In terms of fit, the shoulder is the most important part of a suit coat or blazer. It’s pretty darn important when it comes to style, too — whether you go with a traditional rope shoulder or a soft and casual version with virtually no structure whatsoever says a lot about the image you project. Here are the basics.

A natural shoulder with no padding whatsoever, commonly found in Neopolitan tailoring or very casual jackets, and often featuring ‘shirring’, or slight puckering at the seam where the sleeve connects to the shoulder. NB: This is not done for aesthetic reasons (though we’re big fans of the look), but aids in freedom of movement.

A natural shoulder with minimal padding, commonly found on the sack suits popular with Ivy Leaguers last century.

A stronger shoulder than its American counterpart, with light padding, and a vertical drop at the edge where the shoulder hits the sleeve.

A structured, broad shoulder featuring padding that emphasizes the V shape of a man’s body. Most commonly found on suits by tailors from the Italian capital like Brioni.

The most pronounced of the traditional shoulder styles, a roped shoulder features a sleevehead that rises above the natural line of the shoulder at the connecting point, which has the added bonus of making you look broader without spending excess hours pounding weights at the gym.

The aptly-named pagoda shoulder shows up on the men’s runways in Milan and Paris every few years, threatening to make an appearance in stores, but the exaggerated, swooping shoulder points that define the style tend to prove a bit too outre for the typical man. So yeah, you’re not too likely to find a pagoda shoulder on Gilt, but at least you know what the style is, next time someone starts talking tailoring down at the local sports bar. (That happens to you, too, right?)

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