Choosing a suit cloth is, in some ways, harder than any other area of clothing. Because they all look so similar.
If we leave aside the more aesthetic – and subjective areas – of colour and pattern, we are left with dozens of similar-looking suitings differentiated only by technical points of composition and construction.
Some of these points, however, are pretty important; others less so. In this post we will attempt to explain the difference, and therefore highlight which ones you should care about.
Below: Finished worsted suit from Camps de Luca, Paris
Let’s kick off with some definitions. Most suits are made from worsted wool. (We’ll cover flannels and woollen suitings in a separate post.) ‘Worsted’ refers to the yarn the cloth is woven from – longer fibres are used, and spun into a finer yarn.
This finer, sleeker, and more uniform yarn usually produces finer, sleeker cloth – which is why suits look so much sleeker than other woollen products.
But it can also be woven into fairly thick, heavy cloth, and finished to look woollier and fuzzier. It depends on what look and feel the weaver is going for.
One of the central aspects of suiting is the fineness of this wool fibre. It is measured in microns, and is often referred to by a ‘super’ numbers, eg Super 120s or Super 150s.
This is an important area, but also a potentially misleading one. We will deal with it in more detail in a separate post (on ‘superfines’).
Below: A fitting at Chittleborough & Morgan in a particularly thick and heavy worsted suit
A second key attribute of worsted cloth is its weight. This will be clearly marked and is measured in either ounces or grams.
Generally, a heavier cloth hangs better and lasts longer, but lightweight cloths are often seen as more luxurious and cooler in warmer climates.
Whether they are more luxurious is of course subjective, and changes over time. Coolness is more objective, and it’s fair to say that men can generally wear heavier cloths than they think.
Weight is driven by two things: the thickness of the yarn and the ‘construction’ of the cloth it is woven into.
Construction itself is a broad term and includes:
- how closely the yarn is set together on the loom;
- the pattern of the weaving;
- and how many warp and weft yarns are woven around each other.
Above: the twill of my Whitcomb & Shaftesbury navy suit
So for example, a twill will always be heavier than a plain weave in the same yarn, just because a twill is denser and therefore heavier.
The construction can also be important in how well the cloth hangs and retains its shape. A denser weave, like a twill, usually performs better in this respect, and is therefore a good option for suits or trousers. Sports-jacket materials tend to be softer and looser.
Most weaves are more about the pattern of the cloth than its weight and feel. But those can make a functional difference include gabardine (a twill denser in the warp), barathea (a dense, complicated weave) and satin (which creates the shiny look we associate with the term).
There will be another, later post in this series illustrating these weaves – largely in order to understand the aesthetic differences between them.
Below: A herringbone weave on my Caraceni jacket (a woollen though, rather than a worsted)
Two by what?
Another construction area that can cause confusion is phrases such as ‘2-and-2’ or ‘2-by-2’.
Generally a 2-and-2 weave means that the cloth is woven evenly, face and back, with two threads moving up and down on both sides.
The alternative is a 2-and-1 twill, with two threads on the face for every one on the back.
But there is also a ‘2-by-1′, which has a two-ply yarn in the warp (running along the cloth) and a single-ply yarn in the weft (running across it).
The weave is even in this case, but the variation is in the yarn itself. This construction is lightweight, but can also be rather fragile.
The vast majority of cloths are 2-and-2, although you do get heavier and more traditional cloths in a 3-and-3. Either way, this is towards the more technical and end of cloth attributes.
Below: A merino-wool waistcoat from my Cifonelli navy suit
More important is any variation in the fibre that goes into the yarn.
Some worsteds, for example, include a small amount of cashmere in them, in order to feel softer (often trying to replicate the feel of superfines).
There may be, say, 10% cashmere fibre spun in with 90% wool. At these proportions, the cloth is a little softer but still hangs and performs well. If the amount of cashmere were to be increased, however, it would start to make the cloth spongier and baggy – which is why 100% cashmere is rarely used for suits or trousers.
Most other worsted yarns are made with merino wool, though even here there are variations. Escorial, for example, is a merino that comes from a single flock in Tasmania and is particularly fine and springy.
