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Men's Suit Fabrics

charcoal grey mens jacketWhen ordering a custom suit, a man is confronted with a sometimes daunting selection of fabrics. While proportion and fit are mostly dictated by your body, you may select your suit's fabric considering climate, occasion, and the image you hope to project. What follows is a primer on textile terminology intended to demystify the world of suit fabrics.

For centuries now, most men's suits have been made out of wool. This trusty textile drapes beautifully, maintains its form reliably, and can be spun (from raw fiber into yarn) and woven (from yarn into fabric) to be lightweight and breathable, or to be warm and cozy. Worsted wool, from which most suits are made, goes through a finishing process that leaves it smooth and somewhat shiny.

Suitings are often categorized by fineness. The yarn number, e.g. 90s, originally meant the number of 560-yard spools a spinner could get out of a pound of raw wool at the thickness in question, with three-digit numbers earning the prefix "Super." Since textiles are not strictly regulated in most countries, these numbers may be exaggerated. Finer yarns are smoother in appearance, softer to the touch, and produce lighter fabrics. They are also more expensive, less durable, and more prone to wrinkling. 80s wool makes beautiful suitings that are perfect for work. Super 100s is a bit more luxurious, and Super 120s is incredibly smooth. Many men believe that anything finer is too finicky for normal wear, but for those who crave decadently fine cloths the high-tech textile manufacturers turn out fabrics as fine as Super 200s.

The weight of the fabric, e.g. 10 oz, is what a yard of the material weighs. Heavier fabrics are, naturally, warmer than lighter ones. 10-12 oz suitings are ideal for spring and fall, as well as Northern summers and Southern winters (hence the term "three-season"). Lighter fabrics, often called "tropical" wool without a specific weight, are nearly as cool as shorts, perfect for hot summers. Flannel and tweed, in weights of 14 to 18 oz, are best for cold winters.

Wool flannel is not finished the same way that worsted wool is, and it is therefore softer, even slightly fuzzy. It can be heavy, for winter, or light, for spring, fall, and cooler summers. Flannel was the fabric of choice for corporate men of the post-war United States, as shown in the 1956 film The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and today it retains a prominent spot in the pantheon of business attire.


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