Men's Suit Fabric - 5 Easy Tips You Must Know to Choose the Right One

The suit fabric is undoubtedly the most important part of a suit. Yet, the question "How to choose the right fabric" has stumped many of us when we want to invest in a new suit. 

The Lancelot has been established for more than 5 years in Hong Kong. I have come across thousands of fabrics, the good, great and the best, so I can easily tell the quality of a piece of fabric as soon as I touch it. 

Today, I’m sharing 5 easy tips with you so you can make a better decision on which suit fabric to choose for your next bespoke suit.

  1. Suit Fabric Types
  2. Why Wool is The Best Fabric for Quality Suits?
  3. Wool vs Worsted Wool: What’s The Difference?
  4. What does Super Number Mean? Does the Brand of the Suit Fabric Matter?
  5. How to Choose the Right Suit Fabric for Yourself?

Suit Fabric Types

Fabrics Pros
Cons

Wool

Temperature regulating, breathable, holds its shape well, smooth and durable with a natural lustre

Slightly Wrinkle-prone

Cashmere

Exceptionally soft and smooth, keeps you warm in winter

Delicate and requires extra care

Mohair

Anti-sensitive and hold its shape very well

Less smooth

Silk

Lightweight, smooth and fine with a luxurious sheen

Fragile

Linen

Very breathable and durable, easy to dry

Wrinkle-prone

Vicuna

One of the softest and warmest materials

Precious fabric with a high price tag

Cotton

Breathable and durable

Wrinkle-prone

Polyester

Durable and affordable

Less breathable, can be a little stiff with an unnatural shininess



the-lancelot-tailor-cotton

Why Wool is The Best Fabric for Quality Suits?

With the advancement of textile technology, there are more and more types of suit fabrics, natural and synthetic, to choose from. However, wool is still the most ideal material for making suits, because of its 5 natural properties:

1. Absorbs Moisture

    At the same temperature given temperature, Wool absorbs the most moisture among cotton, neon and polyester. According to research done by Ermenegildo Zegna, Wool can store up to 30% of its weight in moisture without getting wet. Wool can also quickly release the moisture absorbed when the body sweats to keep you cool and dry during the hot weather (Of course, it also depends on the thickness of the suit fabric you’ve chosen).

    Wool vs cotton nylon polyester moisture absorption breathability

    (Source:Woolmark

     

    2. Breathable

      Wool is very breathable and Merino Wool is one of the most breathable fabrics. Some brands make use of different weaves to further increase their breathability for summer wear. For instance, Tropical is a Wool fabric made with a special weaving technique called Fresco.

      3. Great Insulator

        The natural curls in Wool fibre create pockets that envelop still air, insulating your skin from the cold air outside as it regulates the microclimate near your skin, keeping you warm, dry and comfortable.

        4. Durable

          Wool has an excellent natural elasticity, stretchability and recovery. The longer the wool fibre is, the higher the quality, and the more natural elasticity it has. Your Wool suit may form wrinkles after a day of wearing, but hanging it up for a day or two can easily strengthen them out.

          the-lancelot-wool-3dstructure

          5. Easy to dye

            Wool can be easily dyed into a variety of colours, making the design of wool suit fabrics limitless.


            Due to the temperature regulating abilities of wool, a 100% wool suit can keep you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. These 5 properties and the high durability of wool make it hands-down the best all-natural suiting fabric for quality suits.

            Wool vs Worsted Wool: What’s The Difference?

            When you pay attention to the suit fabric label, you may notice that some fabrics are labelled as Wool while some as Worsted Wool. Are there any differences between Wool and Worsted Wool? Or is Worsted just a fancy way to name Wool? Both are wool yet they feel differently and their manufacturing processes are not the same.

            Worsted Wool is a kind of Wool that has been specially treated. In the process of making Worsted yarn, the mill removes the short fibres by carding in order to produce a smooth and fine texture of Worsted Wool fabric.

