Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'Know Your Fabrics' - Worsted Wool

I’m getting back into the swing of regular posts after some hectic weekends/weeks of traveling, so I thought I’d start things off by putting up a new ‘Know Your Fabrics’ post. This time around, we’re taking a look at worsted wool:

Worsted actually refers to a type of yarn, and the name itself (like so many other textile terms) comes from a town in the UK (England, specifically), Worstead, which was one of the first manufacturing centers of the yarn.

Woollen yarn (yep, that’s the term), in contrast to worsted wool, is made from uneven fibers (both long and short), left with their natural crimps, which results in a light and airy yarn that is a great insulator, and is therefore well-suited to knit garments like sweaters and scarfs.

On the other hand, worsted wool uses only long fibers, with the smaller fibers being removed through a variety of processes that make the production of worsted yarn much more complicated and time-consuming that woollen. These long fibers are not carded, like with woollen yarn, but instead combed with long-tooth metal combs until the fibers are running in parallel, after which it is oiled and spun, resulting in a stronger, straighter, and sleeker yarn.

The combination of the less ‘fluffy’ hand-feel and much more involved and expensive manufacturing process, worsted yarns are almost never used  for knitwear. Instead, they are most often woven into a shiny and resilient fabric that has become a staple in suiting, but can also be found in carpeting and hosiery, among other less common goods.

Worsted suiting fabric.
In suiting, worsted wool is desirable not only for it’s slight sheen, which creates a more formal or dressy look than non-worsted wools like tweed or flannel, but also for it’s tendency to be less wrinkle-prone, as the slightly stiffer fibers bounce back to their straight form relatively easily. Additionally, the coarser yarn can be woven much more loosely, which is advantageous for tropical-weight fabrics as it results in much greater breathability.

It’s always a goal to end these posts with some recommended products. That said, since worsted wool is used almost exclusively (in menswear at least), for suiting, our picks this time around are a bit limited. That said, we did manage to throw in some variety when it comes to price and seasonality.

First up is this summer suit, made from that looser-woven worsted wool that we mentioned:
"Lotus" Lightweight Worsted Wool Suit | Barneys New York
Tropical-weight wool is actually kind of hard to find outside of bespoke suit-makers (this pick from Barney’s is one of the few ready-to-wear options that we could dig up), and even when you do find that lightweight suit, chances are it’ll be a bit pricey - this pick is quite obviously out of most of our price ranges. Hence, a lot of fellas end up with cotton or linen fabric for their summer suits, even though lightweight worsted wool will actually keep you even cooler.

Next, we’ve got a few all-season worsted wool suits. Since they are fully lined, they won’t be quite breezy enough for the hottest weather. At the same time, they aren’t a heavy, insulating wool, making them relatively versatile.

On the more affordable end of the spectrum, J.Crew Factory offers their worsted Thompson Suit for just over $300 (but much less during their relatively frequent sales):

Thompson Suit Jacket in Worsted Wool | J.Crew Factory (pants here)

At a more middling price range, Suit Supply is a very solid choice. They do have much bolder prints, but we'll stick with the staples and recommend this navy suit that clocks in at $469:
Blue Plain Havana Suit | SuitSupply
Now, if you want to go all sorts of baller, MR PORTER has this Richard James number, which runs a more significant $980, but is sure to make you the sharpest man in pretty much any room:

Prince of Wales Check Worsted-Wool Suit | Richard James via MR PORTER
I'm sure most of you who already own a suit will have something in worsted wool - any thoughts on the pros and cons? Share in the comments below.

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