Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Supers

Wool comes in a variety of grades. Maybe you've seen suits in a department store with "Super 130s" or "Super 120s" written on them and wondered what that meant. The S system, a sort of scale for rating wools, places fabrics generally somewhere between Super 80s and Super 200s. So what do those numbers mean? In short, the numbers refer to the fineness of the fibers, as measured in microns (one millionth of a meter), that make up the fabric. For example, a Super 140s wool is made from finer fibers than a Super 100s. The finer the wool, the higher the number. You might assume that the higher the number, the better the fabric. Not necessarily so.

First, a bit of history. The S system has been around for a long time (since the 18th century), and has always denoted the fineness of the wool in question. In those days the range was between 30 and 100. In more recent history, technology has enabled textile manufacturers to push the boundaries on how fine they can go by spinning the wool lighter and finer than ever. Fineness isn't the only indication of quality; length and strength are also important. The longer the fiber, the stronger the yarn that can be spun from it. And with strength comes the ability to twist tightly, creating a fine weave and eventually a superior fabric.

So how do these numbers figure into your decision on which fabric to choose? Be aware that the numbers can be a bit misleading. You would assume that a high number fabric would create the best suit. That depends on what "best" means for you. Remember that the higher the number, the softer and lighter the fabric. If you go for a Super 150s and above, you should count on using the garment sparingly, as it won't take well to normal day-to-day use and is much more high maintenance. You should dry clean it very infrequently, if at all. They are delicate and wrinkle fairly easily. They have a great feel and look, but are not as durable as the lower numbered fabrics. And the higher numbers will cost you more.

If your suit is going to see a lot of action, you're better off going with something in the Super 100s-140s range. These are known as the performance wools--you can wear them throughout the day without wrinkling or loss of shape. They travel well. Generally speaking, they make for good all-year suits. Today's fabrics in this range are superb, combining a sumptuous feel with resilience and durability.

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Belt with a Suit

I mentioned in the last post that I prefer to wear no belt with a suit. This isn't because of any fad or trend, and the idea of not wearing a belt isn't new. While it may be gaining some popularity, guys have been wearing suits with no belt for decades. In fact, before it came to be seen as a necessary accessory to the suit, it was seen for what it really is: a way to keep your trousers up. For men who didn't need the extra help, the belt was superflous. Believe it or not, it's still possible to get pants that fit properly today, so belts should continue to be seen as optional. Made-to-measure and bespoke suits specifically provide the opportunity for going beltless, not only because your pants will fit your body perfectly so you won't need a belt, but also because you can request side tabs to be added to make little adjustments should your find the need to tighten or loosen. This is a great way to go. And to truly go beltless, you can get your pants made sans belt loops.

A great advantage of wearing no belt is that you get the full effect of the long, sophisticated lines created by a suit. A belt clutters and takes away from that because it adds a different color that cuts you in half visually. Belts look especially bad when your pants don't fit well (ironic because in that case you need the belt. The lesson is to make sure your pants fit, whether or not you do wear a belt). You can see extra fabric cinched around your waist, making you look sloppy. This problem is exacerbated by pleats. You don't have to be trim and fit to go beltless, you just need pants that fit.

While it may still be looked upon as odd or even outrageous by some here in the states, in England and elsewhere it's seen as quite normal by most, and preferable by many. Some would argue that your look is incomplete without a belt, others would say to be truly dressed well, you should be one color between your shoes and your tie. The point is that there are no hard and fast rules, you decide what you like and what you're comfortable with. Going beltless is definitely worth a shot. Fair warning: once you've tried it, you might not go back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Right Belt

I enjoy the beltless look with a suit, and have gotten some questions about it. Some like the look and wonder how to effectively go beltless. Others have been quite taken aback, never imagining that such a thing as wearing a suit with no belt could or should happen. They feel an ensemble is incomplete without a belt. Wherever you find yourself on the belt debate, here are some arguments for wearing a belt, and how to choose a good one. My next post will discuss the virtues of no belt.

Why wear a belt

The most basic question is do your trousers stay up and in the position you want them? If the answer is no, then a belt is in order. Aside from if your trousers need help staying put, there are some other pro-belt arguments to consider. Because a belt forms a horizontal line around your midsection, it serves to break up the lines and colors of your suit. This may be more subtle with dark suits (think black on black) and more pronounced with lighter suits (think of a light gray suit with a dark brown or black belt). Some, like very tall people, might see this as a positive, as it takes away from their height a bit by breaking up the lines. A belt can also be helpful for those who like to wear their pants above the hips. Depending on your height and proportions, keeping your pants higher on your waist could help even out a long torso and shorter legs by making your legs appear longer than they are.

If you're wearing a sportcoat or something a bit more casual than a suit, a belt is a good accessory and can add nice accents of color, and is possible more appropriate than no belt, since your jacket will be a different color than your trousers anyway.

Choosing the right belt

The first rule is that the belt should match your shoes. Black with black. Dark brown with dark brown. Tan with tan. With browns, it can be tricky to find the right shade. The colors don't have to match exactly, but should be pretty close, I'd say close enough that it's not blatantly obvious that your belt is a different shade than your shoes.

The textures of your belt and shoes do not need to match. With most leathers this probably isn't a concern. If you're talking about a more distinctive texture, such as alligator skin, having a matching belt and shoes can look tacky, like having a matching tie and pocket square. You don't buy these things in sets. The shades should match, but not the texture. Nicer belts that are intended to be worn with nicer clothes are more finished looking. The leather is shinier and it has clean, subtle stitching. Casual belts that look frayed and unfinished should be worn with jeans, not suits.

The belt shouldn't be too wide or too narrow. That's a bit vague, but generally speaking, the belt should fit the loops it'll be going through. I wouldn't try to stuff a wider belt that's better suited for jeans through trousers, just as a sleeker belt with jeans would look out of place.

The belt buckle should be sleek, subtle, and preferably silver colored. Gold colored is okay if you're heavily accessorized with gold elsewhere. It should also be classy. No logos or crazy designs. It should have clean lines and should be squared, rectangular, or either of those with slightly rounded corners.