Natural Selection: Guess The Shoulder Maker


This beautifully rounded, unpadded shoulder is from the current collection of a well known menswear retailer. Can you guess who? It’s Paul Stuart, from the uber-elegant Phineas Cole collection. Why am I sharing it? Let me explain.

The brand, once called the “poor man’s Brooks Brothers,” has put an impressive amount of refinement into the shoulders of its Phineas Cole suit jackets and sportcoats. They’re made in Canada (sound familiar?), but Paul Stuart designer Ralph Auriemma (who’s known to his colleagues as a perfectionist), says he went back and forth with the factory extensively until he got the shoulder exactly how he wanted it.

Now it is “our version of a natural-shoulder jacket,” as he calls it, and it has a higher and smaller armhole than the Ivy sack jackets of yore. And of course the default button stance is a one-button peak lapel, which is far too rakish for most trads.

But I selected it for sharing because it serves as an example of the pains one menswear brand is taking to get a natural-shouldered garment exactly right, guided by a designer with a specific vision working assiduously with a remote factory until it delivers a shoulder to his satisfaction.

For more on Phineas Cole, check out this story I recently did for Bon week-end. — CC

38 Comments on "Natural Selection: Guess The Shoulder Maker"

  1. Paul Stuart has finally, almost completely, taken the reins from Brooks Brothers. Their use of Phineas Cole is what BB should have done with Black Fleece. It is a contained, capsule, brand-within-a-brand that attracts the more adventurous (foppish) and then lures them into the more sedate luxuries of the regular Paul Stuart line. Every season is strong, uncompromising, and (within the mainline) plenty likable for the trad, or at least the trad-inclined. I’m wearing Paul Stuart trousers as I type this. I paid full price for them and didn’t mind. I haven’t paid full price for anything at Brooks Brothers in four years and don’t look to in the foreseeable future.

  2. Mitchell S. | October 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm |

    Notice how the patterns on the body line up EXACTLY with the patterns on the sleeve. Very few brands in the under $3,500 price range match patterns so closely.

    Phineas Cole is a very fashion-forward, Saville-Row-inspired collection. Many of their sport coats feature slanted pockets, side vents, ticket pockets, and a suppressed waist.

  3. Jeff Jarmuth | October 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm |

    Call me an unrepentant traditionalist, but I just can’t buy a two-button sport coat. It doesn’t matter for my suits for some reason–a two-button closure is fine. But I’ve always thought that two-button sport coats looked wrong. . .too much like a dentist from Short Hills. Now if somebody would take the fabrics PC has chosen, have them made up in the retro-1963 Norman Hilton cut, and sell them from a cart, I’d step up and buy several. I had to compromise years ago and buy darted three-button coats. . .that was bad enough. People are starting to get it right in pieces. . .no single maker has figured it out yet except Norman Hilton, and I don’t think it’s making those nice 1963 coats anymore

    Brooks Brothers Cambridge model isn’t bad. But you need to buy a size up and have your tailor work with it.

  4. “Aesthetic” is high-nosed pretentious, but somehow “Bon week-end” is allowable?


  5. Must’ve been wearing the black sweater-black bit loafer combo when you said it. While listening to Grappelli. Okay, forgiven.

  6. @Steve

    Ah yes, the horror of visiting a website and being exposed to an ascot. For example:


    I wrote “bon week-end” with a wink and a smile. When people use “aesthetic” instead of “look” or “style,” they’re dead serious. Therein the pretension lies.

  7. I agree with @FLW 100%. In addition, Paul Stuart carries some of the best (non-custom) shoes money can buy….

  8. Okay, then. Bon Friday.

  9. You’re right Steve, Ben Silver doesn’t get enough attention here. I’ll catch up with them.

    For the record, I think the only companies to self-indentify at Ivy were the Main Street clothiers during the heyday looking to capitalize on the trend.

  10. I had actually never looke at Paul Stuart’s website until now…way out of my price range, but the anglophile in me was very very happy haha

  11. A.E.W. Mason | October 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm |

    I purchase from Ben Silver from time to time. They have some beautiful things and the quality is wonderful. Hence, they are expensive. They should get more attention. But as a heads up, their jackets are two button and darted (years ago they offered 3b undarted). They call their shoulder construction “natural,” and by today’s standards most of their jackets are. But, they won’t pass muster with this crowed at the level of detail being discussed lately.

