Why Pay for Canvas?

As many readers know, suit jackets and sport coats mainly come in three types of construction: fused, half-canvassed, and fully-canvassed. A fused jacket will have a lightweight fusible interlining sandwiched in-between the two outer shell fabrics, and a canvassed one will have a canvas made from animal hair (usually horse or camel) mixed with either cotton or wool. Generally speaking, canvassed jackets will cost considerably more than fused ones. So why pay for them?

Well, one of the reasons is that a canvassed jacket will have a lot more three-dimensional shape. Animal hair can be molded using steam, heat, and pressure, much like how a woman’s hair can be shaped using a hot curling iron. With that shape, you get a much more beautiful garment. 

Take a look above. The top most photo is of Alan See with his lovely wife at the menswear trade show Pitti Uomo. He’s seen here wearing a three-piece suit by Liverano & Liverano, a bespoke tailoring house in Florence, Italy. Notice how his lapel line “blooms” as it moves from the buttoning point to his shoulders? It has a “roll” to it, rather than being pressed flat against his chest. Similarly, just below him are JefferyD and MostExerent, both of which also have nice, shapely lapels that “roll” near their buttoning points.

To understand how this is achieved, look at the bottommost photo above (also taken from JefferyD). Moving from left to right, the first material is haircloth, which is made from wiry horsetail strands. This is used to add shape to the chest and shoulders (ever put on a Tom Ford suit and feel like you’re wearing a prosthetic chest? This is because he puts in a ton of haircloth into his suits). The second material is wrapped haircloth, which is a softer, more affordable alternative. Next, we have a wool canvas (the brown material) and a fusible (the black material). These are added on top of the haircloth and extend from the shoulders to the hem (the haircloth is only in the chest). Notice that the brown wool canvas has a natural roll to it while the black fusible is limp. This natural roll is what gives those lapels their “bloom.” 

Of course, this isn’t to say that fused garments aren’t worth buying. They’re considerably more affordable, which is nice if you’re on a budget or if your tastes are still developing. It can take a long, long time for your tastes to settle and for you to develop an eye for what truly fits and flatters you the most. It would be a shame if you had to make your mistakes on much more expensive garments. 

If you have the money, however, and you feel confident in your choices, canvassed garments can be much more handsome. And once you own some, know how to best preserve their shape (after all, that’s what you paid for). Make sure your jackets aren’t smashed against each other in your closet and use hangers with wide, flared out shoulders. Our advertiser The Hanger Project sells some really nice ones, but if you want something more affordable, check out Wooden Hangers USA. Also, stay away from bad dry cleaners, as they can really press the life out of your jackets’ lapels, shoulders, and chests. I ship my stuff to RAVE FabriCare, but you can look for someone more local. Finally, be careful with garment steamers, and don’t hang your jackets in the bathroom while taking a shower. Steam will take out the wrinkles, it’s true, but it’ll also take out the shape. If that ever happens, you can send your jacket to a place that gives a good handpressing. That should be done every once in a while anyway, just so your jackets can maintain their form. 

(Photos via NY Mag, JefferyD, and MostExerent)

