How to choose fabrics for your custom made suit
How to choose fabrics for your custom-made suit. Are you looking for a perfect suit that leaves the best impression? Any man who has ventured himself into the process of designing or commissioning a custom suit has experienced the same doubt, at least at the beginning of this journey.
Do not panic, I’m John Tillman, a clothier and men’s style expert. I’m here to guide you all the way in. Trust me, in over 3 decades of experience as a clothier -located in Seattle- I’ve accumulated many tricks under my sleeves.
Whether you have a special occasion ahead, a work event, business presentation, or a casual party, you must always start with choosing the right kind of fabric.
Having the perfect type of fabric may give you the posh, poise, and allure that you’re aiming for.
Fabrics for occasions
Now, a proper fabric is more than a mere entangle of strings. So, whether you strive for an elegant look, a prestige outfit for a formal event, a dazzling outfit for an after-party, or need to wear something contemporary, it’s never a bad idea to investigate the various types of materials that are most popular in custom-made suits.
Let’s start with the basics. The most widely-used fabrics that you’ve probably heard of include cotton, linen, wool, polyester, and cashmere. Each of these fabrics has its own pros and cons. Fabric plays a crucial role in the way your suit performs. Thus, this choice could easily make or break the look of your suit. The materials used to make a suit will dictate the usability, movement, and overall feeling of the piece. So, a poor choice can make you look tacky.
Occasions, fabrics, and custom-made suits
Any occasion demands the best fitting dress code. For example, picture yourself in the place where the festivities are taking place. It’s vital to know the location of the event. Likewise, you should consider the local weather and time before choosing a fabric, because they will bring in their own benefits and disadvantages.
Many fabrics, many possibilities
Sorting out which fabric to use will be a lot easier if you know them. For this Tillman Style Guide, I’ve compiled some of the best fabrics for you to consider when you order a custom suit.
Wool is without a doubt the most common fabric in men’s suits. In fact, the information about it gets so extensive that we gave wool its own separate page.
With that said, here are the benefits of wool in a quick list:
- It breathes easily
- It resists wrinkling
- It’s flame-resistant, which is convenient for well-dressed firefighters or those of us who work as stunt doubles
- It feels good
- It keeps you warm in winter and lets you ventilate in the summer
- It’s naturally water-resistant
- It tailors well
Linen is a hugely popular summertime fabric. It also happens to be vegan as it comes from a flax plant, not an animal. In fact, linen is technically a vegetable.
One of the oldest fabrics in existence (It’s known that the ancient Egyptians wore linen). It’s still one of the most popular, especially in continental Europe. It’s expensive but has some benefits to make up for it:
- Breathability: Linen breathes very well. This makes it a great summer fabric.
- Casual élan: Linen wrinkles naturally and easily. It’s futile to fight it, you can only embrace it or choose to not wear linen. The wrinkling is part of the fabric’s charm and makes it great for casual outings.
Though it’s the fabric of our lives, cotton suiting is a little tougher to find than wool suits. Generally less expensive than wool and linen, high-end cotton suits can work in office environments and also for more celebratory events such as weddings. Note: cotton trousers don’t drape like linen or wool, so make sure that they have a crease sharp enough to cut butter.
Here are some of the selling points of cotton:
- Cost: Cotton suiting tends to be cheaper than wools and linens of similar quality. If you’re looking for a summer suit but are on a budget, think about cotton.
- Care: While we don’t recommend it, you can machine wash a cotton suit in a pinch. Cotton is generally easier to care for than wool and doesn’t need brushing like wool to maintain its lifespan. Further, you can iron it pretty easily.
- Lightweight: Cotton makes for a physically light suit that’s easier to wear when it’s hot. Beware, however: cotton absorbs moisture, so if you’re a sweaty guy, think twice.
It’s pretty rare to see a 100% silk suit nowadays. That sort of thing is generally limited to the likes of Prince Charles while vacationing in the tropics. It’s more likely that you’ll see silk as part of a suit’s fabrication (60% worsted wool and 40% silk, for example).
You can see it often in high-end suit linings. However, this should only happen if the customer really loves a lining’s design, as synthetic silks like viscose are actually stronger than the original article. Silk has many benefits, such as:
- Hand: Silk feels beautiful on the hand and against the skin. It’s light, airy, and incredibly smooth.
