Storing Heavy Leather Jackets

In the past year or so, I’ve come to appreciate the value of good hangers. Suit jackets and sport coats have complex constructions, and improper hangers can warp and shift some of the material that goes into the shoulders (thus ruining not only your jacket’s silhouette, but also how it fits). I say that not because our advertiser The Hanger Project sells fancy hangers, but because a well-respected English tailor confirmed this for me two years ago, and Jeffery at Tutto Fatto a Mano said the same thing (Jeffery’s a tailor, a professional pattern maker for a large suit manufacturer, and one of the more fair-minded guys I know when it comes to clothing). 

How you store leather jackets is just as important. As I’ve mentioned, most leather jackets are made from lambskin, goatskin, horsehide, or cowhide. Generally speaking, the first two will be lighter in weight than the second two. Of course, you can thin any leather down to whatever thickness you wish, so it’s possible to have a lightweight horsehide jacket, but it’s rare. Most cowhide and horsehide jackets are quite heavy.

If you have such a jacket, storing it on a thin hanger can also ruin the shoulders. The weight of the leather will pull the garment down, and over the course of years, can stretch out and crack the shoulder line. Thus, some leather jacket enthusiasts recommend using hangers with wide moulded shoulders. I really like The Hanger Project’s, again not because they’re our advertiser, but simply because their hangers are nicely made and come in a width that perfectly fits my jackets. In fact, I’m buying a dozen more from them next month. The only downside is that they’re expensive and a bit wide at 2.5”. The extra width gives more support, but it also takes up more room in your closet. You can get slightly more affordable hangers through Wooden Hangers USA, and slightly thinner hangers at Butler Luxury

Better yet, the other solution is to not hang your jacket up at all. If you have the room, you can lay your jacket down and just store it somewhere. This will ensure that nothing will get stretched out. 

For vintage shoppers, it’s good to pay attention to the shoulders when buying heavy leather jackets. Some of these have been sitting on the racks for years, jam-packed into tight spaces. If the shoulder is damaged and cracked, it can be difficult to repair, and thus might be wise to pass on. 

(Photos via Mr. Moo)

A Tale of Two Hangers

Over the weekend, I was going through the archives of Tutto Fatto a Mano, a blog about tailoring I really like. It’s maintained by Jeffery Diduch, a professional tailor and pattern maker that’s done work in bespoke and ready-to-wear. Of the people online who talk about garment construction, quality, and tailoring, I find Jeffery’s opinion to be more reliable than most. He has the technical training for it and is impressively fair-minded. Much of his site, in fact, is dedicated to “myth busting” commonly held beliefs about tailored clothing. 

Anyway, in the archive, I found this old post about hangers. As I’ve written before, I’ve always used wooden hangers with wide, flared out shoulders for my suits and sport coats, but remained skeptical of their necessity. That is until last year, when I grabbed drinks with a Savile Row tailor, who confirmed that an improper hanger can indeed ruin the shape of a jacket.

Jeffery has some really nice photos to illustrate this. In the top photo, we see a jacket being hung on a thin, “wishbone” hanger. As he notes, the ends of the hanger are poking through the sleeveheads, where there’s a piece of canvas meant to give support. This is causing the rippling you see at the top of the sleeve, which can be set in over time and require a skilled presser to remove. Worse still, if you pack your jackets too closely together in your closet, these creases can be very difficult to get out, even by an experienced hand. In the second photo, when the same jacket is set on a better hanger, we see the ripples go away and the collar of the jacket sit up a bit more properly. 

My hangers of choice are by The Hanger Project. In full disclosure, they’re our advertiser, but I’ve genuinely become a fan since receiving some of their hangers for review. I have a few new sport coats coming to me by the end of the year and plan on purchasing The Hanger Project’s hangers for all of them. I like that their shoulders are about a half-inch wider than most of their competitors’ and they come in four different sizes. The second part is particularly useful if you have jackets with narrow shoulders like mine. They also come in some beautiful, nicely finished woods. They are, however, a bit expensive. If you can afford them, two other sources to consider are A Suitable Wardrobe and Butler Luxury

If these are all too expensive for your budget, there’s no reason to break the bank. Wooden Hangers USA sells perfectly decent hangers at a very reasonable price. The woods aren’t as nice, and the shoulders aren’t as wide, but the first is a matter of aesthetics and the second could be an advantage if you have a particularly cramped closet. The point here is that good hangers are worth considering, no matter where you get them, and that you ought to take care to not pack your jackets too closely together. Jeffery’s photos nicely demonstrate the reasons why. 

