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Style Guide: Structured vs Unstructured Jackets

Style Guide:  Structured vs Unstructured Jackets

Traditional suit and sport coat jackets have an underlying structure that gives them their shape. They rely on interfacings and padding to achieve and retain their form. Unstructured jackets started becoming popular in the 1970’s with a relaxation of dress codes. They hit their stride in the 1980 movie American Gigolo where Giorgio Armani’s clothing was as much a star as Richard Gere. If Richard wanted to achieve that look today he would be shopping at Peter Manning.

Unstructured jackets have greater flow, follow the natural lines of the body more, are lighter weight, and are often more casual. These jackets have a definite place in every man’s wardrobe for they can be dressed up or down to complete an outfit.

Construction of structured vs. unstructured jackets

A suit jacket or sport coat has its outer skin (the fabric) and 3 elements that make up its inner “skeleton”:  the lining, canvas, and shoulder pads. The lining encloses all the seams, makes it easier to slip the coat on and off, and adds a protective barrier between your under-clothes and the jacket.

The canvas, usually made of horsehair, helps create the structure of the garment. It stiffens the jacket, adds weight, helps reduce wrinkles, and allows the garment to shape to your body over time. Shoulder pads help give structure and form to the jacket so that it hangs properly.

Unstructured jackets don’t have canvas interfacing and they only have an abbreviated lining in the shoulder area. This helps you slide the jacket on and off, gives just enough structure in the shoulder area to allow the jacket to fit properly, and offers some protection from sweat in the underarm area. Some unstructured jackets have a minimal shoulder pad, although it’s far less than what you find in structured suit jackets or sport coats. This allows the jacket to have a “natural shoulder”.

The lack of canvas doesn’t mean that unstructured jackets will automatically wrinkle heavily, look rumpled and baggy. Luckily there have been advances in the fabrics themselves that will make the jackets retain their shape and look. This is especially true of fine wools like the Peter Manning lightweight Unstructured Italian wool jackets (available in solid, windowpane and checks) and our Unstructured Seersucker jackets. Our Unstructured Linen jackets are made from 100% Italian linen and wrinkle a bit naturally.

Unstructured jackets are meant to have a slightly fuller cut than structured jackets. Of course, if you are more comfortable having a closer-fitting jacket you can always take it in at the waist. Because unstructured jackets are meant to be more natural fitting and casual they aren’t supposed to be as close fitting and structured as suits. Also, leaving it a little looser allows you to add layers, even hoodies and sweaters, underneath. 

Unstructured Jacket advantages

Now that you understand the differences between structured and unstructured, what are the advantages?

First and foremost, unstructured jackets are lighter simply because there aren’t layers of interfacings and linings. This makes them much easier to fold and pack in luggage for trips, and much more comfortable to wear in warm weather because they are more breathable. If you are looking for something to dress up an outfit in summer, you can’t get any better than our linen and seersucker choices. Both fabrics are light-weight, good-looking, and breathable. In fact, our wool jackets are light enough to also be worn in the summer since wool is such a breathable fabric.

Linen jacket

You might find you like the less confined feel of an unstructured jacket. That doesn’t mean that  you will automatically look sloppy. In fact, our jackets are of the same design as our Essex jackets with their double vent and 2-button styling. They don’t look like a sack you threw on because there are front darts to give them shape. 

The Peter Manning Unstructured Jacket is tailored to fit your body size and shape. As always, it is proportionally designed for shorter men with proper sleeve and body lengths. Our collars are proportionally smaller to be in harmony with the overall size. In fact, you should find that there is little need for alterations, although don’t forget that they come with a $50 credit for tailoring.

Another advantage of an unstructured jacket is that if you do decide to make any alterations, they should be less expensive because they are much easier to do. The tailor won’t need to remove linings, alter the canvas, lining, and outer fabric. Seams are generally visible and easily altered.  

One difference you may notice between structured jackets and our unstructured is that our unstructured jackets come with 2 outside patch pockets in addition to the chest pocket. This supports the more casual feel of the jacket. It’s also necessary so that you won’t see the pocket when the jacket is opened (normally it would be hidden by the lining).

Styling an Unstructured Jacket

Unstructured jackets are a great way to dress for business without feeling trapped in your clothes. Imagine yourself sitting in a Zoom meeting where business attire is mandatory. Our unstructured jackets, especially our wool versions, will look just as good as a suit, yet be more comfortable, especially sitting down, because they have more flexibility.

You can easily pair our unstructured jackets with a button up shirt, tie, and dress pants for a business look. If you want something dressy, but not really a suit look, try khakis or chinos, a finely gauged sweater or knit shirt and some loafers.

If you want to dress up a casual look of nice jeans and t-shirt, add the jacket and some minimalist sneakers or deck shoes. You can even complete a very casual look of faded jeans and t-shirt with an unstructured jacket, especially if you pair it with linen or seersucker. Unstructured jackets can be slightly rumpled, even to the point of rolling up the sleeves if that’s the look you’re going for.

Final Thoughts…

Unstructured jackets are perfect for so many occasions:  when you want an extra layer (much like you would a cardigan), for business meetings where you don’t want to wear a formal suit yet want to hit that mark of professional yet not stuffy, or just to complete an outfit. This is one of those pieces that you can dress up or down, travel with, yet be comfortable wearing. Something so versatile has a place in everyone’s wardrobe.

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