Where there’s bespoke tailoring, there’s usually a lot of talk about cloth and fabric. A luxury tailor worth his salt will be able to offer hundreds, even thousands of cloth and fabric options.
This vast selection may seem overwhelming, but it really needn’t be. You see, a good tailor will be able to quickly gauge whether you wish to explore an abundance of cloth options or not, or if you’d prefer to be gently guided through a few choice selections.
Clients and tailors themselves often find the tailoring experience more rewarding and stimulating if the client knows a little bit about what they’re purchasing though. It’s just the same when a motoring enthusiast walks into a car showroom, or a whiskey or wine connoisseur attends a tasting. There's no pressure on the customer to be an expert, but a little bit of knowledge can go a long way.
To that end, we’ve answered some oft-asked questions, and taken a look at the qualities of a number of cloths used in luxury tailoring.
Why Is Cloth Selection Important?
In two words—quality and purpose. The former should need no deep explanation other than to say that not all cloth is of the same quality. When visiting a luxury tailor, you should only be dealing with higher-end cloth, but there are also levels to that game. Better cloth looks superior, feels superior, and lasts longer.
Purpose is also quite simple. Is it a wedding suit or a business suit? Will it be worn in a warm or cool climate? Is it a black tie event or a smart casual one? Each of these conditions will factor into the kind of cloth you ought to select.
Is There a Difference between “Cloth” & “Fabric”?
There is in fact a difference between cloth and fabric. But, it's a small one and people often use the terms interchangeably. Essentially cloth is a woven, knitted or sometimes felted fabric, made from fibres such as wool, silk, or cotton. Fabric on the other hand, is made by weaving textile fibres together. Thus, all the fabrics you’ll see at a tailor’s are cloths, but not all the cloths are fabrics.
Fabric is a more accessible term and is therefore used more frequently by the public, while tailors tend to use the word cloth a little more, since they’re the experts.
An Introduction to Bespoke Suiting Cloth
The most popular choice of cloth (or in this case, fabric), wool is extremely versatile, breathable, and durable, while it also has a classy and refined look when cut by experts. Wool is a great choice for a tailored suit that can be worn year round, as it will keep you cool enough in the summer months while providing optimum warmth in autumn and winter. It’s also resistant to wrinkles, burns (within reason), as well as a fair amount of water.
However, not all wool is created equally. Its environment, the treatment of the animals from which it comes, and the way in which it is sheared, cleaned, sorted, dyed, woven, and finished all has a significant bearing on the overall quality of the wool used in your clothes. It’s worth asking your tailor where their wool is sourced and how it’s made.
Indeed, wool comes in a number of variations—tweed, worsted wool, cashmere and plenty more. We’ll get to those in just a moment, but one thing we should go into is the term pure new wool:
Often used by luxury tailors, new wool is simply wool that has been woven for the very first time. You see, wool is highly recyclable, and many everyday garments are made using pre-used wool. In the case of new wool, the fibres are brand new. Thus, it’s fresher, stronger and will last much longer.
This is a more luxurious, smoother and less insulated variant of wool, as only longer fibres are used while it is being spun. Worsted wool is very resilient and easily regains its shape after wearing. Plus, since the longer fibres used are finer, it also does a great job of resisting wind and water while keeping you cool.
Cashmere sits another rung up on the luxury clothing ladder. As mentioned above, it’s a variant of wool, but one that is extremely soft, fine, and insulatory.
A one hundred percent cashmere suit might not be suitable for office wear with its opulent look and feel, while it needs to be well constructed with a half or full canvas interlining to maintain its shape better.
However, it does offer wonderful softness, warmth and comfort for a more leisurely setting. It’s most often used in a blend with other fabrics such as sheep's wool, offering the best of both worlds—luxury and practicality.
The most popular natural fibre for clothing at large, cotton comes second only to wool in the suit tailoring world. It’s a fine choice of fabric as it’s soft, malleable and breathable. However, one trade off while wearing a cotton suit is that it’s more prone to creasing than wool. It tends to be more fitting for less formal tailored clothing i.e. it’s not the ideal choice for business wear unless a heavier weight of cotton is used, but it’s great for a semi-formal spring or summer suit.
Wool-cotton blends are also a fantastic compromise in suit tailoring, as they provide all the comfort and breathability desired, while the wool element ensures that it will maintain its shape better and for longer.