(Other suiting fibres such as mohair, also often mixed with wool, will be dealt with in a separate post.)
Above: A brown worsted flannel trouser from PA Crowe.
Somewhere down the bottom of the list in terms of importance, is finishing.
The finishing of cloth – brushing, milling and so on – can vary a lot with woollens and other cloths. But it is fairly consistent with worsteds: they all tend to have a very clean, close finish to give them their sleek, smart appearance.
The exception is worsted flannels, which are milled to try and replicate the feeling of flannel, just in a lighter weight. And there are ‘crushed’ or semi-milled worsteds, though these are relatively rare.
Above: Fitting for high-twist brown suit with Dalcuore
Overall, colour and pattern are always going to be the most important things in the selection of a suiting.
But it’s worth understanding fineness and its effects, composition of different fibres, and the various things that go into determining weight.
Top image: Jamie Ferguson. All other images, Luke Carby
Very interesting, but what practical use is it when choosing a cloth in a tailors shop?
Well, hopefully a lot. As I say, the main issues are colour and pattern, which are style points, more subjective, and can only ever be covered in a piecemeal way.
But in terms of understand the cloth you are choosing, this guide allows you to do many things, such as:
– Know what worsted and woollen are, and which you want, when they come up
– Know the advantages of a heavier cloth, and that you can often wear heavier ones than you think
– Understand why that twill you picked last time hangs so well. And therefore pick another twill this time (for function as well as style)
– Know that a 2-by-1 has the disadvantage of being more delicate and less hard wearing
– Know why cashmere trousers are a bad idea
Take into account the fact that there is rarely any structural difference between mills (it’s just colour and pattern) and these are the kind of things that can be useful.
Also worth reading the first piece in this series: https://www.permanentstyle.com/2016/10/the-basics-of-selecting-cloth
If you have any other more specific questions, please add them here. I’m building a list that will become an FAQ later in the series
I have a question about “british” versus “italian” worsteds. I have the experience that cloth from Italy often is quite soft and even “oily” when I feel it and that those from Britain is more “dry” a little bit harder.
I compared two different plain worsteds. One was a Super120 Loro Piana Soft Touch and the other was a Super130 suit cloth from Huddersfield Co. They had the same weight but the touch was very different.
Do you have the same experience? My feeling is that the italian cloth is nicer but more sensitive.
That sounds like it is in the finish, given the fibres are pretty much the same.
Some questions about terminology: Does two-and-two only refer to an even twill? And can all two-and-two even twill worsteds be called serge? Can you describe a 2×2 hopsack as “two-and-two”, or is that only for serge? Also, gabardines are often woven 2×2, but aren’t even because there are more yarns in the warp than in the weft and are finished differently.
Thanks Matt. Perhaps worth having a separate Q&A on these more technical points and one on the practical points of picking between cloths
Two points .
Firstly regarding these articles.
These are some of the most ‘technical’ blogs you’ve written and certainly the most challenging to read.
I think a ‘idiot proof’ simpler explanation is needed ( certainly for this idiot !)
For those of us used to seeing a finished product to try and understand yarns , 2 at the front 1 at back is very difficult to quickly fathom.
Regardless of these articles are most welcome .
Secondly , how does one avoid the cloth on navy suits becoming shiny ?
Thanks, and good feedback. I’ll plan some that take it up a level. And navy question added to Q&A!
+1 on how to stop navy worsteds going shiny. Observed this on two business suits last week and wondering if I now need to replace (shame as only a few years old) and if so what to replace with!
Up to you on whether to replace, but it doesn’t look good – like fraying edges but worse.
Generally, you want to avoid lightweight and cheap materials. Don’t go for super numbers.
And consider how you wear the suit – generally it will go shiny at places it rubs a lot, so if there’s anything you can cut out (eg riding a bike in it) that will help too.
The best advice is to hardly ever dry clean the jackets & purchase extra trousers with each suit to prevent excessive wear from the pressing process.
What are the advantages of merino?
It’s finer and longer than most wool fibres. But can also add to questions
I find it hard to understand how Scabal’ s 290g Cortina cloth listed below can be considered appropriate for the colder months.At just over 10oz I would have thought it would be better suited to a warm spring or summer’s day.The author also describes the cloth as “courageous”. Words fail me.
