Apart from the construction (canvases, fusings, chest pieces) the most important decision you need to make when buying a suit is your choice of fabric.
I don't mean the pattern, although of course this is very important too and I will come to that later, I am referring to composition, weight, thread count and weave.
Confused? Don't be!
Firstly you need to remember what the suit is going to be used for. If it is for work, what sort of job do you do? Are you mainly office bound, sitting at a desk? Are you outside a lot of the time in all weathers? Are you travelling a lot, driving, climbing around building sites or getting on and off crowded trains?
Is it going to be an occasional suit, worn just a few times a year for weddings, events, presentations and the like where appearance of a sharp, smart crease free suit is essential?
Does it need to be a suit you are going to wear a lot that needs to have a fast recovery from creasing and needs to be durable to hard wearing?
Lot's and lot's of factors that you need to consider but it really is important to know the purpose of the suit to make sure you choose the appropriate fabric if you want to get maximum performance out of your suit.
Ok so let's take a look at some of the different types of fabric out there and what characteristics they have:
Most suits these days are made from wool or at least a wool mixture. There are lots of arguments and debates about man made fabrics like Lycra, Polyester, Viscose etc. and whilst these can add certain qualities to a suit such as increasing the durability and adding a stretch to the fabric the downside is increase shining, loss of breathing in the fabric, causing body odour due to no absorption of perspiration and a general poor feel to the fabric. In my opinion it is wise to avoid man made fibres if possible.
Wool is the most versatile of fabrics which gives the greatest comfort, is naturally wrinkle resistant and has a high recovery rate if left to hang for at least 24 hours between wears and will keep you cool in hot temperatures due to it's ability to absorb moisture and allow the fabric to breathe.
There are different types of wool that behave in different ways:
Merino: Comes from the Merino sheep (originally from Turkey) which is a versatile soft fine wool. It is particularly good at maintaining body temperature all year round and is also good for mixing with other wools such as Cashmere and silk. This makes it an excellent fabric for suits that can be worn in all seasons.
Cashmere: A beautiful soft wool from the Cashmere goat (in fact it is not wool but hair) and has an ability to maintain heat therefore making it a great fabric for the Autumn/Winter months. Whilst it is very soft it is also a good strong fibre making it a perfect addition to a wool suit or as a luxurious soft fabric when used on its own.
Mohair: Taken from the Angora goat is a very durable and resilient fabric with a high sheen and luster. Characteristically a suit which has mohair has a rather hard feel to it and the silk like sheen is quite noticeable. It has great insulating properties making it a great fabric for all year round wear.
Angora: Not to be confused with Mohair, Angora wool or hair is taken from the Angora rabbit and is known for its softness and silky texture which is much warmer and lighter than wool.
So these are the 4 most common wools you will find in suits, you now need to determine the weight you need.
Generally most suits are made between 9 ounce and 13 ounce fabrics. The lighter the weight the cooler it is likely to be.
In the hot summer months or if you are travelling to hot climates then you may even consider an 8 ounce super 120/140 or even a 150. The higher the number the finer and more delicate the fabric tends to be so it won't take wear after wear. It will need a minimum 24 hours rest and recovery after each wear.
Ok so you've made your choice of type of cloth, now for the pattern...
This is relatively easy if you try to stick to these basic rules.
1. If you are shorter and rounder then vertical stripes will add height and give a slimmer appearance. Checks will have the opposite effect.
2. If you are Taller and slimmer then the reverse is probably more suitable for you.
3. Bird's eye, a small circular pattern resembling small bird's eyes.These are a very versatile and popular business and occasion fabric which always maintains a crisp smart look.
Bird's eye fabric
4. Flannel is a slightly fluffy looking fabric with a warm and soft feel, ideal for winter.
5. Herringbone. This is where the weave goes in diagonal patterns in opposite directions giving the appearance of the bone of a fish. Very popular as a business suit fabric in plain black/navy or grey. Also very popular as a sports jacket fabric in heavier tweeds and wools.
So these are the most used options. There are many others such as pinhead, window pane, Prince of Wales, Dogtooth etc. but these are the most used.
The plain, slightly shiney lightweights are very popular at the moment especially with the youngsters but these are fashion trends that come and go. The above are die hard proven favorites that will never disappear and will remain the mainstay of suitings long after I am gone!
Enjoy choosing your fabric!