The world of fabrics can be confusing and intimidating if you don’t know your way around. That’s why salespeople like it; they can intimidate you into buying something because they’re throwing out terminology that you don’t quite understand and, if you’re like many, are too embarrassed to ask more about.
We really like to explain to our clients the process of how a suit is constructed, what a poor-fitting suit looks like and how we’re going to make them a fantastic fitting suit. But we also like to go into detail about the types of fabrics we offer and how they’re milled so they can become critics of fabric themselves and understand the what fabrics are best for them.
We use three basic metrics to understand a fabric: Super Number, Weight, and Twist.
1. Super Number
Simply put, the Super Number is similar to a thread count in that it’s going to help you understand how soft a fabric is. The higher the super number, the finer the fabric is.
To get a little more detailed, the Super Number refers to the width of the yarn in microns.Since the Industrial Revolution, technology has enabled mills to spin wool to a much finer degree, so much so that microns is the preferred measurement (which is one millionth of a meter).
To give you an idea of how small a micron is, take a look at this:
A Super 120 fabric is just 17.5 microns wide, which is just 25% the width of a human hair.
Now, as you can imagine, the finer the yarn, the softer the cloth, and the more drape it will have, but that’s also going to affect the yarn's durability. Very fine fabrics, like Super 140+ won’t stand up to everyday wear as well as a Super 110 or Super 120.
For work wear, we suggest going with a fabric between a Super 100 and Super 130, anything finer than that, you should be wearing only a few times a month, tops.
Here’s a helpful little table to help you understand the Super Number in relation to its micron count:
Super 100 -- 18.5 microns
Super 110 -- 18.0 microns
Super 120 -- 17.5 microns
Super 130 -- 17.0 microns
Super 140 -- 16.5 microns
Super 150 -- 16.0 microns
Super 160 -- 15.5 microns
Super 170 -- 15.0 microns
2. Fabric Weight
A fabric's weight, in ounces or grams, is going to tell you which season it is most appropriate for. A typical year-round weight is between 225 grams and 285 grams (8 oz to 10 oz).
Living in Michigan, there are only a couple months in which the weather is “four seasons” worthy. So we prefer to wear over 300 grams (nice and heavy) in the winter time and, during the hot summer months, we choosing lightweight wools (under 220 grams) as well as specialty fabrics. See this post for more information on fabrics to choose from in the summer.
The last metric used to judge a fabric is its twist. The twist describes the variances of how the fabric's yarns are twisted together.
When fabrics are woven together, over time they will lose their round shape and begin to flatten out. High-twist fabrics use threads that are twisted together, then woven together in order to retain the round shape of the thread, thus maintaining proper air flow through the fabrics. The name will vary depending on the mill, but generally you can call high-twist (plain weave) fabrics Fresco, Crispaire, or Doppio Ritorto.
Understanding these three metrics will give you a leg up on menswear salesman, so you can make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting and how to get the best bang for your buck.