Paul – I beleive ‘courageous’ to be an autocorrect fail of ‘gorgeous’ as I have seen it before in a similar context, strangely enough a handspinning tool https://thewoodemporium.co.uk/dropspindles.php
Can I ask your advice about a white dinner jacket. I am thinking of having one made for use in the summer. I was planning on a single-breasted peak lapel with one button. What advice would you have about cloth type and weight? Secondly, in terms of the lapels, would you have the same as the jacket, or use a moiré silk or cream grosgrain?
Off-white wool – so ivory, cream etc – for the material. And I would have the lapels in the same material. It’s a showy enough piece as it is, and is meant to be a bit more casual than black tie in any case.
What weight/cloth would you suggest? I browsed cloth today and narrowed it down to a either a 10/11oz cream barathea or a 10oz cream twill. Which would you suggest, or should I go heavier? It will mainly be used in warmer climates.
Hard go say without seeing them, but generally I prefer twills
Thanks for this very technical introduction. I think we would need time to understand all the intricacies!
For now, I would like to know what you think of blend cashmere and cotton used as knitwear. Is such a fabric hard-wearing? And is it suitable for Winter or rather for Spring and Summer?
And what about the same blend fabric mostly used for Summer jackets?
Generally wool is nicest for knitwear, including cashmeres, but cottons are a nice summer option, and a little cashmere is sometimes added to give it a touch of that wool/luxe feel. Just consider it as a cotton piece of knitwear – which can be cool, but will never have the same drape or natural stretch as wool.
Summer jackets can be nice in that yes, though often some linen or silk is added too
I hope you have planed to devote a piece exclusively focused on blend fabrics. Which are the best for suiting and which for jackets ? Such an Insight would be very useful to many of us!
@Rabster I hope you’re not cheating and ironing your suit yourself, because that’ll do it. If you must, place a piece of cloth between the iron and your suit to stop the ‘shining’ effect.
Simon, I’d like to know how the principal weaves that you find in suiting cloth books (twills, hopsack, pick and pick, plains, birdseye & nailhead) affect drape and performance.
Thanks – that’s obviously something we touch on in the piece, but I can expand on it.
Living in Miami where it is very hot and humid what weight of fabric or weave would you suggest for a suit keeping in mind that if you are buying bespoke you would want something that hangs well and is durable. Also keep in mind that most of the time while wearing a suit will be spent in air conditioning.
Hi. If you’re in air conditioning all the time then you shouldn’t have to worry too much. Stay around 11oz – that’s a nice balance between performance and lightness.
I have wide legs which wear out trousers very quickly (mostly in the inner part of the leg). I have asked my tailor ” and he suggested to use dry fabrics such as grisaille. Would you agree ?
The key things are heavier and hardier materials, and half linings.
As thoughts should soon be turning to commissions for the spring, it may be useful for some of your readers if you were to base your next piece in this series on cloths for warmer weather.
Good point Nick. We have a few scheduled that aren’t particularly seasonal, but I’ll certainly look to include that
Sorry Simon as a long term reader I have a few issues with these ‘guides’. They just aren’t very good for the following reasons; by aligning yourself with Scabal there is no proper reference to what the market actually provides (UK has some of the world’s best mills yet no real examples) and it is therefore comprimised and rather academic. Or at least it would be had you provided some reasonable illustrations of weave patterns (the internet is full of them). The ‘2 by what’ section would by far the better if the technical passages were thus illustrated. The same could be said for finishing and weight. For a guide it all seems a bit light and piecemeal? It goes entirely against the grain of Permanent Style wherein real world interaction places it above all others.
Thanks very much for your thoughts. I can see all of them except the point about Scabal: given I am not talking (at this point) about any mills and what they offer at all, it doesn’t really matter whether Scabal is involved or not.
I can certainly see how this could seem quite academic, but the point is to gradually build up a really good guide, and you can’t do that immediately. I’m using the feedback from these pieces to plan the future direction of it over the next year. Please do keep that feedback coming.