Finding a Good Dry Cleaner
With the amount of information online about clothing construction and quality, there’s surprisingly little about how to find a good dry cleaner. The quality of your cleaner, however, can really affect the life of your garments. Take your clothes to a bad operation and they can set in stains, ruin the nap on fabrics, and even take the shape out of a well-made jacket. It’s worthwhile then to figure out how to tell a good dry cleaning job from a bad one.
There are essentially two types of dry cleaning businesses. The first is known as a dry store, where the store essentially acts as a drop-off point for some remotely located central plant. For every central plant, there might be five to twenty of these “satellite” shops located throughout various neighborhoods. The second is what’s known as a package plant, where a business has their own equipment on-site, which means they actually do the dry cleaning themselves.
So how can you tell the quality of these cleaners’ work? Well, roughly speaking, a dry store is more likely to have lower quality service. Their aim typically is to control costs, increase efficiency, and turn things around as quickly as possible. If you see a really small shop with no machines besides a conveyer behind the counter, and they’re charging you $8 to clean a suit with next day service, the chances are, you’re clothes aren’t getting much consideration.
Package plants, on the other hand, tend to have better service, but you can’t assume this just because they own their own equipment. It’s useful to know a bit about the dry cleaning process so you know what things to look for and what questions to ask. For example:
Dry cleaning is good for taking out oil-based stains (such as those from lotions, salad dressings, and pizza drippings) but it can potentially set in water-based stains (such as those from juice, coffee, or even perspiration). A good dry cleaner will thus identify the types of stains you have and pre-treat them accordingly, so that damage isn’t set in through the cleaning process itself. Make sure your cleaner has a technician that does this.
Some dry cleaners also re-use their cleaning fluids, which means dirt from previous loads can be redeposited. Ask your cleaner if they use freshly purified or freshly distilled fluids with every run.
If you’re having garments pressed, you may also want to enquire if the job is done by hand or machine (though, from my experience, many places that do a machine press will still say they do it by hand). The problem with a machine press is that they’re often just blowing hot steam through a garment, which can take the shape out of a high-quality suit and ruin the seams on a low-quality jacket.
Finally, when you get your garments back, feel the fabrics. Do they feel soft, as you remember them, or a bit stiff? Many cleaners will use what’s known in the trade as sizing, which stiffens a fabric a bit so that it’s easier to press. Great for efficiency, but bad if you want to maintain the soft hand and beautiful nap on a something such as high-quality flannel wool.
Now, I’m wary of advising people to go into operations and interrogate professionals as though they know more about the business than the people running the shop. What I am advising, however, is that people learn a bit about how dry cleaning is done, just as they should learn a little about how shoes and suits are made. That way, they know what are the right questions to ask and be able to interpret answers.
For what it’s worth, the best dry cleaner I know of is RAVE FabriCARE, who is located in Arizona, but can take clothes by mail. Their prices aren’t cheap, but if you have something you really care about, or something heavily soiled, they’re certainly worth considering. Stu, who runs that operation, sat down with me last year to really explain the cleaning process, and he runs a blog where you can find much of this same information. Take the time to read through a few of his posts. They’re quite informative and can go a long way in helping you find the right cleaner for your needs. 
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Finding a Good Dry Cleaner

With the amount of information online about clothing construction and quality, there’s surprisingly little about how to find a good dry cleaner. The quality of your cleaner, however, can really affect the life of your garments. Take your clothes to a bad operation and they can set in stains, ruin the nap on fabrics, and even take the shape out of a well-made jacket. It’s worthwhile then to figure out how to tell a good dry cleaning job from a bad one.

There are essentially two types of dry cleaning businesses. The first is known as a dry store, where the store essentially acts as a drop-off point for some remotely located central plant. For every central plant, there might be five to twenty of these “satellite” shops located throughout various neighborhoods. The second is what’s known as a package plant, where a business has their own equipment on-site, which means they actually do the dry cleaning themselves.

So how can you tell the quality of these cleaners’ work? Well, roughly speaking, a dry store is more likely to have lower quality service. Their aim typically is to control costs, increase efficiency, and turn things around as quickly as possible. If you see a really small shop with no machines besides a conveyer behind the counter, and they’re charging you $8 to clean a suit with next day service, the chances are, you’re clothes aren’t getting much consideration.

