The release of the new Superman movie motivated me to finally write a post explaining what “Super” means when you are shopping for a suit. There are a lot of misconceptions thinking that a higher number means a better quality suit. First a little history…
Super is the numbering system used to describe the new breed of super-lightweight, high-twist wools. These fabrics are made using high-tech machines that spin wool lighter and finer than it’s ever been spun before. The various grades of cloth are referred to as Super 100s, Super 120s, Super 150s and so on, up to Super 200s.
The problem is the impression left by the numbering system. Set up as a shorthand for describing the fineness of wool fibers, it has, in the process of making it to the consumer, come to be taken as a quality ranking. It’s easy to assume a Super 120s wool must be better than a Super 100s wool and not as good as a Super 150s wool-in short, the higher the S-number, the better the fabric.
Technically the super scale refers to the fineness of the wool as measured in microns (one-millionth of a meter). Does that mean finer is better? Not necessarily. As Paolo Zegna explains, “You can have a good 15-micron wool or a bad 15-micron wool.”
Fineness is just one quality component: Length, strength, color, and crimp are also important. Length is critical because the longer the fiber, the stronger the yarn that can be spun from it. Strength is critical because the yarn must be twisted very tightly (hence the name high-twist fabric) to achieve a fine weave. The way in which the fabric is finished also plays an enormous role in the feel and look. Many Super 100s wool with a good finish feel as refined as Super 120s or 140s.
The higher the number the more problems actually come along with the suit. For one thing, these fabrics are hard to tailor because the material shifts so easily when it is sewn. Such wools also wrinkle almost as easily as linen. They are delicate, Paolo Zegna says “a Super 180s is like a Ferrari-and not as durable as a less-fine wool”. The suits made from this wool needs time rest in between wears. The more frequently you wear it the more chance it will start to break down and develop a sheen to it. In addition a lot of Super 130′s and up have other materials spun into them so they are actually a blend to lower the price. For example if you find a Super 150′s suit for under $1000 you are not buying 100% wool.
When shopping for a suit ask yourself what will be the main purpose of the suit. If it is an everyday work suit then go with something more durable. Build the base of your suit wardrobe around these and then you can look into more complicated fabrics. If it is your suit for special occasions then you can invest more into it as it won’t be worn very often.
My conclusion would be to stick with a smooth feeling Super 100, 110, and 120. These fabrics will last longer and be more durable over the course of their time with you, in the end it is just a number.