What is Shatnez?
Shatnez (or Shaatnez or Shatnes) is cloth containing a mixture of wool and linen, which is prohibited under a strict reading of Jewish law (see Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11). Only sheep’s wool is considered “wool”, and therefore the prohibition does not apply to other animal fibers such as camel hair, mohair, angora, cashmere, alpaca, or vicuna. The term “linen” refers only to fibers from the flax plant, and not to cotton, hemp, jute and other plant-based fibers. A combination of other materials such as linen and cotton or wool and silk does not create Shaatnez. The prohibition against Shatnez also does not apply to wearing separate garments made of wool and linen. For example, a wool jacket may be worn over a linen shirt as long as the two garments are not sewn or twisted together.
The restriction applies not only to suits, jackets, and pants, but to any type of clothing, including socks, pajamas, gloves and ties. I should note it is exceedingly rare for shirts to contain Shatnez and as such are not typically tested.
How Did You Learn About Shatnez-Free Suits?
Michael Andrews Bespoke was little more than a year old when a client first asked if we could make a non-Shatnez suit. At the time I had no idea what he was asking about. Back then the internet was not as comprehensive as it is today, and a Google search revealed very little helpful information. It took extensive research to learn the ins and outs of creating Shatnez-free bespoke suiting, and even more effort to source the necessary Shatnez-free interlinings. Fortunately back in 2007 there were still two tailor supply stores in Manhattan run by Orthodox Jews, and they were hugely helpful in educating me on the requirements for making Shatnez-free jackets and pants. Thanks in large part to their guidance, we’ve been offering the finest Shatnez-free suits ever since (I can say this with confidence because the Rabbi who inspects our garments tells me this every time I see him!)
Where is Shatnez in a Suit?
When it comes to fine tailored clothing, it is easy to run afoul of these Shatnez restrictions. The most obvious offenders are blended summer fabrics that contain both wool and linen (which means most of our favorite Loro Piana fabrics are off limits to our observant clients). Aside from the fabric itself, most high-end tailored jackets use a number of interlinings that contain linen.
When making a Shatnez-free garment, we replace the linen interlinings with linen-free substitutes. In particular, we focus on the in the following areas that typically have Shatnez:
- Collar Canvas: The highest quality collar canvas is made of linen and horsehair, which is then covered on one side with wool felt. For our Shatnez-free suits, we replace with linen canvas with a cotton-based alternative.
- Shoulder Pads: Shoulder pads typically consist of a top and bottom cover, some interior batting or filler, and an additional layer of interfacing canvas. We use 100% cotton batting in our shoulder pads, and for Shatneez-free suits we remove the canvas from the pads to ensure they are linen-free.
- Sleeve Head: Several layers of canvas and felt are sewn into the seam where the sleeve attaches to the shoulder, giving shape to the upper part of the sleeve. We replace the linen canvas with cotton-based canvas and linen-free interlining tape.
- Jacket Chest Canvas: The best chest canvas is made from wool and linen fabric stiffened with horsehair and covered with cotton felt. For Shatnez-free jackets, we use a special linen-free canvas.
- Reinforcement: Before the advent of durable, high-quality fusible tapes, tailors often used lightweight linen canvas to reinforce key areas such as pockets, cuffs, hems, darts and vents. We insure that all of our tailoring tapes and bindings are linen-free.
- Pant Waistband Interlining: Our bespoke trousers generally use a layer of the same canvas we use for our suit jackets. For Shatnez-free garments, we remove the canvas and us a linen-free waistband stiffener.
- Vest Canvas: Our bespoke vests are normally canvased in much the same way as our jackets. However, for Shatnez-free vests we use a special linen-free canvas.
How Do You Check for Shatnez?
To ensure that garments are Shatnez-free when requested, we take the following steps:
- Shatnez-free designation is put on the client’s profile in our computer system, and it prints in bold highlighted letters at the top of every order ticket so our tailors know to follow our special protocols.
- Each tailor has received special training regarding Shatnez-free requirements and have been instructed as to the high level of religious importance for the garments to be linen free.
- All Shatnez-free trims and interlinings are stored in a separate area from other trims to avoid any accidental intermingling of supplies.
- At the option of the client, we will have the garment certified by a Rabbi specializing in Shatnez testing upon its arrival from our workshop.