The Mystic of the Letter “S” in wool fabric
Updated: Feb 13, 2019
Do you know this feeling? You intend to buy a new tailor-made suit and you go to a tailor-store somewhere in the world. You touch all these different fabrics. You see great brand names (or not so great brand names) stitched on the sites of the fabric and the smart looking sales man next to you gives you “this look!” to figure out whether you have any knowledge about fabrics while you try to guess the difference between wool, pure new wool, mixed wool, tropical wool, micro fibre? You want to choose the right fabric for your new tailor-made suit but always see this mystic letter “S” showing up: “SUPER 100S”, “SUPER 100S Wool, “SUPER 110S”. So, what does it really mean?
The good news is that the “S-System” simply makes it easy for you to understand the quality of a fabric and as probably expected, the higher the number the better the quality of the fabric. It starts with “SUPER 80S and can go up to “SUPER 250S”. Better quality simply means that the fabric is finer and a finer fabric usually means a lighter fabric.
The “Super S” and “S” descriptions are defined by the International Wool Textile Organization (IWTO) based in Brussels, Belgium. What is important here is that the word “Super” is only to be used for fabrics made from pure new wool. It is allowable to blend it with rare fibres as alpaca, cashmere, mohair and/or silk. It can also contain up to 5% non-wool yarn for decorative purposes.
If the word “SUPER” is missing than the wool can contain up to 55% non wool content (hence it must have at least 45% wool content) and is called “Wool Blend Fabric” or “Mixed Wool”.
As you see in the following table all is defined by the Maximum Fibre Diameter:
* Descriptions of 220S, 230S, 240S and 250S are only proposed.
which stands for micrometer (microns) and is derived from the Greek word “micron” which translates to “small”. In mathematical terms it is “1×10 of a metre” what means that it is one-millionth of a metre. To not go into much more detail, the wool fibre is graded by the diameter shown above. Typically wool diameters are measured between 11.5 and 24. The “rougher” portion is used for blankets, carpets and furnishing products while the finer ones goes into suiting fabric manufacturing.
Do you intend to test the knowledge of the sales person in the store? Just ask about the microns of the shown fabric which is proposed to you. I am sure it will put a smile on your face watching him gaze back at you in amazement.
In 2008 the Australian wool producer Hillcreston Pinehill Partnership in New South Wales (NSW) was able to produce wool tested at 11.6 microns - almost 10 times finer than a human hair – and was able to sell it to India’s largest worsted suiting manufacturer Raymond Ltd for AUD 2,690 a kilogram. In 2012 Loro Piana awarded the price winning Record Bale award in New York to an Australian breeder measuring 11.1 microns. This award winning wool is used to tailor 40 suits only for a selling price of USD 35,000 each. As you can imagine, they are sold out. Having said that, the competition managed to produce a thickness of 10.9 microns in 2012. It will be interesting to see how 2013 will end up.
So, how does this help when it comes to your choice of fabric for your tailor-made suit?
As most of the time in real life, it all depends!
Is this your first tailor-made-suit as you did not need to wear any suits before or because you are just so used to buying off the rack? Then I would simply recommend to start with something around 100S – 150S and learn about all the different design features a tailor-made suit can offer you. Ask your tailor about the latest cut and the latest fashion. He/She should be able to advise you. If not, you better carry on walking as you get a fine suit but not necessarily in a current style/cut. Hopefully it does not take you back 10 years in time.
If you already have a couple of tailor-made suits in your closet then perhaps it is time to become more adventurous. Try out a higher grade maybe when it is on sale and especially ask for more bespoke-features. Plus try to pull away from the mundane charcoal grey and navy blue suits. Try something different for a change. You can only really tell what suits you when you wear it a couple times.
Is a higher grade always better for you?
The answer here again is: It depends!
Finer fabric looks better and feels better. No doubt! But, it has the disadvantage of being exponentially more costly. When going up the scale and you also have to take much more care of it compared to a lower grade. Here it is very similar to a high performance sports car. The more performance the car has the more care and maintenance you have to invest in. But, who would not choose a nice and sporty high performance car over an average, normal car seen at every corner if you can afford it?
Take also into consideration that the best fabric in the world does not help you look smart if your suit is not well tailored. The choice of a good tailor is essential. If you are not sure about the ability of a tailor either get some recommendations from friends and see the work done or start with a lower grade suit material and see the workmanship. If you are happy with the work of your tailor then by all means you should order a higher grade material.
One thing should be clear though, if you do decide on the high end material you should also consider bespoke features such as a full canvas jacket, hand sewn working buttons and hand stitching, horn buttons and outstanding lining.
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