Beware of Steamers
A garment steamer, like the one you see above, can be useful to take out wrinkles. If you use one, however, you should be aware: what seems to be a rather simple and innocuous device is actually something that can ruin your clothes.
This has been something of a crusade for tailors such as Jeffery Diduch (though he’s certainly not alone in the opinion). The logic here is straightforward: for high-quality garments, a fully canvassed jacket will have been carefully molded and shaped through a lot of hand pressing. As I’ve written before, a well-tailored jacket has a certain three-dimensional shape. You may notice a convex curve at the chest, concave curve at the waist, and maybe even a well-shaped, cylindrical sleeve. These aren’t formed by just cutting pieces of cloth to a certain pattern, but also by shaping the wool with a heavy iron.
A garment steamer can destroy a lot of this work. To understand how, imagine what would happen if you blew hot steam through a woman’s hair after it’s been carefully done up through curlers and ironing. It would go limp – her hair would relax and the shape would fall out. Wool is the same way. Which is why, given how much handwork goes into a well-tailored jacket, and how much value that work imparts, one should reconsider garment steamers.
Another, arguably larger, danger looms for fused jackets. There, hot steam can delaminate the fusible interlining inside, which then can result in bubbling. If you don’t believe this can happen, know that in order to delaminate jackets, factories do exactly this: blow hot steam through a jacket. The only way to prevent delamination is to apply both hot steam and pressure. Without the second ingredient, you risk a separation of the layers.
So then what to do about wrinkles? Jeffery has often recommended that men learn how to press their own jackets, but this isn’t the same as ironing your shirts. In fact, the key here is to not iron, but press, and to learn how to do that properly, you should read Jeffery’s tutorial.
Jeffery’s write is well done and detailed, but I admit I’ll never try doing such a thing. I just don’t have any confidence I’d do it right. So, if you’re in the same boat, I’d recommend sending it to someone who can do it professionally. Note, most dry cleaners will say they offer this service, but what they’re actually doing is putting your jacket over a form and blowing hot steam through it. Not what you want. Make sure you’re getting a true hand press. If you can’t find someone local for this, I recommend RAVE FabriCARE.
But what if you just need something quickly done? Sending your garments in for a professional press after every wear seems excessive. If you have small areas with wrinkles – say at the back of your trousers’ knees or behind the elbows – I think it’s reasonable to carefully and judiciously apply a very light amount of steam for a short period of time. Note, many tailors I know will still wince at this suggestion, but I think it’s the most reasonable “middle road.” Certainly don’t go crazy with your steamer, and don’t steam areas that have been heavily shaped (such as the chest). Try to avoid areas with canvassing, and even sections with seams (as you can blow them out). Just light, gentle, and careful steaming. This, in my opinion, is certainly better than the often passed-around advice of putting your tailored jackets in the bathroom with you while you take a shower. There, the steam won’t be targeted at all, and you can end up wearing the man’s clothing version of a woman’s limp hairdo.
(Photo from Overstock)

Beware of Steamers

A garment steamer, like the one you see above, can be useful to take out wrinkles. If you use one, however, you should be aware: what seems to be a rather simple and innocuous device is actually something that can ruin your clothes.

This has been something of a crusade for tailors such as Jeffery Diduch (though he’s certainly not alone in the opinion). The logic here is straightforward: for high-quality garments, a fully canvassed jacket will have been carefully molded and shaped through a lot of hand pressing. As I’ve written before, a well-tailored jacket has a certain three-dimensional shape. You may notice a convex curve at the chest, concave curve at the waist, and maybe even a well-shaped, cylindrical sleeve. These aren’t formed by just cutting pieces of cloth to a certain pattern, but also by shaping the wool with a heavy iron.

A garment steamer can destroy a lot of this work. To understand how, imagine what would happen if you blew hot steam through a woman’s hair after it’s been carefully done up through curlers and ironing. It would go limp – her hair would relax and the shape would fall out. Wool is the same way. Which is why, given how much handwork goes into a well-tailored jacket, and how much value that work imparts, one should reconsider garment steamers.

Another, arguably larger, danger looms for fused jackets. There, hot steam can delaminate the fusible interlining inside, which then can result in bubbling. If you don’t believe this can happen, know that in order to delaminate jackets, factories do exactly this: blow hot steam through a jacket. The only way to prevent delamination is to apply both hot steam and pressure. Without the second ingredient, you risk a separation of the layers.

So then what to do about wrinkles? Jeffery has often recommended that men learn how to press their own jackets, but this isn’t the same as ironing your shirts. In fact, the key here is to not iron, but press, and to learn how to do that properly, you should read Jeffery’s tutorial.

Jeffery’s write is well done and detailed, but I admit I’ll never try doing such a thing. I just don’t have any confidence I’d do it right. So, if you’re in the same boat, I’d recommend sending it to someone who can do it professionally. Note, most dry cleaners will say they offer this service, but what they’re actually doing is putting your jacket over a form and blowing hot steam through it. Not what you want. Make sure you’re getting a true hand press. If you can’t find someone local for this, I recommend RAVE FabriCARE.

