Trending Fabrics In Modern Menswear

For the sartorially-inclined male, fashion is a fickle master that consumes many hours of his life. For some, it’s about the pursuit of the timeless investment piece, for others it’s seeking the new and now.

Fabrics play a pivotal role in how we dress and are often a stronger influence on consumer trends than cut or colour. They can be revived in fresh forms from the dusty depths of the wardrobes of yesteryear, or completely original, novel inventions.

In this piece, we take a look at some of the more traditional materials that are set to influence our personal style in 2014…

1. Tweed

Just thinking of this heritage fabric evokes a whole host of rich connotations: the earthy, musty smell tainted with old tobacco and fresh rain, the hard-wearing woollen texture on the fingers, and images of mustachioed Edwardian gents with Holland & Holland rifles perched on their shoulders.

Quite fittingly, tweed originated from the land of all things hardy: Scotland. Developed in the 18th century as a practical and heavy cloth to tackle the harsh highland elements, tweed weaving spread across the water to Ireland, where its most famous tweed manufacturing region, County Donegal, produces the distinctive multi-tone fleck cloth known as Donegal Tweed.

What began as a workingman’s cloth soon spread to the aristocratic echelons, where it was recognised as the ideal fabric for outdoor pursuits at lavish hunting parties. It was durable, warm and naturally water repellent – the perfect fit.

It’s this association with the British elite that still lingers in the popular consciousness today. Having enjoyed its heyday from the 19th century, up until the 1950s, tweed fell out of favour after being associated with stuffy professors and an antiquated way of life. The fabric enjoyed a revival at the hands of the mods in the 1960s, before once again suffering a decline in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s.

Once again, as we look to the past for design inspiration and long for a more elegant era of dressing, tweed is back in a big way. This season, the fabric is everywhere: jackets, trousers, bags, hats and even shoes are all sporting the tweed treatment, and the appeal is easy to see.

Tweeds offer a great way of introducing colour into a normally drab menswear palette and also provide superb insulation, which is vital to survive the inclement British climate.

It owes these qualities to its production process: the cloth is woven as tightly as possible, often with a ’twill’ weave (when the strands are woven in a diagonal cross-weave pattern), increasing density.

The most illustrious of tweeds, Harris Tweed, originates from Scotland’s Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Widely considered to be one of the finest quality tweeds, this virgin wool cloth is still made by hand today.

Lookbook Inspiration

m&s aw13banana republic aw13 coords=banana republic aw12Viyella aw13debenhams Hammond & Co AW13massimo dutti september 2013de fursac aw13ovadia & sons aw13he by mango september 2012matalan aw13prmark aw13Todd Snyder aw12
Key Pieces
  • Asos Harris Tweed PeacoatAsos Harris Tweed Peacoat
  • Farah Vintage Tweed TrouserFarah Vintage Tweed Trouser
  • Signature Collaboration Harris Tweed SatchelSignature Collaboration Harris Tweed Satchel
  • Topman Harris Tweed Navy Blazer And WaistcoatTopman Harris Tweed Navy Blazer And Waistcoat
  • Topman Harris Tweed Green WaistcoatTopman Harris Tweed Green Waistcoat
  • J.crew Slim-fit Harris Tweed BlazerJ.crew Slim-fit Harris Tweed Blazer
  • River Island Dark Green Holloway Road Tweed Check CoatRiver Island Dark Green Holloway Road Tweed Check Coat
  • Topman Burgundy And Grey Mix Tapered Skinny TrousersTopman Burgundy And Grey Mix Tapered Skinny Trousers
  • Richard James Harris Tweed JacketRichard James Harris Tweed Jacket
  • Jigsaw Harris Tweed OvercoatJigsaw Harris Tweed Overcoat
  • Topman Tweed WalletTopman Tweed Wallet
  • Ben Sherman Tweed HatBen Sherman Tweed Hat
2. Cashmere

Among the most coveted yarns in the world, cashmere is prized for its super-soft texture and exceptional heat retention.

Harvested from the cashmere goat, indigenous to central Asia, the yarn first rose to fame in the West in the late 18th Century, when cashmere shawls were imported from Kashmir, India (then spelled ‘Cashmere’ by the colonial British).

Cashmere was used more prominently in everyday garments such as jumpers and cardigans with the casualisation of dress styles, which began in the 1920s.

The wool is a costly commodity, partly to do with the labour-intensive rigmarole of gathering and processing the yarn, and therefore considered a luxury in the modern market.

A cashmere goat’s natural fleece is made of up fine, soft under-down hairs mixed in with coarser hairs known as ‘guard hair’. To produce the super-soft cashmere yarn we’re all familiar with, the fine hairs must be extracted and processed.

This is achieved by combing the goat’s fleece by hand during the moulting season, when it can take up to two weeks to procure all the fine cashmere hairs. A single goat yields only 150 grams of cashmere yarn per year, which is just about enough to make a single scarf.

Despite the costly and time-consuming production techniques, cashmere has been steadily gaining popularity across all markets, and demand this season is greater than ever.

From the illustrious Paris and Milan design houses to high street stalwarts, cashmere has appeared in nearly every label’s winter 2013/14 collections and used widely for knitwear, coats and accessories.

Larger-scale production has brought prices down, with brands such as Uniqlo offering cashmere at more wallet-friendly prices, dispelling the popular belief that cashmere is exclusively for those with deep pockets. Of course, high-end designers continue to create garments at eye-watering prices from ‘pure cashmere’, which has been further treated to remove impurities and coarser hairs.

