If you do a quick browse through any department stores suit section you will quickly see that most suits have a tag stating that the fabric is made from super ### wool. The super numbers can range from the 100’s, all the way up to the 220’s. This number has quickly become an indication of the suits grade and quality. This has been problematic for the general consumer because most of us just do not know what these numbers mean, and even worse, for the most part the fabric industry has no regulating body that governs these numbers.
The “super” numbers is a code used to determine the micron of the wool fiber used in the yarn.(This is easily confused with thread count, a grading method used in cotton goods, which denotes the amount of threads used per square inch) The higher the number the finer the micron. Funny thing is that the number has no direct correlation to the micron width, rather a super 180’s wool was more of an arbitrary number chosen for no apparent reason. A common misconception is that the higher these numbers get, the better the fabric is. This is not the case.
In its purest form the “super” numbers were the fabric mills way of keeping score. It was an informal score keeping method between the big textile giants of Italy and England, that graded their live stock of merino sheep as well as their shearing and processing methods. As time went by and their best fabrics went to top designers all over the world, more and more of these “super” numbers became familiar to their customers. As is the case in most industries, as the leaders go the pack will follow, copy cat mills started using the same “super” numbers on their products. Today with out a regulating body to over see them, these numbers are as confusing as ever.
Whether you are looking to buy custom suits or off-the peg designer suits, here are a few things to think about in regards to these numbers:
- Use Common sense. With today’s technology it can be common place to find super 120’s and, to some degree, super 150’s suits. Most custom suit makers and designer labels will use this grade of fabric. The same is not true for higher grades. Super 180’s, 200’s and 220’s are truly rare fabrics to come by and can run well into the thousands. (a super 220’s suit can cost as much as a new BMW). So if you should see a super 200’s suit at a discount retailer for a couple hundred dollars, there is a good chance that label is lying.
- Make sure it actually says wool. One trick many deceptive manufacturers use is labeling very fine micron synthetics as a super number. Technically the synthetic material is a very fine micron, some labeled as high as super 240’s, but the fact is these are still nothing more than a synthetic (polyester) fabric
- Buy according to “hand” rather than the number. Touch the fabric, rumple and ball it up. Great fabric is pliable and soft, it rebounds with out creases. Take time to really feel and handle the fabric and compare it to others in the store. The better ones will stand out.
- Compare to the best. A suit can be a pricey investment, so it makes sense to research before you buy. Even if the big names are out of your price range, it can not hurt to see what their fabrics look and feel like. This will give you a reference point to compare with your potential purchase.
- Choose a reputable maker. When choosing a custom suit maker or specialty department store choose one that will walk you through the fabrics and help you choose according to your needs. i.e. While a super 180’s might be a beautiful suit, the fabric is harder to care for, so if you are a traveling executive it might be best to find a lower grade. A reputable professional will take this in to account. If your clothier starts to sound like a used car sales man and is pushing the “upgrade” to bring your ticket up, it might be time to find a new clothier.
Buying a suit can be a fun experience when you are armed with knowledge. Understanding the “super” numbers can help you buy the best suit for you and your needs.