Choosing Suit Fabric
To most men, buying a suit is a significant investment and the suit fabric plays an important roll in overall appeal. It needs to look, feel, and fit great on a long-term consistent basis. Generally, it can’t wrinkle easily, and needs to be relatively soft but maintain great shape; and if it has no “give” in the shoulder area during mobility and movement, achieving the perfect fit with comfort is almost impossible. Fabric has everything to do with this. Of course, there are different categories of suiting that call for different fabric and different cloth weight: office only; business and social occasions; seasonal weekend wear.
Wool is the most common fabric in suiting. It is fairly breathable, so it will keep the wearer cool on a warm day, but obviously being wool, keeps you warm in the cold as well. Wool has everything a man needs and expects from a suit: comfort; wrinkle-resistance; and longevity. The thought of where and what time of year you want to enjoy this suit plays a significant role in choosing what type of wool weave, or wool blend, and in what weight. For some men who live in extreme weather conditions, weight and weave plays a significant role in fabric suit choice. It’s also important to stay away from wool alternatives and synthetic fabric, because, although in some rare cases they appear to be comparable to wool, they will not have the same optimal breathability, drape, or overall attractiveness and comfort as the real thing.
Worsted Wool – spun from long-staple wool fibers of the same length, which have been combed to ensure that they all run in the same direction and then tightly twisted prior to weaving, giving it a satin-like smooth finish – is the most common wool choice; mostly because in a medium 8oz-9 1/2oz weight, it can be worn comfortably year around, and has proven quality and durability
Fresco Wool – Fresco is made of multiple wool yarns tightly twisted but loosely woven that creates a very breathable fabric with an intense crisp roughness that is virtually wrinkle-resistant with excellent drape. The unique heartiness, paired with the fact that it is incredibly cool in sultry hot weather, makes fresco the fabric of choice for businessmen located in, or traveling to, tropical destinations.
Flannel Wool – Flannel has a dull, yet cozy fuzzy surface that is created when the finished fabric – woven from worsted wool – then undergoes a process called napping; which is essentially a brushing of the fabric raising the ends of the fibers creating this extreme “furry” softness. This napping process is also the reason that flannel retains so much heat, making it warm and cozy and perfect for extreme cold weather. Flannel drapes nicely, but due to its extreme warmth, is a less common suit choice.
Wool Mohair – Mohair is a fiber made from the hair of an angora goat and is known for being very durable with a nice lustrous sheen finish – but can also have a less subtle luster depending on the wool blend percentage, and is not known for being a soft fabric, but has more of a rough hand. Wool Mohair has great drape and can be worn year around because it adjusts to the weather; keeping you warm in the winter, but relatively cool in the summer. Also, the fibers of the mohair have a unique capability of resisting dirt entrapment as well as a resistance to wrinkling.
Wool Silk – Wool silk is a lighter weight cloth with a soft hand and slight sheen. It does have a tendency to wrinkle slightly, but does have an elegant look and perfect as a special occasions suit. Although it is light weight, it is very warm and is a better fit for fall and winter weather.
Wool Cashmere – Cashmere is obtained from a process of the hair of Capra Hircus goats raised in the Himalayas. This particular goat produces a very fine wool that is ultra soft and warm, which protects the animal from harsh winter conditions. Cashmere always offers a sense of elegance to any fabric blend, and worsted wool cashmere is no different. This luxurious cloth has a very soft hand and wonderful drape. It’s considered a dressier cloth and meant for swanky outings and social engagements, not for every day wear because it is not as long lasting or durable.
Velvet – Velvet is a tight weave of silk, cotton, and nylon. It is mostly used as a smoking jacket or holiday tux. It has a luxurious unique texture and very soft hand, and is definitely for the festive dressy occasion and not appropriate for most work-related functions.
Wool suiting fabric have classifications of softness, known as the Super number, which is related to the diameter of the fibers. The thinner and finer the fibers, the higher the Super, or “S” number. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has standards for grading wool: A grade 80s wool, for instance, must have a fiber diameter of no more than 17.70 microns, a 90s 19.25 or finer, all the way to the 210s at 13.25 microns or finer. Currently, several breeders of sheep are capable of getting fibers of 14 microns and less, and mills seem to create their own super numbers per cloth based off these special breeds. This causes some variation in “S” scale amongst mills around the world. Fortunately, the finest mills have special weaving processes to ensure these finer yarns create cloth that won’t fall apart while maintaining an ultra soft hand, and their high super numbers are justifiable. Also, mills that use the “S” value, must ensure that these wool weaves and blends are made entirely from natural fibers excluding any use of synthetic material.
Wool Suit Fabric Scale:
Spring: 7oz – 8oz is best. Lightweight but not too light. Perfect for warm weather as well as those random transitional brisk rainy spring days.
Summer: 6oz – 7 1/2oz A definite scale down for comfort in hot sultry weather.
All year around weight recommendation: 8oz – 9 1/2oz The worsted wool standard for the every-season suit.
Fall: 9 ½oz – 13oz Enough weight for chilly fall weather but comfortable during sporadic fall heat waves.
Winter: 14oz – 17oz A sure bet to staying warm in frigid weather.
For spring, a 7-8oz weight is best, and scaling down to 6-7 ½oz for summer. Fall calls for 9 ½-13oz, with winter a definite 14-17oz weight zone. Also, typically, a woolen (used for tweed and flannel) is not used for spring and summer fabrics due to its heavier fuzzy texture. Worsted wool (which is more satin-like with a smooth finish spun from combed long-staple wool) is an excellent standard all year around.
This is a great suit fabric for the guy who doesn’t necessarily need a suit for year around every day wear, but wants to look contemporary and stylish during those summer weddings or other social engagement during the mild-weather months. Cotton has breathability and absorbs sweat to keeps you cool. Unfortunately, cotton doesn’t fare so well in the wrinkle-free department, but as a “special occasion” suit, one can typically find ways of getting around this or simply doesn’t mind considering it cost significantly less than wool.
Although linen wrinkles uncontrollably and needs frequent laundering to keep any shape, it has been considered the go-to summer and tropical vacation suit fabric for decades. It’s very lightweight and simply has the greatest cooling capacity of any fabric. Fashion wise, the wrinkles are acceptable and just come with the territory.
With such a vast variety in suit fabric choices, there is definitely something for every gentleman; especially those who wear a suit on a regular basis for business and social engagements. And for those who don’t, it takes a little research and shopping around, but they too can be satisfied with a fantastic suit to add to their wardrobe.