    Each time I get their catalogue I want to move to Charleston, S.C.

  12. I peruse the Paul Stuart and Ben Silver site frequently. As Mr. Wyllys states they do appeal to the inner anglophile, and yes that is a very lovely shoulder.

  13. “Minimal padding” would be a more accurate description than “unpadded”. An unpadded shoulder would hang like a shirt.

  14. Christian: you have a good eye! Earlier this year I went looking to buy two new suits. After going and looking everywhere in NYC, I ended up with two lovely Phineas suits. The first one a dark grey, one button peak lapel with hacking pockets has the softest most natural shoulders that I’ve seen In a modern makers.

    The second suit was the most convartive offreing of the Phineas line: a two button navy beauty- it looks like the one Sean Connery wears at the beginning of Thunderball!

    I’ve worn it to interviews and meeting and I feel like a million dollars.
    For the ivy/trads here are some tips

    Paul Stuart has the best knit ties in all of NYC and at a very good price, their tie collection is simply the best in the world. Also the wool trousers from the regular line are amazing! The shoulders are natural and lightly padded at the end.

    The funny thing is that after all my research I kept saying to myself: ‘Gee those Phineas suit sure have amazing shoulders’

    I was hesitant to take the plunge because of the peacock nature of the suits. But the floor manager made a great point when he said. “Forget about the hacking pockets, one button and peace lapels or the ticket pocket. What matters is that this suit fits you like it was made for you! Those shoulders are perfect and that is what others will notice: a percent fitting suit!”

    However, Paul Stuart cannot be comprehended by going to their website. One must make the pilgrimage to Madison and experience gold standard of men’s clothing. Some things will be trad, other things will not be ivy or trad but they will surely be a feast for the senses.

    Thank you for this great piece. I find that Paul Stuart doesn’t get the love and attention that it deserves in the online Internet forum world. Then again, I kind of like how PS invites a certain kind of adventurous sartorial tradional man

  15. Brooks Brother has become the poor man’s Paul Stuart.

  16. Christian,

    Is the Canadian maker Samuelsohn?

  17. @ DCG

    Good one.


    They wouldn’t reveal.

  18. The more I look at their respective catalogues the more it seems as though Brooks is orienting itself towards Paul Stuart’s style (clientele as well? Who knows…) but with blander, cheaper-looking fabrics, boring/off-putting colors, and less attention to tailoring details. The catalogues were even both shot in Scotland, but one tells a story with its photo composition, and one looks like a bunch of Italian models in mediocre clothes stuck in Scotland for a weekend.

  19. Christian, any interest in, or ability to get an interview with a key strategy exec at BB? Get a first hand on what success will look like to them over the next 5 years? I’m sure you can put together a string of great questions. We keep speculating on what the heck they are doing, why not ask them?

  20. A.E.W. Mason | October 6, 2013 at 8:21 am |

    This post peaked my curiosity prompting a trip to the Paul Stuart website. While the style is generally not for me, the Catalogue is just beautiful. The fabrics are lush and warm and the garments look expertly tailored (although some, not all, of the trousers are just much too tight on the older fellow with the gray hair). Interestingly, while both BB and PS have selected the Scottish “Heelins” as the backdrop of choice for this Fall, yet the Paul Stuart Catalogue exudes the primary aim of presenting beautiful garments whereas the Brooks catalogue (although also beautifully photographed) crosses the line into that “buy our cloths and join our world” message. I’d say PS is aimed at a more adult customer while BB is emphasizing being hip.

  21. What’s the Paul Stuart oxford cloth and pinpoint oxford cloth shirt like? Fit? Fabric? Price?

  22. Boston Bean | October 6, 2013 at 9:20 am |

    The Paul Stuart catalogue made me cringe.
    A wannabe’s fantasy of the way the filthy rich dress.

  23. While I agree with Christian that the jacket pictured is a beautiful, natural shouldered one, the Paul Stuart website also shows a lot of suits and sportjackets that appear to be rope shoulder-ish. To me, both are very nice. No offense meant to FLW, but I think Paul Stuart took the reins from Brooks Brothers a long time ago. Both companies do a very good job of putting out very nice garments from season to season but PS takes the “less is more” approach by having just three stores in the States, the store in New York and two smaller stores in Chicago.

