A Guide to Fabric
Deciding what fabrics is best when it comes to buying a suit is important – and complicated. The fact of the matter is, suits symbolise sophistication and offer a chance to showcase personal style. A suit should be chosen – not simply for its superior fit or luxurious touch – but also for the fabric from which it was crafted.
There are only a handful of fabrics designed for suiting, which makes the decision easier, but certain factors must considered when buying the perfect one.
There is the breathability of the fabric. In summer, the fight is on against the sweaty-back. Then old man winter blows on in and the casual stroll to work turns into a run, brought on by sheer determination to keep warm for the chilling cold.
Fabric softness is a second factor. Who wants to be enraged by itchy suit pants? Or feel trapped, tight and unable to move because of an over-starched jacket that is likely to snap if pushed too hard?
Wool is the most popular fabric choice for men due to its versatility and refined aesthetic. Wool is a natural material, which means it breathes well, and can be worn both in the heat of the day or the cool of the night. It is soft and wrinkle free but is sometimes criticised by those wanting lighter, more slimming fabrics. Common wool types include tweed, flannel, cashmere, merino and worsted.
Worsted wool is a compact textile that is smooth and boasts a high durability. Most wool requires that the natural fibre be spun. But not worsted. Instead, the wool is first combed in a carding process to remove any short and brittle fibres. This leaves only the longer strands of the fibre to undergo the spinning process, producing a smooth toughness. Worsted can be woven in a number of ways, producing flannel, tweed, gabardine and fresco cloths.
Cashmere, on its own or as a blend, is rather luxurious but can give an unwanted shine to a suit. Depending on whether you want something fancily European or not, cashmere may not be suitable for work. But for pleasure? Always.
Tip: Choose wool as an all-year option for suits. Best for slimmer men and those wanting a more luxurious look (especially cashmere) for work wear, as well as formal occasions.
Cotton is the second most popular fabric for suits and is derived from plant fibres. Cotton suits move and breathe well but tend to crease easily, which can make the suit look sloppy. They are satisfactory when it comes to softness but lag behind in the luxury department when compared to wool fabrics.
Tip: Choose cotton in the spring, summer and autumn. Suits all body types and those wanting a semi-formal look to outdoor events. For work, choose reasonably heavy cotton or wool/cotton blend as this helps the fabric retain its silhouette.
Linen suits are super lightweight and maintain their coolness in soaring temperatures. However, linen wrinkles easily and stains even easier, meaning it requires regular dry cleaning to maintain a fresh, crisp look.
Tips: Choose linen in the summer. Best worn as a more casual alternative to cotton or wool. Suits larger body types to be worn at semi-formal events but never to the office.
Polyester is made from synthetic materials (not natural like wool) and is deemed lower quality. It usually comes blended with another fibre, such as wool, in order to cut costs. Suit fabrics that are made from polyester tend to wrinkle (more than wool but less than linen) and have a reputation for not breathing very well. Polyester produces more fabric shine compared to wool and cotton, making the suit look cheap.
Tip: Polyester should only be worn in spring and autumn to avoid extreme temperatures. Opt for a blend with wool to increase quality and wearability to formal events. Suits most body types for dressy casual events and office wear.
Derived from insects, silk is an animal protein typically used by moths to build cocoons. Silk offers superior comfort and is much more expensive than polyester to produce. It is a breathable fabric and a natural temperature regulator, helping the body retain heat in cold weather while excess heat is expelled in warm weather.
Tips: Silk can be worn in spring, summer, autumn and winter. Suits most body types and is perfect for luxurious events.
Velvet is a closely woven fabric of silk, cotton and nylon. For suiting, velvet mostly applies to the smoking jacket. The texture of velvet is luxurious to touch and it is breathable. But due to its blending with nylon, is less aerated than silk.
Tips: Velvet is great for a dinner party jacket to be worn all year. Keep it away far, far away from the office.
Even if you’ve mastered the Gospel of Suit Fabrics, thread count and cloth weight remains another matter. According to Thomas Pink, Britain’s leading suit connoisseur, here are you’re your typical fabric weights, as well as what type of suit and season they are most suitable for:
7oz – 9oz: Lightweight. Ideal for the peak of summer here. Think African plains hot.
9.5oz – 11oz: Light to mid weight. Perfect for moving from spring to summer and late summer to autumn. Cause we all love awkward transitions.
11oz – 12oz: Mid weight. Perfect as the go-to fabric weight for most days. Choose this for your first suit purchase.
12oz – 13oz: Heavier mid weight. A satisfactory choice for daily wear, though maybe a little too hot to handle in the peak of summer.
14oz – 19oz: Heavy. Great on a cold autumn or winter’s day. Warmth made easy.
Suits can be an expensive investment, so it is important to get it right. Identify what season you plan to wear it, your body type, and level of comfort you are looking for. From there, you can’t go wrong.