Package plants, on the other hand, tend to have better service, but you can’t assume this just because they own their own equipment. It’s useful to know a bit about the dry cleaning process so you know what things to look for and what questions to ask. For example:

  • Dry cleaning is good for taking out oil-based stains (such as those from lotions, salad dressings, and pizza drippings) but it can potentially set in water-based stains (such as those from juice, coffee, or even perspiration). A good dry cleaner will thus identify the types of stains you have and pre-treat them accordingly, so that damage isn’t set in through the cleaning process itself. Make sure your cleaner has a technician that does this.
  • Some dry cleaners also re-use their cleaning fluids, which means dirt from previous loads can be redeposited. Ask your cleaner if they use freshly purified or freshly distilled fluids with every run.
  • If you’re having garments pressed, you may also want to enquire if the job is done by hand or machine (though, from my experience, many places that do a machine press will still say they do it by hand). The problem with a machine press is that they’re often just blowing hot steam through a garment, which can take the shape out of a high-quality suit and ruin the seams on a low-quality jacket.
  • Finally, when you get your garments back, feel the fabrics. Do they feel soft, as you remember them, or a bit stiff? Many cleaners will use what’s known in the trade as sizing, which stiffens a fabric a bit so that it’s easier to press. Great for efficiency, but bad if you want to maintain the soft hand and beautiful nap on a something such as high-quality flannel wool.

Now, I’m wary of advising people to go into operations and interrogate professionals as though they know more about the business than the people running the shop. What I am advising, however, is that people learn a bit about how dry cleaning is done, just as they should learn a little about how shoes and suits are made. That way, they know what are the right questions to ask and be able to interpret answers.

For what it’s worth, the best dry cleaner I know of is RAVE FabriCARE, who is located in Arizona, but can take clothes by mail. Their prices aren’t cheap, but if you have something you really care about, or something heavily soiled, they’re certainly worth considering. Stu, who runs that operation, sat down with me last year to really explain the cleaning process, and he runs a blog where you can find much of this same information. Take the time to read through a few of his posts. They’re quite informative and can go a long way in helping you find the right cleaner for your needs. 

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A Three-Step Process to Finding Good Tailors and Dry Cleaners
I’m moving to Moscow for a few months, and being that it’s my first time there, I’ll have to find a new tailor and dry cleaner. When I was young, I used to worry about having to find a new barber when I travelled. The whole idea of having a new person cut my hair just seemed frightening. What if they chop my hair to uneven bits? I’ve learned, however, that hair grows back. Clothes that you’ve painstakingly poured a lot of time and money into, on the other hand, will never be restored once they’re ruined. That’s why it’s important to find good tailors and dry cleaners - one exchange with a bad one could ruin your favorite garments forever. 
So I’ve developed a kind of system to finding good tailors and dry cleaners in a new area. Perhaps it will be useful for you as well, whether you’ve arrived in a new place or you’re still trying to find someone reliable. Here’s my three-step process:
1. Find the local consensus: The first step is to call the very best upscale stores and hotels in the area. For stores, this can be high-end boutiques such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus; independent fine menswear stores that sell brands you respect; and internationally known brand stores such as Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, or Zegna. For hotels, this can include the Four Seasons, St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton, etc. Just check your Zagat Survey for the five-star operations. 
Ask the managers of these places which tailors and dry cleaners they send their work to. Hotels will obviously have dry cleaners they depend on, but menswear stores will often also have a dry cleaner that they send soiled garments to. They will most certainly at least have tailors they work with for alterations. Try to identify a consensus among these recommendations. You’re likely to spot at least two or three that everyone goes to. These will be your candidates.
2. Ask questions and identify quality operations: Call up your candidates and ask them questions about the job you’re looking to have done. Unfortunately, you have to know a little bit about tailoring and dry cleaning in order to know what are the right questions to ask. It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover these subjects, but you should search the archives of StyleForum to get a sense of the processes behind whatever you want done. Ask them about some of these technical details. A good tailor or dry cleaner should be able to discuss these things with you competently. 
Additionally, for dry cleaners, look for places that do the work on-site and, ideally, offer hand ironing. The second part is particularly critical if you have high-end suits, otherwise your nice rolling lapels may come back incorrectly pressed. 
Note that while you can often find a very skilled alterations tailor who is affordable, good dry cleaning never comes cheap. If someone tells you they only charge $25 to clean a suit and $5 to launder a shirt, and you can pick it up in just a few days, you’d be a fool to hand over your garments. 
3. Give them your worst: Everyone has low-end, ill-fitting garments they don’t wear. Send these in before you hand over things you actually favor. After you get the garment back, spend two or three weeks with it - wear it a few times, see how it fits, examine the quality, etc. For me, it takes a few weeks to really review these things. First impressions are often always positive, but three weeks in, I may notice that the work might not be done as cleanly and well as I would like. Before I trust someone with something I’ve spent a considerable amount time to find, and somewhat hefty amount of money to purchase, it’s absolutely critical that I can fully trust their work. Getting to this place can sometimes take two or three “test runs.” It might seem like a lot of hassle, but imagine the hassle you’ll go through if you had to replace some of your favorite clothes. 