Linen is a supreme choice for a summer holiday or destination wedding, provided the dress code allows. It’s extremely lightweight and moisture resistant, and will keep you looking and feeling cool. Think James Bond in The Bahamas.
Linen isn’t something we’d recommend for the office, but for leisurewear it is a fine choice—particularly a more high-end choice like Irish Linen. Irish Linen is perfectly natural, sustainable and biodegradable, and produces next to no waste during its journey from flax field to cutting room. It’s also usually machine-washable, making it easier to maintain at home.
Tweed has gone mainstream, and is now often to be seen in urban environments, country weddings, and on race days While it was once the domain of farmers, landowners and college professors, its popularity has been revitalized by iconic wearers like David Beckham and the fictional Shelby brothers of Peaky Blinders fame.
It's with good reason that it’s made a comeback too, as tweed allows a great depth and personality to be showcased. It carries colour and texture beautifully, while it’s also extremely robust. A few things to consider when buying bespoke tweed clothing are the climate and the reason for purchase. This will influence whether it should be of a lighter hue and weight, or if it should be darker, heavier and more muted in colour tone.
When you've got a moment, check out our Country & Tweeds Style Guide.
Mohair was popularised in the 1970s by the Mod counter-culture; Think Paul Weller & The Jam, The Who, and The Small Faces, though it’s long been a favoured choice of tailors. It’s equally as fitting for the office and boardroom as it is for dinner and drinks. It’s smart looking, resilient, wrinkle-resistant and maintains its drape (the way that it hangs on the body) with consummate ease.
In the same way that wool is derived from sheep fleece, mohair is sheared from the Angora goat. It’s revered for its lustre, and is often used in a wool blend to add an elegant sheen and reinforcing strength. We’d often recommend incorporating it into tailored clothing rather than wearing one hundred percent mohair. This is because for all its strength and sturdiness, an overabundance of mohair can be abrasive to the skin.
Alpaca wool is in high demand amongst the uber-opulent these days, particularly for the cooler months of the year. This is because, much like cashmere, it offers incredible softness and comfort. Unlike cashmere however, alpaca wool is renowned for just how hard-wearing it is. It’s a wise choice for winter wear as well as suit jackets, topcoats or overcoats as it will keep the wearer warm without overwhelming them with weight or moisture. You see, alpaca wool fibers are hollow, meaning that they trap heat while channeling away any moisture. Overall, a garment made from alpaca wool is an extremely high-end option, and one a tailor relishes making.
Believe it or not, a step up in luxury from Alpaca is possible—vicuña wool is arguably the most luxurious fabric on the planet. The vicuña, an elusive cousin of the llama, also has its roots in the mountains of South America. There, the Inca Empire’s most powerful figures heralded its almost impossibly soft, fine wool. Thus, it’s held in the highest regard to this day.
Vicuña wool is extremely light and moisture resistant, and there’s no chance of abrasion on the wearer’s skin due its softness. Yet, for all its light weight, it offers extremely effective insulation thanks to the naturally interlocking nature of its fibres.
To reflect just how luxurious and elusive a commodity it is, vicuña wool sells for thousands of pounds per metre, and a complete tailored suit fetches north of fifteen thousand pounds these days. This is simply because of its rarity— the vicuña roams wild and must be caught, each yields only a small amount of fine wool, and it can only be shorn once every three years.
Velvet was originally made from pure silk, but this is an extremely expensive rarity today. Nowadays, it’s usually made from pure cotton or by tightly weaving silk and cotton together to make quite a breathable, deluxe textile known as silk skin velvet. As you may already know, its appeal is in its smooth feel and subtle sheen, but it’s also celebrated for its elegant drape.
Velvet is a fine choice for a luxurious smoking jacket or dinner jacket, or even a smaller accessory like a pocket square or bow tie. Indeed, full velvet suits have been making a major comeback on runways and red carpets over the last few years, adding to their mass appeal. However, it’s one to avoid wearing to the office or a semi formal event. It’s just a little too grand for these kinds of settings.
We trust that we’ve helped you learn a little bit more about the incredible range of cloth and fabric used in luxury suit tailoring. Make an appointment with Marc Oliver Bespoke Tailors and arrange a fitting for your perfect suit.