Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the Drape Suit, Part 1: Style

It was the most influential suit style of the Golden Era yet it is perhaps the least understood. Today it is (usually badly) imitated in what is known as "Neapolitan Tailoring" which is just as difficult to understand, is highly controversial and something I will not go into here.

The Drape Suit, quite simply, is a soft tailored style of suit that was first introduced in England during the 1930s, hence the name so often used to describe the style: English Drape. Other names for the Drape Suit include the "Blade Suit" or "Lounge Suit".

The Drape Suit has a few specific characteristics that seperates it from the other styles of the time. These characteristics include a full, soft chest often with vertical wrinkles or puckers; a gathered sleevehead; a well-tapered waist and padded shoulders. While a jacket may have some or all of these characteristics, the full chest is a must. Take a look at the late-1930s Drape sports coat below:

click images to enlarge

Although the above jacket lacks the 1gathered sleevehead, notice that it does have the 2well padded shoulders; the 3 full, soft chest with a vertical 'wave' and the 4highly suppressed waist. These are the vital characteristics of the vintage Drape Suit.
To quote "Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashion" from 1973, the Drape Suit had a "...soft front, full across the chest and shoulder blades. Tapered sleeves with full sleevehead finished with tiny tucks at the shoulder. A decided suppression at the waist and close fitted at the hips...American interpretations eliminate the tiny tucks or pleats found at the top of the sleeveheads of the British models."

Trousers, though not as vital to the Drape Suit as the jacket, were cut very full and straight-legged, usually with pleats and generous cuffs.

Now remember that these are rules of thumb and may not apply to every Drape Suit. Just as the above Drape sports coat lacks the gathered sleevehead, another jacket may lack a different characteristic. The important thing is that the jacket has a full-cut chest and a fitted waist, giving the wearer an athletic appearance.

Here are some more examples of Drape Suits, all dating from the very early 1940s.

This is a 1941-dated tweed American suit. Notice, again, the full, soft-tailored chest with vertical waves in it. The jacket also has a small number of tucks at the sleevehead:

A 1940-dated American example of a Drape Suit. While difficult to see, the full-cut chest does have vertical waves.

This suit has well defined sleevehead tucks along with a lot of 'pooching' where the chest meets the armhole (indicating a full-cut chest) as the below image shows. Again, while the sleevehead tucks are not necessary, they often will be present.

Here is another example of a Drape Suit, this time from an ad found in an April, 1936 edition of the "New York Times". Take a look at the suit on the left and notice how the chest bows out: a full-cut chest.
The top of the sleeve just below the sleevehead also has vertical waves, indicating tucks at the sleevehead. While these waves may appear to be a flaw to the untrained eye, they have been carefully and purposefully placed there by the tailor.
"...our new 'Contour' model, emphasizing the broader-shoulder effect, fuller chest and slenderized hips."

Compared to the previous close-cut, body-hugging, well-structured suits of the 1920s, the Drape Suit is a more casual, soft-tailored style that was born out of the rough times of the 1930s and influenced men's suit styles through to the 1950s and even today. Because of this fact the Drape Suit needs to be better examined under the microscope of sartorial history.

The next time we look at the Drape Suit we'll do just that.


Anonymous said...

Most detailed, most interesting explanation of "drape suit" I've read so far. Thanks!

Will said...

Thanks. Researching this topic was fairly difficult since hard sources are scarce and I had to wade through mounds of bad info online to find the good stuff. Needless to say, there are a lot of misconceptions about this topic.

constant said...

a very fine analysis of the drape style that exceeds even the well known writing of Alan Flusser!
Bravo for a job well done.

werenotdeep said...

This was very informative. I'm actually embarrassed at how little I knew about this prior to reading this.

I've always struggled with putting my finger on certain things that I liked and disliked about certain cuts and styles of vintage clothes, especially from the late 40s.

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