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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Suiting Fabrics for Your Suits

Weight, texture, fiber, and cost are critical.
Suit Fabrics
Suit fabrics are made from natural or manmade fibers or a combination of the two.  Fibers that are used for suits include wool, silk, linen, polyester, and others.  A suit should be selected not simply for its superior fit or luxurious touch, but also for the fabric from which it was crafted.

One of the most popular fibers used for suiting fabrics is wool. 

Cotton is the second most popular fabric for suits and is derived from plant fibers.  Cotton suits move and breathe well but tend to crease easily, which can make the suit look unkempt or sloppy.  Cotton suits need to be steamed frequently to help reduce wrinkles.  Purchasing a hand steamer is not a bad idea.

Silk is derived from insects.  The silk is an animal protein typically used by moths (silk worms) to build cocoons.  Silk offers superior comfort and is significantly 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.  Yeah, that’s pretty cool isn’t it.

Linen suits are super lightweight and maintain a cooling factor in hot temperatures.  The negative similar to cotton is that linen fabric wrinkles very easily.

Cashmere, on its own or as a blend, is rather luxurious but can give possibly give an unwanted shine to a suit.  The attraction to cashmere is the incredibly soft hand of fabric.

Polyester is made from synthetic materials (man-made fibers) and is typically deemed lower quality than a natural fiber suit such as wool, linen, or cotton.  A polyester suit usually comes blended with another fiber, such as wool.  Poly is mixed with wool to keep the cost of the fabric down.  Suits made from polyester tend to wrinkle a bit more than wool but definitely less than linen.  The fabric does not breathe as well as cotton, wool, or linen.  Polyester produces more fabric shine compared to wool and cotton, making the suit look cheap.

Mohair is usually a silk-like fabric or yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat.  Both durable and resilient, mohair is notable for its high luster and sheen, which has helped give it the nickname the "Diamond Fiber", and is often used in fiber blends to add these qualities to a textile.  Mohair takes dye exceptionally well. Mohair is warm in winter as it has excellent insulating properties, while remaining cool in summer due to its moisture wicking properties.  Mohair is used in scarves, winter hats, suits, sweaters, coats, and socks.  Again, this fiber is from the Angora “goat”.  It should not be confused with the Angora rabbit.

Above are only some of the suiting fabrications.

Because wool is the most popular fiber used for suiting fabrics, lets discuss wool a bit more.

Wool is a natural fiber.  It is a fibre with a true ‘green’ lineage that is both sustainable and biodegradable - which are now highly valuable assets to the textile industry.  This environmental advantage is increasingly a sought after requirement of fiber but wool has many other inherent benefits that have historically earned it a quality reputation from global manufacturers and consumers.

Today wool is still the world’s leading animal natural fiber: its complex protein structure is responsible for unique characteristics and properties – such as exceptional resilience and elasticity – that synthetic fibers simply cannot match.  Wool has natural crimpiness and scale patterns that make it easy to spin.  Fabrics made from wool have greater bulk than other textiles, provide better insulation and are resilient, elastic and durable.

The wool fiber varies from super fine Merino fiber similar to cashmere, to very coarse hairy wools.  The diameter of the fiber determines its final use and value.  Fiber diameter ranges from 16 microns in superfine merino wool (similar to cashmere) to more than 40 microns in coarse hairy wools.  Learn about sheep who are gracious enough to provide us such wonderful wool for making suits and other fine garments.

Wool suits are generally made with worsted wool. 

What is the difference between worsted wool and woolen wool?

Worsted wool is probably the most popular fabric for men’s suits in the world, and although many fabrics are technically worsteds, there are many different qualities.  Combed or carded yarns can be used to make worsted fabrics.  Worsted is a type of wool yarn, the fabric made from this yarn, and a yarn weight category. The name derives from Worstead, a village in the English county of Norfolk. That village, together with North Walsham and Aylsham, formed a manufacturing center for yarn and cloth in the 12th century, when pasture enclosure and liming rendered the East Anglian soil too rich for the older agrarian sheep breeds. In the same period, many weavers from Flanders moved to Norfolk.  "Worsted" yarns/fabrics are distinct from woolens (though both are made from sheep's wool): the former is considered stronger, finer, smoother, and harder than the latter.  Worsted wool fabric is typically used in the making of tailored garments such as suits, as opposed to woollen wool, which is used for knitted items such as sweaters and sports coats.

Worsted can be woven in a number of ways, producing flannel, tweed, gabardine and fresco cloths.

