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How to Spot Cheap Suits: Canvassing

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Section: Men's Style - Blog

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A sound foundation is the difference between a well-made house and one that collapses during a storm. A suit's construction is the difference between a suit that gives years of service and one that looks cheap after a few wears. Think of canvassing as the bricks of your suit’s foundation, and you’ll own a key to recognizing quality in men’s suits.

For some reason, most men don't think twice about the quality of the men's suit they're about to purchase, so they inevitably end up paying for it later on. However, suit construction is all important and directly affects the life of your suit. For our purposes here, we'll like to tell you why the way your suit is stitched and canvassed affects its quality and value.

What is a suit's “Canvas”?

why does it matter?

One of the key differences between premium and low quality suit jackets is the way they are “canvassed.” But, what exactly is a canvas?

The chest of any jacket should be constructed of three (3) layers of material:

  • The fabric on the outside of the coat
  • The lining that makes up its inside
  • A layer of canvas in between that gives the jacket its shape

For the sake of simplicity, compare the inner layer of canvas to a car chassis. Just like the chassis of a car, the canvas gives your suit jacket three important elements:

  • Shape (form)
  • Structure
  • Strength

While you can't see it, this all-important layer not only shapes your suit from the start, but also has a memory for your body shape.

However, not all suits are canvased. Indeed, most off-the-rack suits, including the big brand name ones, have no canvas.

When it comes to selecting the type of canvas for your suit, you have three (3) options:

  • Half canvassed
  • Fully canvassed
  • Fused

Good quality suits use a “Half canvassed” or “Fully canvassed” construction, while cheaper suits are “Fused.”

1 - Fully Canvassed (best But Most expensive)

This means the entire top and bottom of the jacket's front is built around an internal layer of “Canvas.” This canvas can be made from different fibres. The premium choices are horse hair and camel hair, which are often used in suits costing $3,000 and more. Horse hair takes and holds a shape but is stiff in texture. Camel hair is better than horsehair because it's softer and more comfortable, but it is more expensive.

2 - Half Canvassed (cost-effective medium)

The all-important top half (front) of the jacket is properly canvassed, while the bottom half of the jacket is fused. This provides shape, stiffness and some memory qualities. As the bottom half of the jacket is less susceptible to moisture and sweat (and thus doesn't need to be as breathable), fusing this area is fine, and more importantly, keeps the suit in an affordable range.

3 - Fully Fused (Cheap and inferior, keep away!)

The fusing process uses a waterproof glue that binds the entire jacket front (top and bottom) together. The glue is applied to the fabric to stiffen it, giving a simulation of a canvas. However, because of the “hydrophobic” waterproof qualities of the glue, full fusing makes the jacket unbreathable and susceptible to “bubbling” after dry cleaning. Full fusing also reduces the comfort of the suit, as it does not allow it to move properly with your body.

In short, avoid fully fused suits. Consumer beware: many designer suits use fusing in some of their product lines, yet still charge a premium price.

canvassed v. fused jacket

The “pinch test”

It's easy to check whether the suit jacket you're looking at is fused or canvassed. Simply pinch the chest fabric and lining between the fingers of each hand and pull them apart slightly. If it's canvassed, you should be able to feel three distinct layers:

  • The outside fabric
  • The canvas
  • The lining

If it's fused, you'll only feel two layers.

To distinguish between full and half canvassing, perform the same pinch test down by the jacket buttons.

The final word

We hope you've enjoyed this brief tutorial on the fine details of constructing a good quality men's suit. The next time you're shopping for a new business suit, wedding suit, blazer or sports jacket, take these lessons to heart to help you spot quality and ensure that what you're paying is a fair price. If you need more help, the men ofMontagio Custom Tailoring are always ready to give you advice.

Note: Prices in this article are stated in $AUD at January 1 2012.


We tailor make mens suits, jackets and shirts for all occasions. Each garment is custom designed, precisely made-to-measure and is guaranteed to fit you perfectly. Unlike others, we offer you end-to-end service and a personalised styling session where we take the time to understand your needs to ensure you get the colour, style and fit you want.

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