Hello again! I will be in London for two weeks in early December and again in mid January. Do you think that is enough time to do a good quality MTM suit for my first foray into custom(ish) suiting? I just need a simple black two-button that fits me beautifully, but I am hoping to spend around 1500 gbp. Where would you suggest for good quality fitting? Thanks for the help!
I’m looking to purchase my first bespoke suit and I am currently deciding between H&S Target / Perennial or Dormueil Iconik / Amadeus 365.
Do you have much experience with these fabrics? I am just after a conservative charcoal to wear in the office and to meetings. I only plan on wearing this suit once a week.
No I don’t I’m afraid, but don’t worry too much about the bunch and brand – focus on a decent weight (11oz and above probably) and whether you like the finish, design and colour.
So are you saying there’s not much point in paying a few hundred dollars extra to upgrade from a Dugdale Bros to Dormueil/H&S? The fabrics I’m looking at are literally the exact same to my eye (same colour, twill weave, & weight).
I am in Australia and it can get quite hot here during the Summer periods. Most MTM operators here mainly offer 260-280 grams (9-10oz). I noticed in several of your posts you have stated 11oz or 13oz is preferable – and you mentioned that it drapes better and is more durable for more frequent use (and 8+ hour work days).
I’m just worried about getting too hot – especially walking around during Spring even…
You should be fine in 11oz Wen. And yes, I wouldn’t upgrade for something you’re looking to be a day-to-day suit like this.
Awesome thanks Simon!
Hi Simon, great series and a related question on cloth. Am also considering the trade off between the benefits of a heavier suit weight and regular wearability. I tend to travel between New York and Toronto for work and wondering if you would consider stepping up to 13oz wearable year round or, given our summer heat, more of a three season weight? Thanks.
I would say more three season, yes…
Hi Simon. Thanks for all the great articles. I will be traveling to London at the end of the month to place an order for two bespoke suits (as I have a need for a grey and a navy suit) It will be my first time to go bespoke so I am looking forward to the experience. A slight concern I have is from reading comments that the first suit is never done quite perfectly, even with an expert tailor. The second suit in a following order turns out better. As I will be commissioning two suits at the same time, I don’t want to make a big purchase like this and end up with two suits that don’t fit quite right. As I don’t live in London, I don’t have the time to make so many trips there back and forth to do separate orders. That is why I will commission two during this first trip. Would you advise against this for a first time order?
The differences between the first and second will be small, but yes if you can I would advise in only ordering one suit the first time. As much because you will learn more about what you like and what you want in the suits as anything else
Picking up the remarks on blue material and the shining issue. This isn’t just a problem for the customer. It’s also a problem for the tailor who worked the cloth. Generally trousers are the worst affected . The best advice I can can offer is buy two pairs of trousers and rotate IE: wear and rest them religiously. Material which has an additional shade of blue in the weave such as a Birdseye shine less. Don’t be too optimistic about wearing trousers too tight material that has been stretched shines much more rapidly
Mr Crompton, I will attend a Caledonian Ball in my country next October. By that time it will be spring, maybe a cold one, perhaps like last year. I wonder which option would be more formal, if a DB, two-piece, charcoal pinstripe suit or a single breasted, three-piece, navy suit, being this cloth solid navy blue but with a very little herringbone texture (it has no white colour, but navy blue only). Could you please suggest which one would be appropriate? Thank you very much, I follow you from Montevideo, Uruguay.
I think the navy blue might be better. The DB with its pinstripes might suggest business too strongly.
I have been pondering where to post this question, I finally chose the “worsted suitings” guide. The time has come to replace my faithful gun club jacket after +25 years of service. Your Ciardi jacket is not far from what I am aiming at. Among the cloths within my reach, the Holland Sherry Peacock 826034 HS 1682 bunch best fits the bill from colour / design point of view. However I am somewhat puzzled by the cloth description. It reads “100% worsted wool”. I am going for something tweed-like, so wollen, fuzzy. I believe I have read you that worsted is a finish, often referred as “hard”, and sleek. However the guide says it can be made sleek or otherwise “woolen, fuzzy”, depending on what the manufacturer is seeking. These would be pretty much opposite alternatives that leave me nonplussed. Would you have some insight on what I could expect from that cloth?