- Luxurious comfort: Such a feel makes silk a luxury item, and its breathability is right on par with wool.
Mohair is made from the hair of the Angora goat. It’s similar to wool but has a bit of a shine to it. It also has the fame to “bite”, which means it has a bit of a scratchiness. It performs well and resists wrinkling like no other fabric.
Cashmere. A fabric for wealth
If there is a fabric that exudes luxury and charm, it’s cashmere. A custom-made cashmere suit is elegant, comfortable, and a bit pricey.
Cashmere is a heavy type of fabric. However, despite their similarities, cashmere is finer and softer than regular wool.
This fabric works great in cold or mild weather. In these types of environments, this material brings softness, endurance, and sophistication.
Cashmere is a fitting contender for almost any chosen style and occasion. You can’t go wrong with cashmere.
Polyester. A suit for regular basis
If you plan to order a suit for your daily activities in the office, you could try Polyester. This fabric comprises synthetic materials of lower quality. Nevertheless, it is often intermixed with fibers such as wool.
On the bright side, it is an affordable, wrinkle-resistant, and practical option. This may sound great in comparison with other fabrics, but the downfall is that polyester does not breathe well. So, don’t wear it in warm places.
Polyester flows with a sporty or more urban look but is common for office or casual suits.
Velvet suit. An acquired taste
Velvet is not an option for everyone. This material is usually on display for jackets or vests.
It is a shiny material, soft and warm.
Very few people could resist touching it. However, it’s a fabric that needs laundry services.
I personally recommend velvet for a special event. Avoid using a custom-made velvet suit for casual parties or work, it may be a little too much.
Vicuña refers to both a piece of fabric and the animal from which we take the fabric. It’s like cashmere on steroids. A llama relative, the vicuña lives in the Andes. People raise it specifically for its coat. They produce extremely small amounts of superfine wool that is the softest and warmest in its class.
The trick is that you can only shear vicuñas every three years, and you need to catch them from the wild to do this (there are no vicuña farms, for example). This makes it astronomically expensive. As of June 2007, vicuña cost anywhere between $1,800 and $3,000 per yard.
Even on the low end, when we consider the fact that a suit requires four yards of fabric to make, that’s $7200 on fabric alone, before even considering construction!
You might be better off getting a vicuña scarf instead, for a measly $1,500 or so.
A Note On Synthetic Suit Fabrics
The 1970s especially were a decade in which suits made of synthetic materials, especially polyester, were all the rage.
These “high-tech” fabrics were easier to care for and less expensive than natural fibers. Seems like a great alternative to wool and cotton, right?
Eh. not so much.
Unless your budget is such that you cannot afford a suit made of natural fibers, we do not suggest buying a suit with any synthetic material used in its outer shell (a synthetic lining is just fine). It doesn’t breathe well and simply lacks the polished presentation that natural fibers do.
Whenever possible, buy suits made with natural fibers.
Custom suit fabrics – types of weaves
Here we have to get a little bit technical. The raw material a suit is made from — silk, linen, cotton, etc. — is fairly easy to grasp. What’s a bit more complex, but equally vital in determining how the finished product feels and sits on your body, is the weave. The weave is the specific pattern in which individual strands are interlaced and pulled tight to make a piece of solid cloth.
Weaves can range from totally invisible to roughly-textured and visible at a distance. The difference between bumpy seersucker and ultra-sheer broadcloth is all in the weave. So is the difference between a smooth suit-facing and a prominent herringbone pattern. There are literally thousands of ways to weave thread together. A few dozen have become common in modern textiles, and of those, a particular tailor may have as many as ten or twenty to choose from. We cover the most common and the best options for custom suits here:
“Twill” is a broad family of weaves with a distinct diagonal pattern.
To make it, the warp threads are laid out straight and parallel, while the weft threads are woven over and under in a side-stepping pattern, going two warp threads or more at a time.
If that sounds technical, the simpler description is “diagonal” — any twill weave will have distinct diagonal ribs somewhere in the fabric, though it may be on the inside of the suit only.
The majority of suit fabrics will be a twill weave of some kind.
- Flannel – This common twill can be made with either worsted (smoother) or woolen (hairier) threads, and the surface is “napped” with a bristly brush to create a soft, fuzzy texture. Flannel suits are some of the softest to the touch and can be quite heavy and warm.
