What's In A Suit? (Part 1 of 4)


January 23, 2017

From the beginning we set out to build the highest quality suit possible, using only cloth from the world’s greatest European mills, at as low of a price as possible. We believe that a world-class suit shouldn’t cost $8,000. We spent years deconstructing our industry, comparing brands, construction techniques, cloth mills, and every level of the supply chain. Our research, extensive travel, and ability to work directly with cloth mills and manufacturers have shortened our supply chain significantly. This allows us to offer some of the finest custom suits in the world at extremely aggressive prices. 

As we built our production program, we sourced the finest materials, the most skilled master tailors, and the latest in pattern and cutting technology. A great suit is much more than a good fit and nice cloth. While these are very important, there are many other areas where we provide value to our clients. It’s an unfortunate reality that in the suit business – particularly in the world of custom suits – there exists a great deal of deceit. Many companies prey on the ignorant with misleading information about cloth composition, country of origin, and construction techniques. We believe in being 100% transparent. We want to educate our clients and help them make informed decisions as they invest in their wardrobe.

In this 4-part series we will break down the details of what contributes to the value (and cost) of a world-class suit.

PART 1 - THE CLOTH

1) Composition - What a suit is made of is the most basic component of cost or value. The most common suit cloth is made from 100% wool. Suits made of cotton, linen, cashmere, and silk are also common. Less expensive suits are often made of polyester or other synthetics. Exotic (expensive) cloth, such as lambswool or vicuna are also available. Suit cloth may be a blend of 2 or 3 of these different types of material, which gives the cloth the benefits of each of the blended materials. There are an infinite number of variations on the market. Inexpensive suits are made of polyester, but beware of even more expensive suits that are made from polyester or a polyester blend (often euphemistically called wool blends). For a classic all-season business suit, seek wool or wool/cashmere blends. Cotton, silk, and linen are typically reserved for warmer months. Corduroy, flannel, and tweed suits are typically colder weather suiting. For shirts, 100% cotton is generally most desirable. Polyester, while wrinkle resistant, won’t last as long as cotton. Explore our cloth offering here.

2) Fineness - Often referred to as a “super” count, such as “Super 130’s,” the fineness of a cloth determines just how soft and silky it feels. The higher the number, the finer the cloth. The number is essentially a measure of how small and fine the yarn is twisted before it is woven. Most suits range from Super 100’s to Super 200’s. It is possible to go below 100’s but is not advisable because of the rough hand. Super 180’s and higher are available but are not advisable for every day suiting because it is very fine, delicate, and won’t last as long. Be aware that the Super count isn’t a regulated number and different brands or mills may state a number that may differ from another brand. The finer a cloth, the more expensive it is to mill, and is therefore a contributing factor to cost. For everyday suits, Super 100’s to 130’s is typically best. For shirts, the gold standard is expressed as “100/2” which means a 100 thread count and a double twist. Lesser quality shirts can be 30/1 or 60/1. More expensive (and finer) shirtings can be found as 150/2, 200/2, or even 300/2. 

3) Weight - The weight of cloth is expressed in grams or ounces. Most cloth is between 200 and 350 grams (7 to 13 ounces). The weight of the cloth will contribute to how warm the suit is. Summer weights are between 7-8 ounces, all season cloth ranges from 8-12 ounces, and 12 ounces and heavier can be considered winter weight cloth. Weight isn’t a factor in fine shirtings. Casual shirt cloth may get heavier, but for dress shirts all weights are essentially the same with the variation being inconsequential to value or performance.

4) Twist - Before cloth is woven together it starts as long spools of yarn. At this stage most luxury mills take 2 spools of yarn and twists them together, creating what is known as “2-ply” or “double twist.” This results in a cloth that is essentially twice as dense. That density will make the suit last much longer, will be stronger in the seams, and will feel more consistent to the touch. All luxury brands, like Beckett & Robb, only use double twist cloth. In fact, it’s such a standard practice that it isn’t really discussed when cloth is being purchased from a quality mill. However it requires mentioning because lower cost / lower quality suit makers may use single twist cloth purchased from inferior mills. Informed consumers should know the difference and ask their tailor about it. Occasionally a mill will make a triple twist cloth, though it’s usually for outerwear. For shirts a 2-ply cloth is most common and is considered standard among fine shirt makers. Like in suitings, a 3-ply exists but is extremely expensive and is, frankly, too fine and usually wrinkles badly.

5) Country - The country of origin of a cloth matters. The suit making tradition originated in Europe and nobody does it better than the Italians and the British. For hundreds of years they have been refining the practice of weaving incredible cloth from every conceivable material, trying new things, learning how to make things softer, warmer, lighter, cheaper, more breathable, wrinkle resistant, and so on. Most of the world’s wool comes from sheep that are raised in Australia and New Zealand. And more than 80% of the world’s wool is controlled by 2 Italian mills (Loro Piana and Ermenigildo Zegna). 4 out of 5 mills that create wool cloth are buying their raw material from Loro Piana or Zegna. Many of the Scotland and Northampton, England based mills source their wool from local sheep farms. The British and Italians do it best, which is why luxury brands from all over the world attend the cloth buying shows in Europe rather than purchasing from the low end mills available in other parts of the world. In our sourcing experience we have seen innumerable counterfeit cloth makers and sellers, particularly in China, India, and Thailand, making and selling polyester cloth marked as Italian wool. Buyer beware! At B&R we only purchase cloth from Italian and English mills. Never has the statement “you get what you pay for” been more true than when it comes to the sourcing of suit cloth.

6) Brand - What’s in a brand? To some it’s everything; to other’s it’s irrelevant. We understand this and try to strike a balance between well-known brands and lesser known, but deeply respected cloth mills. Luxury mills do charge a premium, because their name justifies it. There is a confidence that comes in knowing you are buying and wearing cloth from a mill with a reputation built on centuries of quality and craftsmanship. To be consistent with our own ideals at Beckett & Robb, we stock only reputable cloth where the country, mill, and sometimes even the origin of the wool itself right down to the farm that raised the sheep, can be accurately and honestly identified. Read more about our cloth offering here.



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