Thursday, May 21, 2009

Back to the Basics: the Soul of the Suit

WIth the beginning of this new series let's look at what should be considered the soul of the suit: fabric.

Over the last year or so I posted several of these old Botany ads:

click to enlarge
Vintage tailors and suit companies knew that the fabric, though not the most important element, is vital when it comes to suit appearance. Why?

Heavier fabrics not only last longer than light-weight materials and help keep the wearer warm but they also add body to the suit and drape much better than light fabrics. What is drape? Drape is the name for how a material hangs and folds off of the body. Denser fabrics like those found in the days of old crease less easily and hang more elegantly than more modern light-weight fabrics that tend to fold and wrinkle.


Dense fabrics are hard to find today and modern fabrics equal in weight and quality to vintage fabrics are rare. Avoid "Super" fabrics (Super 100s, Super 120s, etc) as they are very thin with little body and tend to shine with wear and dry cleaning. The higher the "Super" number the lighter weight the fabric. Such 'miracle' materials are the trend nowadays but do not drape well, wear out quicker and are, quite frankly, cheaper quality than vintage fabrics.

4 comments:

Horatio said...

What you say is all true. However, denser/heavier fabrics are also considerably warmer than the thin materials in use today. Many to opine that the demise of thick fabric in men's suiting is a direct consequence of the ubiquitousness of central heating, with climate-controllable cars also playing a role. Since our houses, offices, and cars are warmer, we don't need warm(er) clothes.

I tend to hot, and am often comfortable in shirtsleeves when one of my colleagues is wearing a jacket over a sweater. As much as I would love to wear vintage-weight suits, I don't think I would be able to wear them for most of the year.

On the other hand, I can't wait to be able to afford a seersucker suit for warm weather....

Will said...

Correct, better heating systems in homes and cars as well as the decrease in walking in the elements has done away with heavier materials. Could just turn down the heat in the winter, it would help save some money too...

One good way to see if a fabric is decently heavy and higher quality is to bunch it up in your fist. If it bounces back without creases it is a good quality heavy weight fabric. If it wrinkles and creases without bouncing back it is modern thin junk.

Tim said...

Hey, here's a question/theory and if anyone can comment, I'd be much obliged...

Part of what discourages me when looking at today's suits is the knowledge that after even a couple of dry cleanings or even pressings, the glue in the fused lapels will cause these to go all wibbly-wobbly. A modern suit does this long before it wears out or even gets shiny and it just looks... not just bad and worn out, but CHEAP-ASS.

So here's a question: Is this a function of the thinner materials? I saw a navy suit the other day and didn't buy it because I already have one basic navy suit; but one thing I liked about it was that it was of a heavier material, maybe an '80's gabardine though I'm no expert. I find myself thinking that maybe that heavier material would resist the "dry clean wobble" that happens.

Whaddaya think?

Will said...

Hey Tim, I only recently saw your comment.

You're right about the fused suits: the fusing wears out and distorts far too quickly. Only one of many shortcomings of modern suits. High quality modern and vintage suits that aren't fused will not wear as quickly.

As for the lighter materials, they are cheaper and easier to mass produce than materials of the past. A side benefit for the companies that sell them is that they also wear out quicker than heavier vintage fabrics, thereby forcing men to buy more or better suits.

A heavier material might resist longer than a lighter one but in the end the poor manufacturing techniques will catch up with it. A fused suit will always die before a quality suit that is 100% hand or even machine stitched.

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