Out of all seasons, winter truly tests a man. It tests his grit, his driving capabilities, his mental fortitude (commuting to work before the sun is up and coming home when it’s down can really do a number on you.), and of course, his ability to stay warm.
But it’s also the best damn season for suiting in the year.
In what other season can you find yourself in a luxuriously warm cashmere scarf and overcoat drinking a steaming cup of coffee and breathing in air so cold and crisp it feels like you’re inhaling the summit of Everest? No other season. That’s why winter is the best.
Although you might think of winter suiting as drab and boxy, nothing could be further from the truth. A winter wardrobe well-assembled is as sharp as anything. You just have to make sure you know what you’re doing.
Fabrics: Weights and Types
As for the types of fabric, there are two that reign supreme: Wool and flannel. These two fabrics keep you insulated. That’s why you’re not going to be wearing wool of more weight (more on that in a second) in the summer. The opposite applies as well. Linen, cotton, and thin blend suits are reserved for sipping mint juleps at the Kentucky Derby in the summer heat — not keeping you warm in thick, wet snow.
If you find yourself shivering in a suit during the winter, it’s most likely because the weight of the fabric from which it’s made is too low. Yes, there are different weights of fabrics. And they do matter.
When looking into suits that actually keep you warm, look into one around the 16-ounce range for both flannels and wool. They’re thick enough to keep you warm, but they’re not so heavy they look like you’re wearing a cropped overcoat.
Think of this number as the heftiness of the wool itself. The number you see (in ounces) comes from how much a yard of a given wool cloth weighs.
Thicker wool and flannel in the winter. If you get anything out of reading this article, it should be that.
And that’s for a reason.
Both flannel and wool have great heat-keeping abilities and stand up to the actual structure of a suit. Both have pros and cons—GQ recommends keeping flannel away from trouser bars on hangers unless having a big mark on them is your thing and wool can come in a dizzying amount of different varieties.
It’s a pretty simple thing to note: The higher the weight (ounces), the heavier the fabric, and for worsted wool (combed and spun wool), the higher the number of twists, the smoother the garment will be.
What is a Worsted Suit?
You’ll hear the term worsted come up quite a bit in reference to men’s wool suits. Most wools are created from spun yarns; with worsted wool, the wool fibers are first carded (detangled and straightened) to remove short and brittle fibers. What remains are the long thin strands, which are then twisted and spun into yarn. The longer strands create a finer and more durable wool.
What are Super 100s, Super 120s, and So On?
There’s also the designation of “super.” You’ve likely heard the term “Super 100s,” “Super 120s,” among others. This is a measure of the quality of the raw wool before it’s even made into a suit. Another history lesson: The number is derived, historically, from how many 560-yard-long spools (called hanks) a pound of the wool could yield. A grading designation was established: “70s” if a pound could yield 70 hanks, “100s” if a pound could yield 100 hanks, etc. Contrary to popular internet lore, the number is not an indication of how many twists a yarn has. “Super” is a superficial classification added to any number over 100, started as a marketing ploy in the early 1960s by the most prominent spinners in Yorkshire, Joseph Lumb & Sons.
Technology’s advanced a little while since the 1700s, when the initial classification began. A super number nowadays basically refers to the fineness of the actual strands of wool. The higher the number, the finer the fibers. The finer the fibers, the more you get in a pound. Generally speaking, the higher the number, the more expensive the suit will be.
A suit with a high super number means the actual fabric is softer and smoother and silkier (and more resistant to wrinkling). Buyers beware, though: This number isn’t heavily regulated, and it’s nearly impossible to confirm the S-number on your suit is actually what you got. The Wall Street Journal did a teston 10 suits ranging from $290 to $1,995 and found 4 had a lower “super” number than advertised.
Super 100s and 150s are basically a nice fine line. Textiles within that range will be strong, soft, and supple—and won’t cost you more than a down payment on a car.
Tweed: The Rugged Gentleman’s Fabric
Tweed, which is a form of woolen fabric in contrast to a worsted, is a great choice for those looking to give your wardrobe a traditional twist. Unlike worsted wool, tweed is known for its rough texture.
The nice thing about this texture is that it adds visual interest as opposed to the sleek look of a worsted wool. That’s not to say that all tweed fabrics feel like stitched-up burlap sacks, either. Rougher? Yes. But really, the best description of tweed is “rugged.” It was made for hardworking Scotsmen in places that look like the last hour of Skyfall: Misty, dark and cold.
It’s also been around for about 300 years. Starting in the 1700s, weavers in Scotland spun virgin wool (wool that isn’t salvaged from other fabrics—so basically wool that’s being used specifically for the garment) to create a truly durable cloth that, when made into a garment, kept its wearer warm and protected.
Legend has it that a London merchant misread a correspondence about “tweels” (the then Scottish word for “twill”) as “tweed” (as the fabric was made in the Tweed Valley) and the name was coined.
When researching some tweed garments, you’ll undoubtedly run into “Harris Tweed.” This handwoven fabric (which is actually protected and easily recognized by “the Orb”—a trademark logo of authenticity) is made by the residents of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland and is rich in history. And, of course, because it’s handmade, rich in quality as well. Hell, it became famous because it was so beloved by Lady Dunmore, a personal assistant to the queen. But that doesn’t mean it’s prohibitively expensive: Since it’s been around for so long, you can easily find Harris Tweed sportcoats at thrift stores.