- Worsted Suiting – A family of fabrics made with a twill weave from worsted threads is referred to, collectively, simply as “worsted” or “worsted suiting.” They are characterized by a smooth surface and plain, matte finish. Worsted suiting can range from cloth made with very light threads for a silky, lightweight surface to heavy suits made from “milled” cloth with a soft, flannel-like finish.
- Tweed – A diagonal twill weave done in thick, carded yarns. Tweeds have a distinctive rough and wooly texture.
Serge – A very simple twill weave made in fine threads for a matte surface with faint, diagonal lines. Serge is the traditional cloth for navy blazers.
- Gabardine – A twill variant with more threads running horizontally than diagonally. The tight weave is stiffer and less breathable than other suit weaves, and is somewhat old-fashioned these days. However, it is tough and very water-resistant, making it a good traveling suit.
- Herringbone – A specific weave with V-shapes running throughout it. There is always a small break between one column of repeating V’s and the next in a true herringbone. The warp and weft threads can be the same color for a subtle pattern of differently colored for a more visible effect.
- Houndstooth – A very distinctive twill using four light-colored threads and four dark-colored ones are interwoven to create a small check pattern. It makes for a fairly bold suit, usually only suitable for casual/social wear.
- Barleycorn – An unusual pattern that uses contrasting warp and woof colors to create small, repeating clusters of three. The finished effect is of very small alternating light- and dark-colored triangles, suggesting the crown of a stalk of barley.
- Sharkskin – Considered a luxury material, true sharkskin is a very tight twill weave in two similar but distinct colors (traditionally medium gray and light gray, or two different tans for a golden variation). The weave is actually a simple and rather old-fashioned one called “pick-and-pick,” but it makes a striking effect when woven very tightly with very light, fine, high-count threads.
A few suit clothes are made from “plain weaves,” which use a simple over-and-under pattern of horizontal and vertical threads. A third family of weaves, called “satin weaves,” have very smooth and glossy surfaces that are usually too delicate for suiting.
A relatively uncommon plain-woven fabric is native to Bedford, England.
It looks like a very fine corduroy with less pronounced wales (ridges).:
The fabric is too stiff for most suits but is commonly used in traditional hunting garments, including riding suits.
A gridded fabric made of contrasting colors, creating small lighter-colored dots in a regular pattern on the darker color. The pattern is small and fine enough to be business-appropriate in many settings, though it is not as formal as a solid dark color or a pinstripe.
Possibly the only satin weaves regularly used for suiting. Satin weaves have a matte surface and a glossy one; in faille suits, the glossy surface is worn facing inward. Faille is most commonly used by Middle Eastern tailors. The inner texture is very smooth, making it comfortable on bare skin.
A plain weave made with tightly twisted yarns. Many tropical-weave suits use mohair (from Angora goats) for part of the wool, since it weighs less than sheep’s wool but still holds up durably.
A unique dimpled weave is done in cotton rather than wool.
Seersucker suits are traditional summer wear for refined gentlemen in the United States.
They are very lightweight and comfortable, but the puckered texture makes the suit strictly casual/social wear.
It gets easy to feel overwhelmed when you look at a list like this. Fortunately, the many weaves break down pretty easily into broad groups for different purposes. Think about the role your suit will play in your wardrobe:
Is this a business suit or a casual wardrobe piece?
Business suits will usually be an evenly-textured twill weave like the worsted suiting family or serge.
Flannel is also common, though a bit less formal because of its fuzzy softness, and birdseye is not unheard-of in more relaxed suit-and-tie settings.
Casual weekend, social, and sporting suits are traditionally made in more visible weaves like herringbone and houndstooth.
Weaves that show off differently-colored threads like sharkskin are also popular casual options.
Where are you going to be wearing this suit?
Suits you plan to mostly wear indoors at office-type settings don’t need to be particularly rugged but should be comfortable for long periods of time and resist creasing when your arms and legs stay bent for hours at a time. Softer, more flexible weaves like flannel, worsted suiting, and will work well.
Suits meant to be worn in more rugged conditions such as riding or country walking will usually be made from a stiffer weave such as gabardine or Bedford cord.
How conservative or eccentric do you want your suit to seem?
