weather doesn’t allow for heavyweight clothing, still, you rarely see anyone around here wearing even a sports jacket. I’m originally from the capital and the situation improves a bit over there though.

  • Maxim Harper

    No love for Spalla Camicia?

    Worth noting the small pleats are not just aesthetic. The pleats increase the amount of fabric at the bicep compensating for Naples likening for comfort and smaller armholes.

    Marginal yes, but quite a cool history to it. Legend has it that an unknown tailor cut the sleeves larger than the arm holes by-accident. He pleated to compensate, though the local Naples dandies caught eye of this detail and it’s comfort and have sworn by it ever since.

    • TO

      He is giving love for La Spalla Camicia Neopolitana when he talks about the pleating on the shoulder, just not mentioning it by name.

      Interesting I didn’t know that it was said to have been an accident, thanks for sharing that bit.

      • Maxim Harper

        As per the comments below, in crude terms, the shoulder on Khaled is a Con Rollino wherein there is a bumpy head at the join. A Spalla Camicia is attached like a shirt sleeve where there is no bump as per the unstructured shoulder.

        The Con Rollino is definitely more in your face, whilst the Spalla Camica is more subtle.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Yes! Thanks for this addition Maxim!

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