Suit design options are truly limitless. Designs come in an infinite number of combinations – from the buttons, to the lapel, to the leg break, to the pockets. But two of the most central and visible elements of a suit are the fabric and the pattern. Because these elements are so integral to a suit design, we wanted to break them down for you so you go into your next suit purchase with a solid understanding of these basics.
The Suit Fabric
The fabric of a suit goes beyond aesthetics. You’re looking for a fabric that wears well – one that forms to your body as you wear it and one that is season and weather-appropriate. Some fabrics are more casual, while others are better for the most formal of situations. So where do you start?
Wool is the industry-standard for formal menswear. The majority of suits you find on the racks or while browsing online are wool suits. Wool comes in a wide variety of options, including different weights and preparations.
When To Wear Wool
This means you can wear wool in many different situations. We often think of wool as better suited for winter months that call for heavier, warmer clothes. To the contrary, wool is actually extremely versatile. Besides the heavy wool for winter months, there are lighter weights that are perfect for warmer weather. The best part about wool is that all weights are breathable, so even the heavier weights aren’t stifling.
Types of Wool
Additionally, wool comes in two different preparations: woolen and worsted.
Worsted wools are smooth, dense, and compact. The wool lays flat when woven, and is smooth to the touch. Woolen wool, on the other hand, is perfect for those lovely chunky winter blankets and sweaters. The yarn is thicker in circumference but lighter and fluffier in makeup. It creates a more textured look when woven into fabric. Lighter weight suits are typically composed of worsted wool, while the thicker, heavier suits are woolen wool.
Cashmere is fabric that is made from long, thin fibers of goat hair. It gets its name from it’s origin in Kashmir, India. Cashmere has a long-standing reputation as one of the softest fabrics on the planet, and many high-end, luxury suits contain some cashmere . As such, it does carry a hefty price tag. Generally, suits that are not 100% wool are a blend. For instance, the fabric might entail 85% wool, 9% cashmere, and 6% silk.
Cotton is light and breathable, which makes it a pretty popular choice for suits as well. However, cotton is susceptible to creasing more frequently than other fabrics, so you must tend to and maintain your cotton suits. They’re less expensive from the get-go but are unlikely to last as long as a wool suit. Cotton is best for more casual events in the warmer months.
Linen has secured its place as the fabric of summer. It’s light, airy, and flexible, and comes from the fibers of the flax plant. However, linen does have a reputation of being very easy to wrinkle. Therefore, like cotton, it requires regular upkeep and dry-cleaning.
Suit Fabric Patterns
You can use anything as a pattern in clothing! That being said, there are some staple patterns that are more typical in men’s formal wear throughout the years. Each pattern has its own flavor and uses – levels of formality, seasons, type of event, and so on. While a solid-color suit is appropriate in any situation, you can make a statement and have a bit of fun with your attire when you wear a pattern.
The crosshatch pattern isn’t so much a pattern as it is an elaboration on solid color. The weave of similar threads creates a pattern that looks almost solid. However, there are some lighter threads that create a bit of a watercolor effect to break up the solid color. It’s perfect if you want to try a pattern but are a little nervous about being too loud with your attire.
The Romans originally conceived of herringbone when creating their roadways. Herringbone pattern’s use in textiles can be traced to 600 B.C.-era Ireland. It looks like the letter V repeated over the fabric, but it’s actually composed of rows of diagonal lines that look like slashes. The rows alternate so that two together make up the V-shape. It’s a relatively discrete pattern that is great for formal settings without drawing too much attention.
The earliest examples of Houndstooth textiles are from what is today called Austria, dating back to sometime between 1500 and 1200 B.C. It’s a two-tone pattern that includes broken-up checks made up of pointed shapes. Houndstooth is an example of a tessellation – a pattern of geometric tiles that slot into each other like puzzle pieces. The continuing pattern, with no gaps and no overlaps, creates the visual effect. Because of the visual effect, houndstooth is on the louder side of commonly-used patterns. As such, you should be cautious of wearing it in formal settings. However, houndstooth can make a fun statement piece as a sport jacket.
Vertical stripes are either pinstripe or chalkstripe, depending on the stripe thickness. Chalkstripes are thicker and more broadly spaced, while pinstripes are very fine and closer together. Self-stripe is similar to pinstripe, but instead of using a different color thread, self-stripes appear due to a weaving technique. That is, the pattern itself comes from the fabric weave.
Patterns: Plaids and Checks
A plaid or check pattern is, essentially, a pattern in which intersecting vertical and horizontal lines create rectangular shapes on the fabric. There are a few different varieties of checks, but they all follow that general pattern.
Glen plaid, for instance, is comprised of lines of different shades. Usually, two dark and two light lines alternate with four dark and four light lines. This method creates a collection of check shapes in different sizes throughout the pattern.
Windowpane checks are squares of equal size, sectioned off by a repeating pattern of equidistant horizontal and vertical lines. It is a much simpler pattern when compared to the crowdedness of glen check. Buffalo check is the plaid style that you might expect to find a lumberjack wearing – often in red and black. It’s far more casual than the other checks mentioned here, so should be reserved for statement pieces in less formal events.
Using what you’ve learned here, you can make more informed decisions about how to dress depending on the situation, season, and level of formality. Patterns and fabrics are the two most basic elements of a suit that will declare a look’s style. Besides the pattern, the framework, bones, and everything that comes after is seasoning. Before you worry about more specific details, ensure you’re dressing in the right fabric with an appropriate pattern. From there you’ll have a much easier time making decisions regarding the more minute details, and you’ll have a perfect custom look ready to go.