Lookbook Inspiration

j lindebergDamien Whitmore For Mr Porter 2011h&m october 2013reiss aw12Gant By Michael Bastian AW13he by mango winter 2013reiss aw13club monaco aw11ami ss14
Key Pieces
  • Allsaints Elba Cashmere CardiganAllsaints Elba Cashmere Cardigan
  • Allsaints Elba Cashmere Crew JumperAllsaints Elba Cashmere Crew Jumper
  • Jaeger Luxury Cashmere OvercoatJaeger Luxury Cashmere Overcoat
  • Uniqlo Men Cashmere Turtle Neck SweaterUniqlo Men Cashmere Turtle Neck Sweater
  • Uniqlo Men Cashmere V Neck Sweater Colour BlockUniqlo Men Cashmere V Neck Sweater Colour Block
  • Uniqlo Men Cashmere Crew Neck SweaterUniqlo Men Cashmere Crew Neck Sweater
  • Reiss Herald Crew Neck Cashmere Jumper AubergineReiss Herald Crew Neck Cashmere Jumper Aubergine
  • Reiss Harp Cashmere V-neck Jumper Duck EggReiss Harp Cashmere V-neck Jumper Duck Egg
  • Burberry Brit Cashmere Zipped HoodieBurberry Brit Cashmere Zipped Hoodie
  • J.crew Ribbed Cashmere Beanie HatJ.crew Ribbed Cashmere Beanie Hat
  • Exemplaire Zipped Cashmere CardiganExemplaire Zipped Cashmere Cardigan
  • Jaeger Shawl Neck Cashmere CardiganJaeger Shawl Neck Cashmere Cardigan
3. Merino Wool

Second only to cashmere, merino wool is also prized for its refined texture. The softest type of sheep’s wool, it has the added benefit of being non-irritating when worn against the skin.

Its name is derived from the Merino sheep, which were first bred in Turkey and central Spain for their exceptionally high-grade fleeces.

Merino was such a highly prized commodity in the 17th century that anyone caught trying to export merino sheep from Spain was served with the death penalty – the Spanish were intent on having a monopoly on the coveted yarn, making it one of the most valuable materials in the industry.

Merino is no longer a life or death affair in the fashion stakes, but is still regarded as a luxury material and commands a premium.

The Antipodean nations of Australia and New Zealand are the world leaders of merino production today, with the breed first introduced by British settlers in the late 1700s. The 1800s saw the first boom of merino wool production in Australia – the large uninhabited open spaces of the uncharted continent were ideal grazing pasture for the hardy breed.

These days merino is widely used for athletic and performance wear, due to its ability to provide warmth without overheating the wearer. Merino is also moisture repellent and has antibacterial qualities due to the presence of lanolin in the yarn, along with a natural ability to draw moisture from the skin and absorb sweat.

Merino features prominently within current collections, coming in the form of jumpers, cardigans, polo tops and hosiery, which can be worn against the skin as the yarn doesn’t itch or irritate like standard sheep’s wool.

British knitwear specialist John Smedley produces some of the finest pure-merino garments, which have a clean-cut, classic appeal that will never date. Other key brands to consider include UNIQLO, AllSaints, Marks & Spencer’s Best of British range, Burberry and Reiss.

Lookbook Inspiration

allsaints aw12zara man august 2012unknownmassimo dutti september 2013massimo dutti august 2012avva aw12he by mango aw12reiss 2013sisley aw13mac aw12m&s best of british aw13CALIBRE aw13
Key Pieces
  • Allsaints Mode Merino Crew JumperAllsaints Mode Merino Crew Jumper
  • Allsaints Mode Merino Open CardiganAllsaints Mode Merino Open Cardigan
  • Allsaints Mode Merino HoodyAllsaints Mode Merino Hoody
  • He By Mango Polo Collar Wool SweaterHe By Mango Polo Collar Wool Sweater
  • Jigsaw Merino Wool Knit Bomber CardiganJigsaw Merino Wool Knit Bomber Cardigan
  • Merino CardiganMerino Cardigan
  • Reiss Orion Woolly Merino Crew Neck Sweater YellowReiss Orion Woolly Merino Crew Neck Sweater Yellow
  • John Smedley Belvoir Merino Wool Rollneck SweaterJohn Smedley Belvoir Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater
  • John Smedley Cotswold Long-sleeved Merino Wool Polo ShirtJohn Smedley Cotswold Long-sleeved Merino Wool Polo Shirt
  • Reiss Walter Mercerised Merino Cardigan GreyReiss Walter Mercerised Merino Cardigan Grey
  • John Smedley Marcus Crew Neck Merino Wool SweaterJohn Smedley Marcus Crew Neck Merino Wool Sweater
  • Polo Ralph Lauren Jumper In Merino Wool Crew NeckPolo Ralph Lauren Jumper In Merino Wool Crew Neck
Final Word

The importance of fabric is obvious to see when taking a moment to ponder the creative process of fashion design. Some designers base their entire collections around this element, and begin developing concepts by first examining materials to inspire an idea, or an entirely new notion.

In this piece, we’ve explored some of the more traditional materials that have been central to the fashion industry for hundreds of years. Tomorrow, in part two, we take a look at the lesser-known fabrics of the future, along with some fresh uses for age-old materials.