The appeal of soft Italian tailoring has set style trends in men’s clothing for at least a few decades now. Although the technique is commonly attributed to Giorgio Armani (particularly in the business press), it really goes back to the Rubinacci and Caraceni families in Naples and Rome, respectively. They’re the ones who took the “stuffing out of suits” by using thinner and lighter shoulder pads, reducing the weight of the canvassing and haircloth inside, and striping away the lining.
In popular writing, this technique often gets reduced to a simple description about a “soft shoulder,” but when I think of what makes this style appealing to me, it’s about much more than a shoulder line. Instead, I think of style icons such as Gianni Agnelli (who often wore Caraceni) and Vittorio de Sica (who often wore Rubinacci), as well as the many men who represent Neapolitan style today (Rubinacci, Solito, Ciardi, Panico, etc). The styles worn and created by these men isn’t just about their softer shoulder, but rather the overall “roundness” of their silhouettes.
Look at the photos below and see. The lapels are a bit wider; the chests a bit rounder and fuller; and while Voxsartoria will chastise me for saying this, a few of them look like they were designed with slightly wider shoulders as well. To my eye, this not only helps build a broader, more masculine look, but it also gives the illusion of a trimmer waist without actually needing to pinch it in. It’s this wider lapel, rounder chest, and soft, extended shoulder line that gives the casual, relaxed look that so many men love. Compare this to a number of other “soft” Italian jackets – especially the more fashion forward ones with a trimmer lapel, cleaner chest, and narrower shoulder – and you can see the effect isn’t the same.
I don’t mean to say that “clean and lean” silhouettes look bad, of course. My first love for suits – well before Man Men came around – was for the 1960s styles seen on Sammy Davis Jr. here. Very modern; very clean; and very, very smooth.
I only mean that these silhouettes are distinct. You can see their differences most starkly in the last photo below, which shows Gianni Agnelli with Ted Kennedy in 1961. Agnelli is in a softly tailored, 1930’s style, Caraceni suit – single breasted, three buttons, with peak lapels – and Kennedy is dressed in a more contemporary “Mad Men” coat and tie. What makes Agnelli look bolder?
More than a soft shoulder.