A Three-Step Process to Finding Good Tailors and Dry Cleaners

I’m moving to Moscow for a few months, and being that it’s my first time there, I’ll have to find a new tailor and dry cleaner. When I was young, I used to worry about having to find a new barber when I travelled. The whole idea of having a new person cut my hair just seemed frightening. What if they chop my hair to uneven bits? I’ve learned, however, that hair grows back. Clothes that you’ve painstakingly poured a lot of time and money into, on the other hand, will never be restored once they’re ruined. That’s why it’s important to find good tailors and dry cleaners - one exchange with a bad one could ruin your favorite garments forever. 

So I’ve developed a kind of system to finding good tailors and dry cleaners in a new area. Perhaps it will be useful for you as well, whether you’ve arrived in a new place or you’re still trying to find someone reliable. Here’s my three-step process:

1. Find the local consensus: The first step is to call the very best upscale stores and hotels in the area. For stores, this can be high-end boutiques such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus; independent fine menswear stores that sell brands you respect; and internationally known brand stores such as Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren, or Zegna. For hotels, this can include the Four Seasons, St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton, etc. Just check your Zagat Survey for the five-star operations. 

Ask the managers of these places which tailors and dry cleaners they send their work to. Hotels will obviously have dry cleaners they depend on, but menswear stores will often also have a dry cleaner that they send soiled garments to. They will most certainly at least have tailors they work with for alterations. Try to identify a consensus among these recommendations. You’re likely to spot at least two or three that everyone goes to. These will be your candidates.

2. Ask questions and identify quality operations: Call up your candidates and ask them questions about the job you’re looking to have done. Unfortunately, you have to know a little bit about tailoring and dry cleaning in order to know what are the right questions to ask. It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover these subjects, but you should search the archives of StyleForum to get a sense of the processes behind whatever you want done. Ask them about some of these technical details. A good tailor or dry cleaner should be able to discuss these things with you competently. 

Additionally, for dry cleaners, look for places that do the work on-site and, ideally, offer hand ironing. The second part is particularly critical if you have high-end suits, otherwise your nice rolling lapels may come back incorrectly pressed. 

Note that while you can often find a very skilled alterations tailor who is affordable, good dry cleaning never comes cheap. If someone tells you they only charge $25 to clean a suit and $5 to launder a shirt, and you can pick it up in just a few days, you’d be a fool to hand over your garments. 

3. Give them your worst: Everyone has low-end, ill-fitting garments they don’t wear. Send these in before you hand over things you actually favor. After you get the garment back, spend two or three weeks with it - wear it a few times, see how it fits, examine the quality, etc. For me, it takes a few weeks to really review these things. First impressions are often always positive, but three weeks in, I may notice that the work might not be done as cleanly and well as I would like. Before I trust someone with something I’ve spent a considerable amount time to find, and somewhat hefty amount of money to purchase, it’s absolutely critical that I can fully trust their work. Getting to this place can sometimes take two or three “test runs.” It might seem like a lot of hassle, but imagine the hassle you’ll go through if you had to replace some of your favorite clothes.