Worsted and woollen are the types of yarn, and then the cloth itself can have various finishes on it. So worsted runs from very sleek to slightly fuzzy (eg worsted flannel) but usually will be harder and sleeker than woollen.
I haven’t tried that material but it looks to me like it is slightly sleeker than what you’re expecting – you probably want something in a woollen, yes
How would you characterize softness? I do not mean it as in the fineness that comes from a super 170s, etc. I was looking at a Lesser 13 oz, a Fox 11o.z and Dugdale 12.oz worsted twills and they had a different stiffness. Fox’s cloths seem quite stiff (also based on flannels vs others I have touched), whereas the Dugdale one was quite a bit softer (not necessarily finer). I believe this will mostly show in the drape of the garment and how it wears. Would you classify it based on density of cloth? However, the Fox was most see-through despite being the stiffest, so perhaps wasn’t that densely woven? I am a bit confused and would be interested to hear your opinion in general about the topic.
It’s affected by lots of things, Alex, which is why it could be confusing. Primarily denseness of weave, hardness of finish, and the twist of the yarn. They are usually aiming for a sharper line when worn, though
But if a 100% cashmere is worsted, is that better than pure 100% cashmere? I can’t seem to understand the distinction although it seems that the distinction does exist.
They’re both pure cashmere.
Worsted is a process that is done to smooth out the yarn – and it is generally referred to as woollen without this process, worsted with it.
Do you have any suggestions regarding heavier worsted cloth in the range of 15-16oz?
Ever since Lesser got rid of their 160z book which really had some very fine fabrics I have no idea
where to look for heavier suiting. Any recommendations would be helpful.
P.S. I am not looking for flannel.
To be honest Peter I haven’t looked at suitings like that for a while. Tweed jackets yes, but not suitings. Sorry
For Peter Z, I have found Pederson and Becker’s P&B Universal bunch to have many heaver weight worsted cloths, though 15 oz rather than 16 oz.
Hi Simon, quick question. I’m having a suit made and am coming in as someone who generally wore 8-9oz suiting as that’s whats offered mostly off the peg and MTM. Is there a difference in how an 11oz vs 13oz cloth wears in terms of warmth/durability etc? Going for a navy herringbone H&S and really just quibbling over the weight choice. Cheers
If you’ve never worn anything heavier than that before, I’d go with 11oz. There will be a slight improvement in drape and warmth etc with 13oz, but I would be a little afraid it would be too much, based on what you have normally worn.
For what it is worth for future readers, I went from inexpensive off-the-rack suits which were probably in the 6-8 oz range, to a 13 oz double-breasted bespoke suit, and I never noticed any issue with warmth. All I noticed was superior drape and wrinkle-resistance.
I’m considering pushing to 15 oz for my next suit given I’ve found no drawback to the heavier cloth.
Happy festive season.
Do you happen to know cloth merchants were regular guy could enquire and buy small amount of cloth for custom project with local tailor?
No, sorry. It’s not really how merchants operate I’m afraid
Simon is correct for the most part. But in Italy some drapperie are willing to sell cloth directly to retail customers, as does Tip Top Fabrics in Brooklyn.
Arguably more mills than merchants, but Fox Brothers will sell directly to clients. Ditto Josuha Ellis, though they don’t tend to have worsteds.
Simon – thanks for the excellent article.
I’m trying to get hold of a special fabric, of the type that could be found in the 1920s or 30s. My suit was made in 1932, and belonged to my grandfather. It is truly amazing, and I hope to wear it for the rest of my life. This seems a little unfair on my children however, and I would like to be able to have similar suits made for them. I have found a number of tailors who would be delighted to copy the suit design, but none of them have been able to source a fabric that even comes close to the feel/look/weight of this older weave. Furthermore, I have been told by a number of people that the industry simply lacks the expertise to be able to make this sort of cloth, and that I would be better off finding someone who has hoarded the cloth for a century. However I don’t buy this! Surely someone today is in the business of recreating the exceptional fabric of the late industrial period.
Do you know any weavers who you think would be up to the challenge?
