Suit Weight & Fabric Choice

There are so many ways, places and people to buy suits from these days. What you’ll be looking for is one that is fit for purpose, smart, and suits your body shape. But what are the key factors you should be on the lookout for, and what makes a great suit?

In this mini-series, we’re set to break down everything you need to know about purchasing a suit, from fabric and colour choice to jacket and trouser style. It can be a minefield and those who think a suit is just a suit, needn’t read any further.

For me, a suit is like armour. It’s your uniform for battle – either as you venture into your work environment, or a social event. There tends to be a natural competition amongst us men and our formal wear collections. After all, people respect a good suit: it sets the scene and goes some distance in creating a strong first impression.

More often than not, style is about how we wear something, as opposed to what we’re wearing. However, with a suit, what we are wearing actually plays a pivotal role in the way we wear it. Having a suit made from quality cloth really can help ‘how’ it wears and looks.

Therefore, the weight of your new suit is one of the first decisions you’ll need to make. Here are a few pointers to get you thinking…

Buying Off-The-Rack

Ready-to-wear/off-the-rack fabrics are rarely heavy, and the cheaper the suit, the cheaper and lighter the cloth is likely to be. If you’re looking at suits from the high street (read: fast fashion retailers), the chances are you will discover designs that are both lightweight and made from cloth that is either man-made or, at the very least, a man-made mix.

Man-made materials often make a suit appear shiny, and can also lead to a limp look at the end of the working day. Just something to bear in mind. The great thing about pure wool construction is that if hung up, the suit actually regains its shape because of the material’s natural spring.

That’s not to say that the high street doesn’t provide wool suits. It does, just check the labels. In my experience, some good places to explore are Austin Reed, Next and Marks & Spencer – the latter having a surprisingly impressive collection of suits that are extremely affordable for the quality (check out their Savile Row-inspired and Best of British ranges).

m&s austin reed next

  • Next Signature Grey Texture Tailored Fit Suit: Jacket
  • Next Brown Check Skinny Fit Suit: Jacket
  • Next Signature Navy Textured Slim Fit Suit
  • M&S Luxury Sartorial Pure New Wool 2 Button Checked Suit Including Waistcoat
  • M&S Savile Row Inspired New Pure New Wool 2 Button Check Suit
  • M&S Best Of British Pure Wool Tailored Fit 2 Button Twill Suit
  • Austin Reed Ar Red Nick Hart Charcoal Semi Plain Jacket
  • Austin Reed Ar Red Nick Hart Gabardine Jacket
  • Austin Reed Contemporary Fit Navy Flannel Suit
Gentleman’s Outfitters

Generally, the more you invest, the better the construction and cloth. If you set your sights on a gentleman’s outfitters, perhaps spending £100 – £150 over the high street offering, you will enter a world of suiting that is far more respectable.

Here, suit weights are likely to be defined as suitable for summer or autumn/winter. Charles Tyrwhitt, Hackett and Reiss are three excellent starting points within this price bracket.

It is a false economy to buy cheaply, in any case. Longevity comes from making a sound investment.

charles tyrwhitt reiss hackett

  • Hackett Mayfair Navy Puppytooth Suit
  • Hackett Mayfair Windowpane Check Suit
  • Hackett Mayfair Windowpane Check Suit
  • Reiss Lord Classic Fit Wool Suit Bright Blue
  • Reiss Malcolm Three-piece Wool Suit Dark Grey
  • Reiss Vincent Three-piece Check Suit
  • Royal Thackeray Blue Twill Slim Fit Business Suit
  • Grey Windowpane Italian Wool Cashmere Slim Fot Luxury Suit
  • Brown Windowpane Yorkshire Worsted Luxury Suit
Buying Made To Measure & Bespoke

If you’re selecting cloths from bunches you might find it a challenge to picture what the suit will look like once it’s made up. A little trick that really helps is to put the small sample up against your wrist, giving yourself a bit of showing cuff. It might seem unlikely, but it makes your brain imagine what the suit will look like once you’re wearing it.

When you select from a bunch, it is important to note that the cloth may appear lighter in colour once made up. So if you think the colour might be too light, it probably will be. Choose a tone darker.

Suits have become a lot lighter in weight over the years, but you will always do well to pick a cloth that is as heavy as you can cope with for the purpose of the suit – it helps with the way it drapes.

Before you visit a tailor, consider what cloth colour, design (if any) and weight you are looking for. A good tailor can harbour as many as 20,000 cloths, so to avoid an overnight stay, look at magazines and online (try our lookbook section on site), and see what catches your attention. Also think about what you are going to wear this suit for, and when you are going to wear it.