But what if you just need something quickly done? Sending your garments in for a professional press after every wear seems excessive. If you have small areas with wrinkles – say at the back of your trousers’ knees or behind the elbows – I think it’s reasonable to carefully and judiciously apply a very light amount of steam for a short period of time. Note, many tailors I know will still wince at this suggestion, but I think it’s the most reasonable “middle road.” Certainly don’t go crazy with your steamer, and don’t steam areas that have been heavily shaped (such as the chest). Try to avoid areas with canvassing, and even sections with seams (as you can blow them out). Just light, gentle, and careful steaming. This, in my opinion, is certainly better than the often passed-around advice of putting your tailored jackets in the bathroom with you while you take a shower. There, the steam won’t be targeted at all, and you can end up wearing the man’s clothing version of a woman’s limp hairdo.

(Photo from Overstock)

Why You’re Unlikely to Tell Between a Fused and Half-Canvassed Jacket

Tailor Jeffery Diduch, who maintains the rather illuminating blog Tutto Fatto a Mano, was nice enough to contact us a few weeks ago to correct us on the pinch test. Apparently, you can’t use the pinch test to see if a suit jacket or sport coat is half-canvassed, only if it’s fully-canvassed. The pinch test, as many readers know, is when you pinch the two outer layers of a jacket, typically along the lower front near the edge, and pull them apart to see if there’s a distinct, floating piece of material in between. If there is, this is said to be a mark of quality. To understand this, we should first review how suits and sport coats are made.

A Quick Primer on Suit and Sport Coat Construction

Oversimplified, a jacket is made up of distinct layers of fabric. The two outermost layers, which is the cloth we see and feel, make up the “shell.” Sandwiched in-between are layers of haircloth, canvas, felt, and fusible interlining, depending on whether the jacket is fully-canvassed, half-canvassed, or fused.

On a fully-canvassed jacket, you’ll have a canvas – typically made from a blend of wool, often cotton, and animal hair – running down the full length of the garment. Tacked onto this will be the chest piece. As the name implies, this piece is just set at the chest and shoulders, so that it gives this area some shape and support. This chest piece is usually made of haircloth, which is a cloth that has had strands of horse tail hair woven in. Horse tail hair is very stiff and wiry, which is why it’s perfect for lending structure. Add on to this some felt to cover the wiry animal hair, possibly a very lightweight fusible if the outer shell’s material needs some stabilization, and we have the basic ingredients of a full-canvassed jacket.

The upside to this kind of construction is that the canvas will give a nice bloom to the lapels, making the jacket look more three-dimensional, and give some support to the front. The downside is that this type of construction is very expensive, both in terms of the materials and labor required, and if poorly executed, it could cause the fronts to pucker.

So, about forty years ago, a German company came up with a new type of construction: fusibles. A fused jacket is much like a full-canvassed garment in that it still has the two outer shell layers, a chest piece, and some felt. Replacing the floating canvas, however, is a fusible interlining. When heated and pressed, this interlining’s special resin will melt and bond to any cloth, thus adding a similar kind of support that canvas does. The upside to this is that we cut costs. It’s quick, easy, and requires little to no skill on the part of the operator. The downside, as you can imagine, is that it slightly stiffens the cloth and doesn’t provide as nice of a support as animal hair. Lapels don’t “bloom” in the same way, but rather look flat and lifeless. It also used to be the case that fused garments carried a risk of delamination and bubbling over time, but the technology has come far enough where such cases are rare.

Finally, we have half-canvassed garments, which are the compromise. Here, the front of the jacket is fused (since you still need to stabilize the fronts), but the fusible doesn’t extend to the lapel area, where you want that kind of bloom and structure that animal hair gives. Instead, the lapels will have canvas in it like a full-canvas garment. Here, you try to get the benefits of both methods, while minimizing the cons.

The Limits of the Pinch Test

Now, the pinch test is said to be a way for you to tell if a jacket is canvassed or not. Usually, you’ll want to take the fabric a few inches below the lowest button, pinch the two outer layers and pull them apart. If you can feel a distinct, floating layer in-between, that’s the canvas. You know so because below the lowest button, there’s really nothing but the two shell layers and whatever has been used to stabilize the fronts. If it’s floating and distinct, then you’ll know it’s been fully-canvassed. If you can’t feel anything between, that means some fusible has been glued onto one of the shell layers.

The reason why you can’t do this on a half-canvassed garment is because below the second button is always fused, so you don’t know if the garment is half-canvassed or fully-fused. If you go above the second button or so, towards the chest area, you won’t know if you’re just feeling the chest piece. All garments – fully-canvassed, half-canvassed, or fused – will have a floating chest piece, so feeling a distinct layer there means nothing. The only way to know if a garment is either half-canvassed or fused is to ask a knowledgeable salesperson, but from my experience, these are very, very hard to find. Especially, frankly, at places that would sell a fused garment. So, unfortunately, there’s little way to tell if a garment is fused or half-canvassed.

* Thanks to Jeffery for his help with this article. For a more detailed write-up on how suits and sport coats are made, read Jeffery’s post here