Sometime ago, the high super numbers arms race got out of control, with fabric makers trying to outdo each other to reach dizzying new heights of silliness — e.g., fabrics that were woven to include actual gold specks or real diamond chips.
When that happened, the traditionalist clients, as well as some well-respected tailors, started to denounce these excesses and call for a return to low super numbers, i.e., rugged old grandpa fabrics, which are starting to come back into fashion at Pitti. I’ve written about this before here.
Now, having myself owned suits in every super number from 80 to 180, it’s about time that I shed the light of first-hand user-experience on this ‘super’ debate.
At first, I too looked askance on any fabric with a super number above 120, dismissing is as kleenex-for-cloth. But over time, I’ve evolved, moving beyond clichés and uncovering a few hidden truths along the way.
The first come-to-Jesus moment was when Marc de Luca of Camps de Luca introduced me to an incredible Schofield Super 180 fabric, which had the unexpected property of holding trouser creases for months on end. He himself uses a suit in this rare S180 fabric as his travel suit, folding and unfolding it out of suitcases, as it pops right back into shape — very unusual for a high super.
It probably has something to do with the weave (super high twist perhaps?) which allows certain high super fabrics to hold their shape, despite how thin the individual threads are.
But even if we can successfully debunk the myth about fragility of high super number fabrics, there remains the sticky issue of their sheen.
Most often, high supers reflect light in a tacky, nouveau riche, shiny kind of way. These are not suits for gentlemen, but rather for arms dealers or dictators.
Nevertheless, this is where the high super number story gets most interesting, because it took years to reveal itself to the unsuspecting tailoring geek that I am. But, before revealing itself, one must follow down a wretched path of abnegation, a tailoring equivalent of the denimhead path to englightenment: one must bow to the No Wash religion.
In our tailoring world, this translates as No Dry Cleaning, ever.
Here, let me digress in my narrative for just one brief moment:
Many years ago, tailors convinced me that dry cleaning is just a bad idea, full stop. It took me a while to believe them, but now I’ve joined the sect, just like those denimhead zealots who religiously believe that their jeans will look best only if left untouched by soap or water for years on end.
Sure, it’s possible to steam and press suit; in fact, it’s even recommended. But one should avoid at all costs subjecting a suit to the rigors of chemical cleaning. Dry cleaning staff have no idea how to put an iron to a bespoke jacket. If you didn’t know this already, always remember that 50 percent of a suit’s elegant shape comes from the way it is ironed and pressed by a skilled tailor, so a bad iron job from an unskilled dry cleaner will leave your suit with a ruined silhouette — you’ll have to take it back to the tailor to get it looking sharp again.
Digression over, back to the main plot:
Because I took the advice of tailors on never dry cleaning, I have stumbled upon an undisclosed truth about high super numbers, which I reveal to you today, dear PG reader and menswear aficionado.
The high super number tacky sheen disappears over time, as the fabric acquires some form of muted patina, looks absolutely lovely, authentic and lived-in. It is almost as if your standard shiny silk tie evolved into muted ancient madder over time.
This was a major surprise for me, as I’ve witnessed my high super number suits evolve, after years, thanks to no dry cleaning in the interim. I must insist on this point, for I fear that any dry-cleaning would have restored my high super number fabrics to their former tacky shininess.
So, in conclusion, while the attractiveness of low super number fabrics is precisely the opposite — i.e., they never age and stay looking new and robust 30 years on — the high super number suit, in contrast, behaves just the opposite way: it starts off looking all-too-new, but then, because the fabric is so fragile, it ages twice as fast.
Over time, it starts to acquire character, as it loses its gloss and begins to look and feel lived-in. As a result, I have of late become a fan and convert to high super numbers, which can only be properly appreciated after years of wearing, and no cleaning.
Ironically, this is probably very much the opposite of the way these fabrics get sold to customers by poorly-trained salespeople. I can well-imagine affluent customers buying high supers because of the gaudy way they look when new, and not at all for the way in which they will age.
Old money, old wine, and indeed old looking suits — this is, and will always be, the gentleman’s way.