Some of us will be happy with a suit from the clothing section of our local supermarket, others will search far and wide in a bid to find one that fits their body, and lifestyle, to a tee.
Suffice to say, it’s the latter group which make the biggest impression.
Unfortunately, choosing a suit is no easy task. To make matters even more complicated, the industry is cut-throat and you’re not necessarily going to be given a true representation of what a suit offers by a pushy tailor.
While there are several elements that craft the perfect suit, there’s no doubt that the fabric is key. As such, we’ve put together this guide – read on if you want to find the perfect fabric for your next suit.
When should you choose your suit fabric?
As soon as that light-bulb goes off that says you need a new suit, the choice of fabric should be right in your mind.
Most people immediately dismiss the fabric and will merely wish to concentrate on style and possibly size. However, the fabric is something that can make or break your suit, particularly if you are purchasing it for a specific purpose.
For example, let’s say you reside in a hot climate. It’s in these cases where a heavy fabric just isn’t going to work – you’ll be sweating buckets.
Instead, you need something light, possibly between 7oz and 11oz. At the same time, if you live in the middle of the arctic, suits of this weight just aren’t going to work either.
In these cases you might need something ultra-heavy, maybe up to 19oz – there are big decisions to be made here. Here’s some guidance to show just how the suit weights correlate with the climate:
- 7oz – 9oz – We’ve just mentioned this weight, which is one of the lightest around when it comes to fabrics. As such, it’s ideal for summer – but a definite no-go for the winter months.
- 9.5oz – 11oz – Unsurprisingly, the slight increase in weight means that you can get away with temperatures that are slightly lower. The experts suggest that if you are looking for a suit between spring and summer, something of this weight will be ideal.
- 11oz – 12oz – Things start to get a bit heavier here, although the general advice is that fabrics within this range are suitable for all-year round. In fact, if you’re buying your first suit, turning to this range is the best course of action.
- 12oz – 13oz – We’re getting into pretty heavy fabrics now, but the experts suggest that this range is perfect if you’re looking for a suit to wear on a day-to-day basis. Of course, if it’s in summer, this might be a little too hot and you’ll have to tone back to one of the lower fabric weights.
- 14oz – 190z – As you may have guessed, this is one of the heaviest materials around. It’s perfect for the cold months and will keep you warm no matter what.
You see, most guys don’t really pay much attention to the fabric – and will perhaps let issues such as cost and style determine it for them.
If you’re going through the proper process of choosing a suit, you need to let your circumstances decide on the fabric, and everything will fall into place after.
With so many fabrics now on the market, which ones are going to be suitable for your purposes? Let’s take a look at some of the main contenders.
Velvet is actually a combination of materials; woven silk, cotton and nylon. The first impression will be that it is luxurious and if you’re looking for some sort of dinner jacket for everyday use, it can be perfect.
However, there are downsides. Due to the fact it contains nylon, it’s not the most aerated fabric out there. It means that you certainly wouldn’t get away with wearing it in the office every day.
Over recent years, this is one material that has certainly come into the public eye much more often. Polyester is made from synthetic materials and unsurprisingly is of much lower quality than natural alternatives.
Generally, polyester is combined with something like wool as manufacturers attempt to slash their costs. Therefore, for anyone operating on a budget, this is always a good choice.
However, there are plenty of downsides. Most people can spot a polyester suit a mile away – it shines like nothing else. Unfortunately, this also means that people are quick to realise that it’s a cheap suit.
There is also the wrinkle factor, while suits made from this material don’t tend to breathe. It’s for this latter reason that a polyester suit should never be worn in warm weather. If you are looking towards this material, at least try and maximise the amount of wool it is combined with.
Usually, these suits are for casual events – most people wouldn’t dare take one to something formal.
In complete contrast to the previous fabric, next on our list is silk. Strangely, this is an animal protein that is used by moths to build their cocoons.
Bearing this in mind, it won’t come as any surprise to hear that silk is a lot more expensive to source, but at the same time it’s a luxurious and premium fabric.
In terms of the specifics, silk is one of the most breathable fabrics around and this means that it’s excellent in varying temperatures. For example, if it’s cold it will help your body retain heat, while it will allow heat to escape if the temperature rises.
Some might suggest that silk is too luxurious for informal events, but for anything else it most certainly does the trick. It can be used all-year round and the make-up of the material means that it suits pretty much every body type going.
This is one of the most popular fabrics when it comes to suits and again, it’s naturally derived. Specifically, it comes from plant fibres and the end result is that it breathes well and will also fit to your body really easily.
The downside of cotton is that it is one material which creases really easily, while it doesn’t retain that premium softness that some of the other fabrics have.
However, cotton is a material that is suitable for most body types and will suffice for both work and semi-formal events. Typically, it’s not good in cold weather, but for autumn, spring and summer it’s fine.
For those of you looking for a suit for the summer, linen tends to be right up there as a good choice. This is one of the lightest materials around and as such, you will always stay cool during the warmer months.
Of course, it’s not without its pitfalls. Wrinkles can occur quite easily, as do stains, meaning it’s a fabric that does require a lot of TLC.
This is also a fabric which can look better on larger body types.
This is actually a form of wool and while we’ve all heard about how much of a premium material cashmere is, don’t immediately think that it’s the perfect fabric for a suit.
As much as cashmere is luxurious, it does prompt something of a shine and this can put some guys off it. It’s all about your own style and if you do like the shine-factor, it might be up your street. Many believe that this is one reason why cashmere is never really going to be suited for the work suit.