If you mostly like to blend in with a crowd — albeit perhaps with a nicer drape than most men’s suits — you should stick to smooth-surfaced weaves like flannel and worsted.
For a slightly more eye-catching but still respectable look textured dark weaves like twill and birdseye have some variety without being over the top.
Adventurous dressers can try the most distinctly patterned weaves like barleycorn, houndstooth, and of course the puckered seersucker.
Between deciding how much attention you want, where the suit will be worn, and of course how business-formal you need it to be, you should be able to narrow your choices down to two or three weaves with no trouble.
Made it all the way through? Give yourself a pat on the back and a quick break. This one’s the tough one; it’s all easy going from here.
Different Types Of Fabric Weaves
First, a bit of terminology to get us all on the same page:
- Warp: The lengthwise (up-and-down) yarns of a given fabric
- Weft: The crosswise (left-to-right) yarns of a given fabric
A fabric’s quality and character aren’t just a function of what that fabric is. The manner in which it’s woven plays a huge role.
Generally, the best fabrics are “two-ply,” meaning that even single fibers are, in fact, two fibers twisted together very tightly. Further, top cloths are woven in a “two-by-two” format, which means that both the warp and weft threads are two-ply.
There are two main types of weaves: plain and twill. We’ll go further in-depth below.
A weave using a simple over-and-under pattern in which the threads are simply horizontal and vertical. Below are some common ones.
Native to Bedford, England, Bedford cord resembles corduroy but with a less-pronounced wale.
(“Wale” refers to the ridges characteristic of corduroy clothes).
Not often seen in business suits, but typical of riding and hunting clothes.
An all-over weave in which tiny dots are created that resembles the eye of a bird. The overall effect is to appear solid from a distance and only be noticed when up close and personal. Birdseye suits are an excellent solution for a man who prefers solid suits but wants a bit of extra visual interest with regard to texture.
A small dotted design is suggestive of a nail head.
A dimpled weave is achieved by altering the tension of the warp threads, this was taken from an Indian method of weaving silk.
Traditionally in a blue-and-white striped pattern in cotton, the term “seersucker” is a corruption of the Hindi word sirśakar, which is derived from the Persian shir-o-shakar, meaning “milk and honey.”
Seersucker makes for an excellent summer suit.
A plain weave wherein two-ply yarns are not used, which creates a lighter-weight, more breathable garment well-suited to the tropics.
Twills are actually very easily identifiable:
they have a diagonal pattern that’s kind of “baked in” to the fabric’s texture.
If you look very closely at one of your suits, you’ll probably see it.
It’s achieved by laying warp threads out straight and parallel, while the weft threads are woven over and under the warp threads.
Worsted threads make up the majority of what we know as suits. They’re smooth, lustrous to the touch, and are the opposite of “woolen” threads, which are shorter, hairier fibers.
Worsted suiting can range from cloth made with light threads to heavy cloths with a flannel-like finish.
An incredibly common twill, flannel has a “napped” surface that feels, well hairy. These are excellent fabrics for cold weather.
Diagonal twill made with thick yarn. Tweed’s texture is rough and wooly, making it great for your typical British autumn or winter.
A simple twill weave with fine threads works to create a matte surface. You can often see serge in Navy blazers.
Much less popular now than it was fifty years ago, gabardine is a style of twill that has more warp threads than weft. Woven tightly, gabardine is stiffer and a bit less breathable than other weaves, but it travels well.
A weave creating a houndstooth check.
A weave that you should really only see on odd pieces and not full suits.
Houndstooth is a twill that interweaves four light-colored threads and four dark-colored ones to create a pattern that resembles a dog’s tooth.
Small-scale versions go by the name of “puppytooth.”
You can weave contrasting warp and weft colors to create small, repeating clusters of three. The overall effect is to create alternating light- and dark-colored triangles, which kind of resembles a barley stalk.
A herringbone weave
A weave that has V-shapes running through it.
When looked at as a whole, the effect is that of a fish’s skeleton, hence the name.
Subtle, monochromatic versions of this weave are popular for suits, while bolder versions make for excellent sport coats.
A tight twill weave in two similar but distinct colors, like dark and medium grey, or midnight blue and navy blue. Also known as a “pick-and-pick.”
