History and Anatomy of Neapolitan Tailoring

Neapolitan tailoring is much more than a simple tradition, it is a Made in Italy fashion excellence, indissolubly tied to centuries of history and culture that, from the hands of Neapolitan artisans, has come to dress gentlemen from all over the world, from newyorkese lawyers to statesmen, from financial brokers to Hollywood celebrities. 

Almost 700 years. This is how far we should travel back in time to present the roots of today’s Neapolitan tailoring.  It all started in 1351, with the founding of Italy’s oldest tailoring association, Confraternita dell’arte dei Giubbonai e Cositori (the Brotherhood of the Jacket Makers and of the Tailors). Its members were among the first to create ready-to-wear men’s garments, made in Naples – fulcrum of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies at the time – and transported to royals and noblemen across the continent.

Starting from 1400, Naples represented the perfect framework for the birth of many wool and silk industries, needed to process those cuts and fabrics soon requested by all European courts. Such an expansion inevitably led to the development of a proper academy of Neapolitan Tailoring, aimed at satisfying the increasing demand of gentlemen’s garments, always more appreciated by the world and soon perceived as a synonym of excellence and handcrafted perfection. 

After the European boom, Neapolitan Tailoring had not been immune to the burst. From 1600 to 1800, Naples not only lost prestige, and with it the demand for the sartorial productions of its artisans, but also experienced a proper languishing of its fashion industry, whose creations were soon perceived as completely out of fashion in important centres such as Milan, London and Paris.

After such a dark period, Neapolitan Tailoring schools regained their energy and took advantage of the incomparable manual skills and refinement of the fabrics. They managed to conquer the European panorama for the second time, this time building the foundations  for an exponential growth that characterized the gentlemen’s made-to-measure fashion of the 20th century.

When taking into consideration this further success, it is crucial to mention the other parent of Gentlemen’s fashion and tailoring expertise: the United Kingdom.  The British tailoring represented in fact an indispensable source of inspiration for the Neapolitans, who followed the techniques of the anglo-saxon model,  undoubtedly more rigorous and authoritarian than the modern Italian style, but still indisputably of the finest quality.  

As a matter of fact, It is not before the 1930s that Naples truly matured its identity in terms of stylistic traits and shapes, which, in the course of the century, would lead it to reach an unimaginable worldwide success. The Neapolitan suit jacket progressively acquired various unmistakable traits among which a shorter sleeve, that reveals the cuff of the shirt, a generous lapel, minimal lining – or no lining at all, a barchetta (boat-shaped) chest pocket, tre bottoni su due (three-roll-two) button stance, pignata patch pockets, curved at the bottom, and a double handmade backstitch on the lapels and pockets.

However, it is across the shoulders that Neapolitan tailoring boldy distinguishes itself. The heavily padded, structured suiting made by Britain’s, other than adding a formal and firm attitude to the jacket itself, can cleverly hide a multitude of physical and sartorial imperfections. On the other hand, the soft, ever-so-lightly or entirely unstructured and unpadded shoulders of a Neapolitan suit, leave zero margin for error, which only true expertise could cope with.

Lastly, Neapolitan tailors themselves stress the idea that Neapolitan suits are made thinking about the Italians, and their colorful and passionate lifestyle. The high, snug armhole for example is essential in order to maintain freedom of movement, indispensable for the Italian gentleman who is accustomed to hug his friends and lively dance with his partner.  Also worth mentioning is the backward-oriented centre seam in the shoulder of the jacket, which in the words of the Neapolitans, helps the collar hug the gentlemen’s neck “comme l’abbraccio ’e n’amico” – like the embrace of a friend.

But leaving technicism to tailors and insiders, what is it about the Neapolitan suit that truly draws the eye of so many gentlemen, and makes those jackets an authentic object of desire? Many  found an answer to this question in one word: Italianness.  In the very same way one could capture the Italian spirit of life by contemplating a Vespa scooter or a Riva yacht, Napolitan suits ooze italian coolness and nonchalance at first glance, which, combined with the highest quality of craftsmanship and an immortal style, results in uncomplicated elegance – and luxury – at its finest…

Authors: LBSS Fashion and Accessories Division, Davide Mazzeo

Sources: (Neapolitan Tailoring, Neapolitan Artisan Tailoring Tradition, – Sartoria Napoletana, – History and Anatomy, Parisian Gentleman – The Italian Tailor).

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