            Whether the label says Worsted Wool or Wool, the most common suit fabric is actually Worsted Wool. (Don’t complain about getting a garment labelled as Wool when you asked for Worsted Wool, the assistant won’t know how to react unless that’s your intention)

            In addition to Worsted Wool, there is a non-Worsted fabric called Wollen. It retains the fussiness of the Wool fibre, giving it a layer of fleece on the surface. It’s hard to say whether Worsted or Woollen is better as they have different uses. The fuzziness surface of Woollen fabric can effectively trap air, that’s why it’s more suitable for winter. Generally speaking, whether it’s Woollen or Worsted fabric, usually Wool is written on the label only.

            the-lancelot-comparison-worsted-vs-woollen

            What does Super Number Mean? Does the Brand of the Suit Fabric Matter?

            I was obsessed with the details of suits since I was young, from suit fabric, fitting, and structure to design. Now that I’m a tailor, understanding the needs and wants of my clients becomes my second nature as I once had these burning questions and doubts too.

            There are thousands of suit fabrics you can choose from a bespoke tailor and it’s quite difficult for guests to understand the properties of each fabric without further explanation. Some guests do prefer making a few selections before asking for advice.

            In order to address this issue, I’ve designed a label for each bunch books from different fabric brands and rated them according to the 3 criteria that matter most to the wearer:

            1. Smoothness
            2. Thickness
            3. Retention (The ability to hold its shape)

            These simple and easy-to-understand ratings have taken account of the technical standards such as weight (Gram / Oz) and count (Super number) etc. However, are these technical terms actually useful to an ordinary person who merely wants to choose the right fabric for his next suit?

            Count (Super Numbers) in Suit Fabric

            the-lancelot-fabric-bunch-holland-and-sherry-dragonfly

            Count, also known as Super number, is a way of expressing the fineness of wool fibres.

            Let’s start with information you may be able to find on the internet:
            Traditionally, count refers to how many spools of yarn can be spun from a pound of raw wool. For example, if a pound of raw wool can be spun into 110 spools of yarn, the fabric is called Super 110s.

            In order to prevent the count value from being manipulated, the industry has used a more scientific method to classify the super number. The diameter of the wool fibre is inspected and measured under a microscope. The unit Micron (one-thousandth of a millimetre) is used in this case.

            According to the International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO) Super value standard:

            Super

            Microns

            Super 100's

            18.5 Microns

            Super 120's

            17.5 Microns

            Super 130's

            16.5 Microns

            Super 140's

            16 Microns

            Super 150's

            15.5 Microns

            Super 180's

            13.5 Microns

            Super 200's

            13 Microns

             

            That’s why 15 Milmil 15 from Ermenegildo Zegna Milmil collection translates to Super 160's - Super 170's as the diameter of the fibre used in this collection is 15 Microns.

            Theoretically speaking, the higher the Super number, the smoother and softer the texture of the fabric is.

            However, is it true?

            Here’s the secret of the super number no one has talked about. Let’s start by comparing fabrics from 3 different brands:

            • Reda Super 160's
            • Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15 (Around 160's - 170's)
            • Holland & Sherry Super 170's

            the-lancelot-comparison-reda-zegna-hollandsherry

            In Theory

            Reda Super 160's and Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15 should have similar smoothness, while Holland & Sherry Super 170's should be slightly smoother than Reda Super 160's and Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15 according to the Super Number stated.

            1st Holland & Sherry Super 170's
            2nd Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15
            3rd Reda Super 160's

            When you actually get to touch these 3 fabrics with your own hand, you will instantly find out that it’s a completely different story.

            In Reality

            Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15 is so much smoother than Reda Super 160's and it’s even slightly smoother than Holland & Sherry Super 170's.

            1st Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15
            2nd Holland & Sherry Super 170's
            3rd Reda Super 160's

            The smoothness of Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15 and Reda Super 160's is totally incomparable.

            *I must state that Reda Super 160's is of great quality, but the smoothness of Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15 is just phenomenal.

            So Does the Brand of the Suit Fabric Matter?

            Even if both fabrics have the same Super Number, they are different in terms of the texture and properties as each brand uses different raw materials and has its unique wool processing methods.

