What determines the cost of a good suit?
More than anything, it's the fabric. The skill and reputation of the tailor or manufacturer can certainly make a difference as well, but much of a well-known clothier's fame comes from his or her choice of material in the first place! Men seeking custom suits will especially find that fabric choice matters more than any other decision in terms of both cost and finished product.
Navigating the world of suit fabrics is not a simple task. The amount of relevant information quickly becomes overwhelming. This guide is meant to be taken step by step, a little bit at a time.
There's a lot of ground to cover, so here we'll just introduce the broad ideas that each chapter deals with and give you an idea of why they matter to your clothing choices!
Colors and their Meanings
There's not much point in getting into “thread counts” and “plain weaves” and other detailed terms until you know what you want your finished suit to look like.
Color is the starting point for just about any garment. It determines what occasion the suit is appropriate at, how it will work into your existing wardrobe; even how young it makes you look. Key to consider:
- How versatile is your color choice? Is this a single-purpose garment or a wardrobe staple?
- Where can you wear a suit this color — and where can't you?
- Does the chosen color take patterns well, or does it need to be monochrome?
- Is the color going to incur extra cost on its own? (because of a rare dye, say)
Patterns and Formality
Very loosely speaking, a patterned suit is less formal than a plain one. That doesn't keep a sharp white-on-charcoal pinstripe from being far more acceptable business wear than a light brown suit with no pattern, however — there are subtleties to understand.
Pattern is not only influenced by the dyes of the suit but the cloth and its inherent texture. When thinking about suit pattern, have in mind:
- Does the cloth have a pattern of its own?
- Where will the chosen pattern be appropriate?
- Does the pattern fit into your existing wardrobe, or will you need new shirts and ties?
- Does the pattern suit your physical frame?
Textures and Luxury
The weight, type, and origin of the threads used to make up a piece of cloth affect how it feels in your hand and on your body. It also affects the fabric's drape — how it hangs on you — and therefore how you look wearing it.
Some “luxury” fabrics are ideal for specific purposes and useless for others. Sometimes a man is better off with a rougher, less exotic weave. Other times only the finest and softest of threads are called for. Know which to choose by thinking about all these:
- What occasions will this suit be worn for? How often and how long at a time?
- How will this fabric drape over my body?
- How durable is this fabric? What do I need to do to keep it in good shape?
Cost and Scarcity
Exotic origin can raise the cost of a fabric. So can high manufacturing standards — a certified Scottish tweed is closer to home for most of us than a Chinese camelhair, but it may be the more expensive fabric because of the exacting production.
The key to finding the right price range is knowing what your fabric will do for your suit — and whether you can find something cheaper that does the same thing. Key questions:
- What unique advantages does this fabric have that are worth paying for?
- Are there any other sources for cloth of this quality?
- Do I feel comfortable with the origins of the cloth?
- Are there any artificial factors inflating the price of the fabric?
Types of Weaves
The way the threads of a cloth are woven together has just as much impact on its texture and quality as the characteristics of the thread themselves. Understanding the mechanics of weaving and how it affects your garment is challenging — but essential.
Familiarizing yourself with the different families of weave lets you eliminate unwanted options and narrow your clothing search efficiently. Focus on the key points:
- What are the basic kinds of weave commonly found in suits?
- What texture will a specific weave give my suit?
Is a specific construction more durable or comfortable?
- Are certain weaves better for some types of thread than others?
- Are blended weaves useful, and if so how should they be blended?
Types of Fabrics
The base material of your suit determines a great deal. Some fabrics are lighter or breathe more easily; others hold heat and endure damp better. All of them will have different care and cleaning needs. Familiarize yourself with the basic types of suit fabrics and their properties:
- Exotic Animal Hairs
- Artificial Fabrics
Within every broad type of fabric (wool, cotton, etc.) some cloths will be more business-appropriate than others. Know which styles to wear in professional settings and which to save for evening or social occasions.
- Business-appropriate wools
- Business-appropriate cotton
- Other business-appropriate cloths
- Fabrics to always avoid in business settings
The way that raw materials are turned into finished cloth affects the quality of the cloth, its impact on the environment, and its demands on animals and human laborers. It can also have safety implications if some of the manufacturing takes place in unregulated environments!
Understand how the type of cloth you choose is produced and what it means for your suit specifically:
- Quality concerns
- Environmental issues and “green” fabrics
- Worker and animal protection
- Health concerns
Mastering Custom Suit Fabrics: Step-by-Step
If you tried to learn all the information we just discussed in one sitting you'd come away hating us.
We broke this guide up for a reason. Take the articles one at a time and weigh your options thoughtfully. Each factor is only a small part of the suit's finished look, but everything from the base color to the size of the threads in the weave does have an effect.
By going one step at a time you'll come away with them all mastered. And then you'll always know exactly how you want your suits made — seems worthwhile, doesn't it?
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