Woolen: Woolen (American English) or woollen (Commonwealth English) is a type of yarn made from carded wool.  Woolen yarn is soft, light, stretchy, and full of air. It is thus a good insulator, and makes a good knitting yarn.  Woolen yarn is in contrast to worsted yarn, in which the fibers are combed to lie parallel rather than carded, producing a hard, strong yarn.  The resultant fabrics will be classified as being either woolen or worsted, but this designation is assigned during fiber processing and yarn formation, not in the cloth or finished garment.

The worsted processing route is more complex than the woolen process and requires the removal of short fibers and the use of a focused mechanical process to make the individual fibers parallel to each other. The yarn formation process is significantly more comprehensive and results in a very sleek yarn which will offer a clean looking woven fabric, such as for suitings.

The origin of the name worsted goes back to the 12th century, when the English city of Worstead in Norfolk, along with a few other cities in the area, became a manufacturing center of cloth weaving.

Wool merchants in the city of Bradford, England rated the quality of wool by estimating how many hanks could be spun by a skilled spinner from a pound of combed wool.   A hank was defined as a single strand yarn of 560 yards length.  This process became known as the English Worsted Yarn Count System or Bradford System.

The finer the average diameter of a single wool fiber, the more hanks could be spun. Normal wool yielded 44 hanks, which was classified as 44’s wool (or 44 singles).  Finer wool produced 64’s (64 singles) and the finest wool back then reached 80’s (80 singles).  As yarn manufacturing technology progressed the “super” number were developed.  For example, now we have terms such as “super 100’s” which is a finer quality.

On December 21, 1968, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the United States Standards for Grade Wool, which assigned ranges of average fiber diameter (AFD) and maximum standard deviation to each Bradford count.  According to standards, Grade 80’s Wool had to have an average fiber diameter of 17.70 to 19.14 microns, inclusive, and a standard deviation in fiber diameter of 4.09 microns or less. Other commonly used numbers were  80s, 70s, 64s, 62s, 60s, 58s, 56s, 54s, 50s, 48s, 46s, 44s, 40s, and 36s.

The system can because a bit daunting.  Fortunately, many wool suiting manufacturers follow the Fabric Labelling Code of Practice by the International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO).  Superfine woven wool fabric labelling — Requirements for Super S code definition

When selecting suit fabric, the weight is important.  Below are a few general guidelines, but the apparel industry unfortunately does not have strict standards that are followed by every supplier.  This is a general guide for reference.

7oz – 9oz: Lightweight. Ideal for the peak of summer. Think African plains hot.

9.5oz – 11oz: Light to mid weight. Perfect for moving from spring to summer and late summer to autumn.

11oz – 12oz: Mid weight. Perfect as the go-to fabric weight for most days. If you can only buy one suit, this might be the weight.  Obviously, this depends on where you live.

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. This may be a good weight if you live in the North East of the United States.  The heavy fabric helps with the warmth.

Suggested reading:

Worsted Wool Suiting Guide (Gentleman’s Gazette)

Suit fabric and sport coat fabrics are different.  Some can be intermingled, but sports coat fabric typically has more options.

Choosing which fabric a suit is made out of can be one of the most important decisions to make when buying a men’s or women’s suit.  A fabric's breathability factor can determine how hot the wearer of the suit gets as the day or night goes on.  Body heat that gets trapped against fabric that can't breathe well will build up and make a person sweat.  You certainly don’t want to be sweating all over your new suit.  Keep in mind suits are generally not cheap.  Make sure to do proper research before selecting the garment that you plan to purchase.  It’s an investment.  Plan and purchase wisely.  Fabrics that are softer will typically (but not always) make a suit more expensive. The luscious hand is part of the reason why silk suits and cashmere suits are more pricey than ruff feeling fabrics.  People will pay more to feel comfortable, and the more breathable and more comfortable a suit's fabric is, the more expensive that suit will be.

Take your time and do some more reading about the best suit fabrics.  You will find plenty of articles and blog posts online.  In addition to reading, you should visit a fine boutique and speak to the sales employees and tailor.

Find fabric mills around the world.

If you would like to purchase a suit, you can visit the men’s suit store directory or simply do a search on Google or Bing.

Now that you have a better understanding about tailored clothing fabrics, maybe you would have interest in learning more about dress shirt fabrics.

Hopefully this blog post helped you learn a little more about suiting fabrics than you know before you found this page.  If you are an expert on the subject, you are welcome to add more education information in the comments section to help others learn from your knowledge.

What is the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure?

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