Super Wools And Worsteds - What Are They?
August 13th, 2007
An article about the basic cloths used in Savile Row tailoring.
There are all kinds of cloth material out there- wool, cashmere, vicuna etc. But for the moment I just want to let you know about the most widely-used cloth in the business, the classic "Wool Worsteds". This is the main cloth bespoke customers need to know about. These are used for about 90% of our business. The exotics I’ll cover at a later date.
English Wool Worsted is mostly woven in Yorkshire, Northern England and the English West Country. Like all crafts, there are smaller independents dotted around the UK, however the town of Huddersfield in Yorkshire has the big slice of the business.
Wool worsteds are usually made from Merino wool (which usually means Australian and New Zealand Merino sheep) and are supplied by all the London cloth merchants.
Wool Worsteds are very popular for a reason- they make up very well, and with a little care they can last for years. I and most of my customers wear them for this very same reason.
They come in a wide range of qualities- but when you're buying a suit, make sure you know what definition of "quality" you're using.
Is it "quality" in terms of texture and design? Or is it about durability and strength? Again, always ask yourself “What’s the suit for?” Remember this, or you could end up spending a lot more money and feeling sorely disappointed.
Worsted cloth is rated by numbers. Super 100’s, Super 150’s and higher. These numbers refer to the count, or fineness of the yarn used in the cloth. The finer the count (measured in microns), the more wool is used per square inch of the cloth. Hence the higher the number, the finer and softer the cloth.
To qualify as a good, hard-wearing and attractive wool worsted, it must be rated at least in the upper 80’s and 90’s.
The Super 120’s and higher are beautiful cloths, but there’s a price to pay, and not only financial. Although they do feel wonderful, the simple fact is they don't wear very well. They're simply not as durable as their lesser-numbered cousins.
I know this seems a little tragic, but still, if money is no object and you want to feel the finest stuff against your skin, go for the Super 150’s. Or if it’s something special that you won’t wear too often, then go treat yourself.
The other advantage of high-number wool worsteds is, because of the finer yarns used, the weavers are able to get more colors and intricate designs into the fabric. This can make them wholly tempting as you gaze at them and stroke them, when the tailor is showing you a sample.
Rest assured, no Savile Row tailor is going to sell you an inferior cloth, as the result to his reputation would be utterly disastrous. But just remember the cost of cloth can differ vastly, and not all for the same reasons.
In summary, Super Numbers look and feel fantastic, but don’t wear as well, and can add 20-30% to the cost of your suit. Your more affordable, classic worsteds are usually made into the timeless designs- pin stripes, chalk stripes, Prince of Wales checks etc. So you'll always have room for them in your wardrobe. They make up well and last for years. The downside is the designs are far more standardized.
A word of advice. It’s very easy for some obscure manufacturer to produce a sample bunch with all sorts of fancy numbers and claims on it. And you'll find out the hard way, a year down the line when the suit starts falling apart, how exaggerated these claims were. No tailor will know all of the manufacturers in the world. But if you look out for these familiar names you can be pretty confident of what you're getting:
London-based to note are Scabal, Wain Shiell, Lessers, Dormeuil, and Holland & Sherry.
Some excellent out-of-town companies are Dugdale Bros., Lear Browne & Dunsford, and H.E. Box.
- from the English Cut