  24. Here’s a well written piece about Paul Stuart’s custom/bespoke offerings, and the man who (skillfully) acts as steward. Mark knows his stuff.

    Not entirely accurate about Manhattan MTM because Paul Winston (Chipp)’s MTM service includes custom paper pattern.

  25. M. Arthur,

    I offered Brooks the chance to address our readers directly about a year ago. It was offered in a very general way, though they appreciated it. It may be time to revisit the idea, though I think the merchandise and marketing imagery kind of speaks for itself as far as where the company is going. I think it sees its American heritage as largely applying to youthful, preppy sportswear.

  26. Beyond Brooks’ style direction, fit ,and silhouettes, does anyone else feel that the fabric colors and quality have, even in the last two years, taken a sharp dive?

    Even if I don’t like the style of tailored wear at PS or Ralph Lauren, I’m way more often than not very impressed with the colors, the feel of the fabrics, their weight, etc., whereas at Brooks (especially this season’s offerings) are really puzzling in their color choices and patterns (bluish black in an autumn tartan?) and lacking in weight or feel.

    If they are indeed dead set on heading in this new direction, could they at least do a better job at it?

  27. Christian I know you and I have discussed the textiles, also the buttons, but believe it or not I think someone caught on to at least those, much better real-leather buttons on a lot of stuff. Ugly fabric, but nicer buttons…”one step forward and two steps back” as the tired cliché warns us

  28. It would be interesting to see something on Ben Silver, as well as on Eljo’s of Charlottesville, VA, for some Southern Fried flavor. I thought they both sold the two-button sack, i.e., an undarted jacket that doesn’t have the vestigal buttonhole that Press has and Brooks used to be known for. Same thing the Andover Shop sells.

    Not sure if this info is still accurate but it might be.

  29. J.I. Rodale | October 6, 2013 at 11:06 pm |


    Your mention of Eljo’s brought back fond memories. Glad to see that they are still around, and still selling Trad clothing:

  30. Stuart will do pretty much anything. Was talking bout a similar sport coat and they can and will change the number of buttons and the stance if you like. At that price point and service level anything is possible. Nice stuff. Who cares what the rich wear? I wear what I like.

    The catalog sucks. You have to visit the store. The Chicago store is almost perfect in size.

  31. I am guessing Samuelsohn. At least a couple of models feature a soft, “shirtsleeve” shoulder, which, of course, could be modified.

    FWIW, the Greenwich II is Samuelsohn’s take on a natural shoulder, undarted jacket. At that price point, I think the Southwick Douglas or Adrian Jules Stuart are just as good. Plenty of options.

  32. Just got the latest Ben Silver catalog yesterday. Note: Many (not all) of the jackets are side-vented. They will give you other options, including single-vent and extended sizes, if you get your order in early enough. They did this for me when I wanted a 44 extra-long jacket.

    As pointed out above, it’s a great place for shoes. Also socks.

    I’ve had nothing but great service from them for the dozen or so things I’ve bought.

  33. Mitchell S. | October 8, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

    The Club Rubinacci blog has a video primer on the Neapolitan jacket. Spalla Camicia is the Italian term for a natural shoulder that fits like the shoulder on a dress shirt. This video is in Italian with English subtitles:

  34. All this talk of the perfect jacket makes me wonder: What is the perfect Ivy League trouser?

    I don’t mean chinos or other casual pants, but a garment in wool that one can wear with a natural-shouldered undarted jacket with a single hooked vent etc etc

  35. O’Connell’s seems to have the best variety in trousers, chinos, poplin, linens, gabs, flannels, cavalry twill, whipcord, etc. I have no idea who makes them. Their pleats are forward, which I prefer to reverse. All the pants have on seam pockets, which I prefer to quarter cut. The rises are normal. Most have watch pockets.

    All that said, I live in the Midwest and only deal with them on the net, never been disappointed.

  36. I don’t understand the comments about Ben Silver and the side vented jackets. These are the first two I turned to. Both have center hook vents:,24823.html,24466.html

    Got to add that I bought one of their Russell Plaid SJs two years ago and it has a perfectly natural shoulder, no darts, center hook vent, and the nicest sack silhouette of any jacket I own alhtough it is the only 2-button in my collection.

  37. Thanks, MAC, for your helpful reply.

  38. Would it be possible for the PC article to please be reposted as the link no longer functions.

    Many Thanks

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