Seasonal Guide To Fabrics
Best Fabrics For Summer
Choosing the right fabric is key when getting a summer suit.
You want something lightweight and airy, but still with enough drape to look like the handsome suit it needs to be.
Regardless of the fabric, seek out suits with half or eight linings as these will allow you to ventilate a bit more easily.
Some of the best fabrics for summer are:
- Wool: In tropical weights like 7.5 ounces or lighter, wool is an excellent, if surprising, option for warm weather. It has all the positive attributes of wool, but the lighter weight makes it perfect for summer.
- Cotton: We love a cotton khaki suit. Suiting cotton is lightweight and inherently a bit casual, much like the summertime itself. Wearing cotton suits to job interviews or funerals is generally avoided, where the dressiness of wool is necessary to make the right impression. Seersucker suits are made of cotton and are great for summertime celebrations.
- Linen: Linen is an airy fabric that performs beautifully in the summertime. Its tendency to wrinkle adds to its charm, and it’s synonymous with summertime. A word to the wise: linen can be a heavy fabric, weighing up to 11 or even 12 ounces per yard in some instances.
Best Materials For Winter
Winter is the opposite of summer in many ways, and it’s no different with regard to suiting fabrics.
Instead of maintaining airiness and a sense of being lightweight, you want to maintain warmth at all costs.
Thick, hairy fabrics are what we have in mind.
Top winter fabrics are:
- Wool: Heavier wool wide-ranging benefits. Not only does it keep you warmer, but it’s also easier to tailor. Look for wools in 10 ounces or more to help keep the chill at bay.
- Flannel: Yes, we know that flannel is a particular type of weave, but it’s worth a mention here. Flannel suits aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be (thanks, central heating), but in sober colors and patterns, they make excellent business suits that can negate the need for an overcoat on some days.
- Vicuña: Though this fabric is outrageously expensive (a vicuña suit can easily run you into the five-figure mark), it will keep you warm and looking magnificent.
Best Suit Cloth For Autumn
Depending on where you live and what mood global climate change is in, you’re probably going to want to live in a bunch of medium-weight fabrics in the autumn.
Lucky you: just about any suit sold off the rack is of medium-weight cloth, so you have the pick of the litter.
- Wool: There’s a reason we’ve suggested wool with each season so far: it works, and it works well. In a run-of-the-mill nine-ounce weight, a worsted wool suit will protect you from the forty-degree mornings and keep you comfortable in sixty-degree afternoons.
- Flannel: Some autumn days are colder than others. reach into the flannel section of your wardrobe to ward off the November chill.
- Cashmere: Technically a type of wool, cashmere offers warmth, is lightweight, and feels phenomenal to the hand. Even a suit with 10% of its fabrication as cashmere will feel better than one with none, so keep your eyes peeled for this luxurious fabric.
Best Suiting Fabric For Springtime
Cotton twill suit fabric
Springtime is similar to autumn on the weather front.
Early April is still chilly, but mid-June can be extremely hot.
You’ll want to prepare for either of these extremes and everything in between.
- Mohair: Mohair comes from the angora goat, making it different from wool. It has a bit of natural sheen and a certain “crunch” to the hand. Also, it has exceptional “bounce back.” Good mohair can be balled into your fist, released, and smoothed back out perfectly with barely any effort. It makes for a great spring suit.
- Silk: While a suit of 100% silk is often prohibitively expensive, finding a suit with some silk in its fabrication will lend it a beautiful sheen and a lightweight feel. Silk works great with…
- Cotton: Cotton has enough heft to ward off a breeze but is lightweight enough to deal with the season’s sunshine. Perfect for spring.
Final Thoughts On Fabrics
The fabric world is vast and varied, and even the relatively small amount reviewed in this article can be dizzying.
Know that, ultimately, the lion’s share of your suits will be worsted wool, and the biggest decisions you’ll face will be around color and pattern. For further guidance on these topics, check out our suits home page or take a look at our page on the capsule wardrobe. Alternatively, read our in-depth guides on different fabrics. They’re all listed in the menu above but here are a few of our favorites:
You made an excellent point that when looking to have custom suits made, it is important that we ensure we choose the right material. It makes sense as in doing so, we can be certain that the material is breathable and of quality as well. Since my wife said she is looking to have custom suits made, I will encourage her to be mindful of the material she chooses.