If you can get away from work, you would do well to look at fabric samples in the morning. The light is that much better, more neutral, and therefore the options are easier to really study. It’s worth noting that a cloth will change character depending whether it is viewed under natural or artificial light – when choosing, try to ensure it’s the former.

Cloth Weight

Below you will find typical fabric weights, and what type of suit they are most suitable for:

  • 7oz – 9oz: Lightweight. Ideal for the height of summer here in the UK, as well as other hot climates abroad.
  • 9.5oz – 11oz: Light to mid weight. Good for the transitional seasons (moving from spring to summer and late summer to autumn).
  • 11oz – 12oz: Mid weight. Perfect for the majority of the time, perhaps nine to ten months of the year. If you’re building a formal wardrobe from scratch, there is no better weight to start with.
  • 12oz – 13oz: Mid weight, but on the heavier side. A sound option for around eight months of the year. During the summer months it can be a bit warm.
  • 14oz – 19oz: Heavy weight. These are not as popular, but they’re a tailor’s dream because they make up so well. Great on a cold autumn or winter’s day.
Fabric Types

Wool is the most commonly used suit fabric. The two main yarns produce worsted (where the fibres are combed before spinning) and woollen (where they are not). These can be woven in a number of ways, producing flannel, tweed, gabardine and fresco cloths, amongst others.

Cashmere or a cashmere-blend is considered luxury to the outsider, and as much as it is, it’s worth knowing it can give an unwanted sheen to a suit cloth. Some people like the effect and it certainly is characteristic of Italian tailoring, but the traditional English way will have more of a matte finish to the wool.

Super Wools

Image: Charles Tyrwhitt 2014

Ever heard of Super 100s, 140s, 160s or 180s wools? Many believe that the higher the number, the better the quality. It’s fairer to say that the higher the number, the more expensive the suit is likely to be.

The number refers to the number of times that the worsted wool has been twisted when it is made. The higher the number, the finer and lighter the cloth will be. Prince Charles is known for his lightweight preferences and with that he favours wools that are in the realms of 140, 160 or 180.

What are they like to wear? They feel lightweight and are extremely smooth – perfect for the summer months and hot climates abroad.

The drawback is that they don’t keep their shape very well. After a day of wearing the suit it can struggle to stand up and may well need a press to recover. The other thing to note is that because the cloth is that much finer than a more conventional Super 100, it isn’t as durable and won’t last long if worn regularly. With this in mind, anything above a 140 should really be considered a special occasion suit, rather than a daily option.

I always view cloth with a higher twist count rather like a sports car: it’s great to wear/be seen in, but requires a lot more looking after!

Spring/Summer Options

Image: House Of Fraser Corsivo SS14

For spring/summer, there are two types of cloth that are as true to this time of year as a glass of Pimms:

Linen screams summer. The one important thing to note is that it creases easily, and you have to buy into that fact. It’s part of its unique character and to my mind is the only cloth type that is stylish to have a little creased up.

It’s also extremely breathable and tends to be far more porous compared to conventional wool construction – ideal for keeping cool when temperatures rise. It’s advisable to choose reasonably heavy linen as this helps to retain its silhouette; lightweight linens tend to lose their shape quickly.

Seersucker is another favourite for the warmer months. It is woven in such a way that the bunching of the cloth gives it a wrinkled and ‘puckered’ appearance. Again, it is part of its natural charm and should never be pressed. Furthermore, it keeps the wearer cooler in hot weather because this puckering holds the fabric away from the skin, aiding air circulation.

Recommended Tailoring Houses

In terms of where to go for a made to measure or bespoke suit, it’s important to recognise that every tailoring house – whether it be on Savile Row in London or those throughout the country – has their own style of making and cut.

Places I would personally recommend on Savile Row include Anderson & Sheppard (32 Old Burlington Street), for soft canvas construction with a soft shoulder to match; and Huntsman (11 Savile Row), for those that prefer a little more structure:

Away from Savile Row there are number of tailors who deliver very reasonably priced and well-made garments – make sure you let us know any of your personal recommendations in the comments section below.

Online Specialists is a new breed of tailor that has grown over the last few years and seen remarkable success.

Serviced by boutiques around the country, suits are ordered online, made abroad and then fitted and altered here in the UK. Likewise, King and Allen are another company who have been earning rave reviews recently.

Finally, close to my heart (and perhaps a shameless plug) is Made to measure suits and bespoke shirts made by my own brother that follow a similar format:

Final Word

Building a modern formal or professional wardrobe can be a lot of fun. But before you dive in, it’s important to consider what you want your new suit to be made of.

As a rule of thumb, if you’re in any doubt of your selection, ask for some swatches, go home and have a think. A bespoke or made to measure suit, in particular, is a big investment for the average male, so take your time in choosing – you can even ask my opinion in the comments section below, if you like…