I’m not sure I do, though you could ask the likes of Dugdales perhaps, who have done some recreations recently. The issue is that they would have to weave 60m (a ‘piece’) and probably more beforehand to make sure they got the right quality. Plus they may be limited not by their abilities, but by the spinners that supply the yarn. If cloths or yarns like you want are just not commercial, then you’re looking at a very high price for it to get made just for you. That’s why cloth clubs exist – to spread the cost among many potential customers.
Sorry I can’t be more optimistic.
Would you say there are cloths which favour different construction styles? For example if a worsted cloth is more tightly woven and a bit stuffer would it d’avoir being done by a more structured tailor vs let’s say a flannel which would suit a soft draped cut coat? Or even between worsteds, some have a softer handle than others even if in the same weight and weave. Are they more suitable for certain makers than others?
( I am not talking heavy vs light)
At the extremes, yes, but only then I find.
For example, a very fine, luxurious worsted needs a little bit of structure. If it were used in a completely destructured jacket it would look a bit like a bag of crisps. And a very casual material, like a soft and open tweed or cashmere, would be a little pointless if the structure underneath meant you didn’t appreciat that.
However, that is only the extremes. For the majority of cloths and the majority of makes, they play very happily together in different combinations. The bigger consideration really is what level of formality you are after – there’s no point having a formal cloth then a very informal make, if you want something smart. And vice versa.
I should also add that weight does make a big difference. If that fine worsted is rather heavier, it is much more able to drape well on its own.
I hope that helps
Great articles Simon, thanks! A related question: I live in Stockholm and will comission a navy suit for use all the year round. What weight would you recommend? Most likely, I will go for a plain weave. Thanks!
In Stockholm I’d suggest a minimum of 11oz, but ideally something like 13oz, given how cold it can get
Simon, I live in Manhattan (NYC). For Fall, winter and spring you think about Holland & Sherry 420 grams?
That sounds good. Obviously it will need a good coat in winter too, but it will be a good weight until it gets hot
Hi Simon, could I ask whether you think the cloth in the photo attached below looks worsted wool and dark grey to you? Personally, it’s pretty difficult to identify between worsted merino wool and flannels.
It looks worsted, but maybe closer to a mid-grey
I was wondering whether you know any nice, fairly heavy-weighted Italian worsted wool cloths? I would be grateful if you could suggest some for me as I am having a very difficult time choosing with worsted material…
One of the points I try to make in this piece Jack, is that it’s better to look at the weight and the super numbers on these cloths – because they don’t vary that much otherwise between mills.
What are you having trouble with, and why do you want an Italian mill?
It would have been a bit easier for me if I had a choice for an English mill, but unfortunately, due to the limited timeframe, my tailor won’t be able to complete the work for my desired date if I choose an English mill, which is limiting my choices suddenly as I preferred English mill for a worsted.
Some Italian worsted I have seen were lighter in weight than what I was looking for, although they had various options for super numbers.
I see. Well I would go for anything you can find in the right weight then, and preferably not something very fine like a super 150 plus
Many thanks, Simon
Hi Simon, I am looking for a mid-grey herringbone cloth for a worsted suit commission with a weight of around 11-13oz. I have noticed the English bunch, such as Smith’s or Lessers, don’t offer many high super numbers, such as the 120s. Would you have anything you could think of for a nice mid-grey herringbone, regardless of the price?
I don’t have a recommendation off the top of my head, as I haven’t looked for that particular cloth, but if you want 120s maybe look more at the Italians or Scabal, and also Holland & Sherry has some good ones. The only consistent issue you might find is that some of those finer fabrics are then used for lighter weights – because they can be, essentially
Okay, thanks, Simon.
I have been reading your article intensively for a year now. Recently, I have received a decent amount of compliments from several tailors in London for understanding processes and cloths with several terminologies. I am certain that these were due to your great articles and thoughtful responses to your readers. I would like to you say thank you, and I appreciate your great passion for your job and readers.
My pleasure Jack
do you think this cloth would make a good lined suit?
I would avoid it John, because hopsack is usually aimed at making jackets, and this indeed says it is for a blazer, suggesting a more open weave that might not be great for trousers. When hopsack does work well for trousers it also tends to a mid- to heavy weight, and this is pretty light