            The above example showed that the fabrics produced by Ermenegildo Zegna are indeed smoother than the other 2 brands while they all have similar Super Numbers. So does the brand matter when you choose the fabric for your suit? Definitely.

            In my experience, the two major elements that affect the quality of fabrics are the brand's "grade" and "origin".


            The origin of the brand affects how the fabrics are processed. The most obvious being Italian cloth and British cloth. Under the same grade and Super number, Italian fabrics are smoother, while British fabrics are better at retaining their shape.

            The best examples are Ermenegildo Zegna and Holland & Sherry mentioned above. While the Holland & Sherry Super 170's is not as smooth and fine as the Ermenegildo Zegna 15 Milmil 15, it holds its shape very well.

            The grade of the brand is often determined by the price of the fabric. Apart from the brand value, the price also reflects the cost to process the fabric in the mill.

            When the origin and the grade of the brands are similar, the Super number can be quite accurate to reflect the smoothness of the fabric. I.e. Suit fabrics from Reda, Dino Filarte and Vitale Barberis Canonico have similar textures when they have the same Super number in most cases.

            So, the best way to choose the fabric for your next bespoke suit is to consider the following 3 criteria and verify them by yourself:

            1. Smoothness

              The smoothness of the suit fabric does not only affects how you feel but also has a certain impact on the natural lustre of the fabric. You can consider the grade of the fabric and use the Super number as a reference. Most importantly, feel it with your hands.

              2. Thickness

                the-lancelot-fabric-weight

                The choice of thickness is based on your wearing habits and the climate of your country. You may feel hot if the fabric is too thick. Suit fabrics that are too thin are less durable. Generally speaking, the weight and thickness of the fabric are correlated, so you can determine the thickness of the suit fabric by its weight.

                Here is a table for your reference (suitable for Hong Kong climate):

                Oz

                Gram

                Seasons in Hong Kong

                6

                170

                Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

                7

                198

                Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

                8

                227

                Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

                9

                255

                Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

                10

                284

                Spring, Autumn, Winter

                11

                312

                Spring, Autumn, Winter

                12

                340

                Spring, Autumn, Winter

                13

                369

                Winter

                14

                397

                Winter

                15

                425

                Winter

                 

                3. Retention (The ability to hold its shape)

                  This criterion is difficult to measure and quantify. It depends on the experience of the tailors to give you a better idea of which fabric can hold its shape well. Usually, British fabrics can retain their shape better than Italian fabrics. Branded fabrics, Italian or British, generally have great shape retention abilities so I highly recommend you select branded fabrics.

                  We have covered a lot about quality suit fabrics above. So, how do you choose the right fabric for your suit? 

                  1. Budget

                  If your budget is below HKD$4,000, you are better off getting your suit from ready-to-wear suit brands. The quality of the suit fabric, as well as the cost of craftsmanship, has to be lowered in order to compromise the price. It’s also more difficult to get a good fit in this case. It’s recommended that you search for tailors with an average price of HKD$4,000 or above. If you are looking for 100% wool suits, you can expect that they’ll cost around HKD$5,000 and more than HKD$6,500 if you’d like to use quality and branded Italian/British suit fabrics.

                  2. Occasions and style preferences

                  Although most brands have a variety of fabric designs and colours, they generally have their own preferred styles. If you're a banker or a lawyer, you're probably looking for business suits with low-profile fabrics, and you'll find plenty of options in some brands, like Ermenegildo Zegna; On the contrary, if you looking for fabrics with more vibrant colours, you can consider Holland & Sherry.

                  3. Quality

                  From the example and explanation above, we understand that different brands have their own strengths. The prices of Ermenegildo Zegna and Holland & Sherry are similar. One produces smoother suit fabric while the latter holds better in shape. Experienced designers and tailors can point out the strengths and weaknesses of different brands. You can also do your own research to learn more about the origins of different brands. But most importantly, feel the fabric for yourself and let your tailor knows what you’re looking for and what’s important to you.

                  Thank you for staying till the end of this article. If this article provides you with new insights into choosing the right fabric for your next suit, please subscribe to our newsletter and share it with your friends who love wearing suits to show your support!

                   

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