Suit Shoulders: The Rope Shoulder And Pagoda

Words by: Andrew Williams

The shoulders make a suit in my view. It is from them that all other things hang. They set the parameters for the drape and the silhouette, and nothing gives away a cheap suit more than a poor fitting shoulder.

But I’ve always trouble with the shoulders, even good off the peg suits had provided mixed results.

Being slightly pair shaped I’ve often found regular padded suit shoulders a little too broad. Adding to this a 42 inch chest and slim long neck (15.5 inch) my head can look swamped, at the very least ill proportioned. Soft shoulder jackets, while fitting my shoulders better and evening out the ratios between my shoulders, head and neck, merely emphasis my pair shape.

I intend to have my suits made this year which opens up the possibility finding a style of shoulder better suited to my physical peculiarities. My salvation may lie in one or both of the following forms: the Pagoda and the Rope Shoulder.

Neither style is seen that often, which is in part a matter of taste and the difficulty of making them, thereby unsuited to off the peg manufacture. Even amongst tailors you’ll find varying degrees of confidence about tackling either form.

While both types have very different methods of construction, the aesthetic is similar, namely, a raised sleeve-head.



If you can get this one wrong it can look lampoonish, which why it’s important to seek out a competent tailor. Here the shoulder line is concave and is supposed to follow the natural curve between the collar bone and shoulder point, curving downward from the collar and then rising towards the outer edge of the shoulder. It’s achieved by clever manipulation of the canvas and padding in the shoulder.  There is more to it than that and if you enjoy detail then I can highly recommend the series of articles on Made by Hand (Read from the bottom of the page up).

Rope Shoulder:


The Rope Shoulder, or Con Rollino as the Neapolitans call it, may actually have originated in France and not Naples as is often sighted. It’s referred to as the Rope Shoulder because the sleeve-head stands above the shoulder line as though draped over rope. With little, if any, padding in the shoulder, the rise is created by the upper sleeve being cut larger than the armscye (armhole). The excess cloth, plus the stitching and pressing of the seams between sleeve and shoulder create the ‘puff’. For a fuller explanation I recommend this article by Michael Anton.

In both cases I’m taking advantage of the benefits of less padding and a more natural shoulder, while using the rise to create the illusion of width, thereby balancing out the rest of my shape and the proportions of my neck, chest and shoulders.