In terms of seasonality, this is a material which is fine throughout the year. The experts suggest that it’s more suited to slim body types as well.
There’s no doubt that wool is the most popular fabric choice for men, with this natural material holding various properties that make it a firm favourite.
It’s versatile, breathes well and is suitable for varying climates. Additionally, it’s pretty much wrinkle free and holds a degree of softness.
All of these factors mean that it is often combined with other materials, such as polyester, as manufacturers bid to get the best of both worlds.
There are some downsides, with the material tending to be heavier than others which can put some guys off.
Worsted wool suits
Worsted wool is a more compact fabric that retains a smooth feel. The big difference between this and other types of wool is that rather than being spun, the wool is obviously worsted. This means that any brittle fibres are removed, leaving only the best and longest strands of fibre in the fabric.
Worsted wool tends to be really durable, which could be a deciding factor if you wear your suit on a frequent basis.
What are all of the super wools about?
As you may have just realised, there are some major advantages in turning to a wool suit. Worsted wool in particular is really popular, although some might suggest that things start to get complex as the fabric suppliers start to discuss “Super 100s”.
In short, this is the way in which a wool’s quality is described. The rule is that the higher the number, the higher the quality of your fabric.
In defining high quality, it basically means how fine the fabric is (which also has the knock-on effect of saying how light it is).
If we delve into the specifics, it actually revolves around sheep. As we all know, this is the animal in which wool is derived from and the better the sheep, the better the wool.
When the sheep is sheared, the thickness of the natural fibres is measured. If the measurement comes finer than 18.5 miners, the wool immediately has the Super 100s tag attached to it. Of course, things can get much better and the scale can go to 110s, 120s, 130s and beyond.
In fact, there are some wools with a super-rating of 200. These are exceptionally rare, and very few sheep in the world would produce such wool. It should go without saying at this point that the prices of this wool can skyrocket due to the rarity.
There is then the argument of whether this “better quality” wool is going to be a suitable fabric for your suit. Few would disagree that it feels much better as it is softer and lighter, but in terms of performance there are varying answers.
For example, this finer fabric is naturally going to encourage a lot more wrinkles. At the same time, as it is so much thinner, there is an obvious durability factor.
Therefore, even if your budget allows, buying a high “super 100s” wool is not necessarily going to net you a fabric that is perfect for your circumstances. If you are intending to wear a suit all-day, every day, the durability issue obviously comes into play and one of the lower figures may be more suitable.
We highly recommend that your super 160 wool suit is blended with other materials, such as cashmere (25%) and silk (5%) to help with wrinkling. You will still get the high quality feel of the super wool.
Of course, if you are looking for a suit that will make a dashing impression just for special occasions and price is no object, you can then turn to one of the higher ratings.
Buying your own fabric
Now that we have mulled over all of the main fabric types and the famous “super 100s” system, it’s worth leaving a few points on how to buy your own fabric.
This is something that is becoming more and more common, as men start to become more demanding with their choice of suit. Instead of purchasing one directly from a tailor, they will order the fabric before sending this off to be made.
Of course, there are plenty of considerations before pushing through with this. As well as finding a suitable material based on the above, you should research the following:
Who are you buying from? – The reason why most people buy their own fabric is for price. When you combine the cost of sourcing the fabric with getting it made into a fully-fledged suit, it’s still much cheaper than turning to a tailor from the start.
However, there are times when the cost just seems far too good to be true. It’s in these cases where you really need to scrutinize the seller and see if they are legit.
You need to pull out as much information as you possibly can on them, finding out their general reputation and how many times they have sold the particular fabric. With auction sites such as eBay this is much easier, but it’s all about utilizing whatever information you have available.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are reasons for these fabrics to be priced very low. Sometimes sellers will have the final piece sitting in their warehouse and want to get rid of it, which is perfectly normal when you consider the costs involved in storing this inventory.
How much fabric are you buying? – Secondly, you need to ensure that you are purchasing sufficient quantities of the fabric.
While the rules will change in each different case, one general policy is that the typical guy will need about 3.5m of fabric. Then again, this is a guideline – most suggest purchasing a little bit extra fabric just to stay on the safe side.
Something else which a lot of people don’t think about is if the fabric has a pattern on it. In these cases you will generally require a little bit more, for the simple reason that the tailor is going to need to “match the patterns” up and this is made much simpler if there is slightly more fabric to play with.
Some fabrics have the unfortunate ability of shrinking as soon as they are subjected to heat. Again, it’s a reason why you always need to order more than you really think.
If you do hit the situation where you have underestimate the amount of fabric you need, in the long-run it is going to cost you significantly more money than if you’d played safe.
A summary on choosing the right suit fabric
As you can see, the process of buying a suit fabric is certainly not simple. The amount of materials that are available is extensive to say the least and when you then delve into all of the wool varieties, things again take a turn for the more complicated.
However, the good thing about this process is that your circumstances will often make the decision for you. If you need a suit for the winter months, a lot of fabrics are immediately unsuitable.
Similarly, if you’re looking for a fabric for the office, we’ve already seen that some are just not durable and are only suitable for one-off occasions.
Therefore, the best advice is to determine your exact requirements and go from there. There might be compromises along the way in relation to price, but as we have also seen through this guide, sometimes a high price certainly doesn’t mean that a suit is going to be appropriate for your requirements.