The Letter “S”
What's so Super about Super 100's?
If you're like most guys, you want to know why something is as good as they say it is. With wine, it's the grape, the vintage, and the region. With diamonds, it's color, cut, and clarity. The suit you spend a lot of time finding, fitting, and wearing (and maybe paying for) often has a rather fuzzy (no pun intended) set of attributes to justify the price you're paying.
Is there an objective way to compare suit fabric quality? The salesperson at the specialty store told me it's "Super 100s Wool" so it must be good, right? A hundred of anything is pretty good, right? However, this "supersonic" system for grading wool is only one of many variables that determine suit quality.
It is true that the higher the "Super" number your suit is made from, the higher the grade of fabric. Higher means finer and finer means lighter, which is usually a good thing. But what do the numbers stand for, and where do they start and stop? What's the best?
It all starts with the sheep. Superior sheep make better wool. All the good stuff comes from "Down Under"- Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. There, sheep ranching for wool harvesting has reached the state of the art. Long ago someone had the idea to bring Spanish sheep, known as "Merino" stock on ships to a place where the climate seemed ideal, and there was plenty of room. No one envisioned that today there would be far more sheep in New Zealand than there are people. These sheep get sheared when their wool is long enough, and then the fun begins.
A huge infrastructure now exists around the wool growing industry. Raw wool after shearing is officially "graded" using accepted standards related to the thickness of the natural fibers as measured in microns under a microscope. This scale translates into those numbers we're told by the sales staff in the store. Today, any raw wool measured to be finer than 18.5 microns is said to be at least "100s Grade". But the scale doesn't stop there. There are 110s, 120s, 130s, 140s, 150s...all the way to 200s, very rare indeed. The corresponding "Micron Counts" get progressively lower. By the time you get to 150s grade, you're down in 16 micron territory. Fewer and fewer sheep produce the fine micron counts of raw wool, and therefore the prices for finer grades of wool rapidly increase. Pricier fabric makes pricier suits.
But is more expensive, finer wool always better? There's no doubt it feels better on the body because this finer wool is capable of being spun into finer "yarn counts", which in turn can be woven into lighter cloths with a "kinder hand'. Hand is short for handle which is simply how nice it feels to the touch.
Performance in the real world is another matter. All this finer, lighter fabric made from rarer, lower micron count raw wool and spun into skinny yarns has some drawbacks. Wrinkles, for one. Durability is another issue; snags in finer fabric happen more frequently and are harder to fix or "re-weave." Then there is climate to consider, both the indoor and outdoor kind, as well as your personal "microclimate". Do you get hot easily? Do you live or work in a warm place? Do you travel a lot?
Another important point to consider is the fabric's weave. Let's suppose there are two different weaves you're likely to find in your suit search. Regardless of grade, you'll likely be shown either "plain weave" or "twill weave" fabrics. Plain weave, also known as "tropical weave is like a basket weave with one yarn overlapping or alternatively passing under the adjacent yarn in a grid-like fashion. There is less yarn in plain weave construction, and less weight, which is good for warm climates. Twills come in a huge variety of weave constructions, but will usually be what's called 3 or 4 "harness". Three harnesses are lighter, somewhat of a compromise between tropical and four harness construction. Patterns are more varied than with plain weave, but not as rich and complex as patterns found in four harness weaving. Most plaids are four harness weaves, for example.
Why is the word "super" used to describe grades of fabric fitness? Perhaps because it sounds good. There are no technical parameters that differentiate between "Super 100s" and "Garden Variety 100s". However, laws governing what can and can't be called "100s" do exist. The raw wool in a particular suit with that label must start its life at a fineness of 18.5 microns. Unfortunately, some manufacturers don't tell the truth. Their "Super 100s" might really be 90s grade, or even coarser. Once again, the consumer takes it on the chin. So if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The next time you see ads for "Super 100s" suits, two for $295.00, just be a bit skeptical. And the next time the guy at the store says, "This suit is made from Super 120s fabric!" ask him the micron count of the raw wool it was made from. Then add "And by the way, is it four harness construction, or a plain weave?" It'll be worth it just for the expression on his face!
What’s Separate about Suit Separates?
When purchasing a suit fit is everything. You can purchase the finest fabric discussed above- Super 120s, 150s even 180s. But if it’s not tailored right, it won’t look as good as a Super 80s from Men’s Wearhouse.
Often the best and least expensive solution to this problem is buying suit separates, or trousers and coat sold independently of one another. Men today are in better shape than ever before and just won’t look right in the “standard drop” where the chest size is 6 inches larger than the waist size of the trousers. Some athletic cuts are now made with an 8 inch drop but not many enough for the buffed guy to complete his wardrobe.
The second consideration in buying a suit is cost. Purchasing suit separates is a much better value than buying made-to-measure or custom. A made to measure garment is made you’re your individual specifications with some additional style requests. Usually this process costs more. Purchasing a custom garment is more expensive yet-. A pattern is drawn of your body from which a completely custom garment is made to your specifications. The cost of a suit made this way is astronomical- upwards of $3,000 a suit.
The third consideration is style. Most reputable stores that carry separates have a great selection for you to choose from in the latest styles. This is especially true with Suit Yourself.Com.
Please see links below for some good choices.
Classic Style, for the physically fit gent:
I hope I’ve shed some substance on the letter “S”. Best of luck selecting more sartorial splendor!