Different Suit Materials and Which is the Best One to Choose
Choosing a beautiful cut and style of suit is important—but knowing what it is made of will matter a whole lot more to you when you’re wearing it! While wool and wool blends have been the go-to in men’s suiting for centuries, there’s a wealth of beautiful and expressive fabrics you can now choose from.
Not only do these options allow you to showcase your unique style, but they can also help you stay more weather- and occasion-appropriate. Plus, they can keep you cool, comfortable, and confident all day long!
The sheer wealth of suiting fabrics on the market today can be very overwhelming—but you have Oliver Wicks on your side! Today, we’ve rounded up our expert tailors for their guidance on what materials are open to you, how they differ, and how to choose between them. If you have ever wondered, “What are suits made of?”, this is the article for you.
When we talk about men’s suit material, we use fabric and material interchangeably. For practical purposes, you’re fine doing that. However, there is a difference between the two.
Fabric, strictly speaking, refers only to what you see on the bolt in a fabric shop when it’s ready to be transformed into your perfect suit. In a more practical sense, it will refer to the main fabric that was used to assemble the suit—for example, wool or cotton. This is, confusingly, sometimes also referred to as the “suit material.”
Material is a lot more open-ended as a term. In a strict sense, it refers to everything in your suit—including the buttons, thread, stiffening, and more. To add some more confusion, it can also be used to refer to the substance which makes a fabric. For example, think of how the fabric seersucker is made from the material cotton, woven in a specific way. Denim is another fabric made from cotton material and woven differently.
As we say, practically speaking, this isn’t something to worry about. Everyone will understand what you mean either way. However, it is good to know the difference, if only for bragging rights!
While wool and wool blends are the most common suit material types, they are far from the only ones out there. Let’s take a quick look at some of the common fabrics used in suits.
Wool is the king of fabric for men’s suits. You’ll notice many of our custom suits use it. It is versatile, smart, and refined. Because it’s a natural material (spun from the wool of sheep), it breathes well, and you can wear it comfortably in most weather. It is relatively wrinkle-resistant but can be a little bulkier than other fabrics on the list.
There are many types of wool, named either for the properties of the sheep breed it comes from or the way it is created. Tweed, flannel, merino, cashmere, and so on are all wool.
Technically speaking, worsted is just wool. However, it is not spun like most wool types. It is “carded.” This process leaves only long strands of wool fiber. This makes it tougher and smoother looking. Fresco, gabardine (like many of our ties), and flannel are all worsted wools, and tweed can be made from worsted too.
Also technically wool, and cashmere is worth considering separately. It’s a very soft and luxurious fabric and is found in most top-end men’s woolen. In men’s fabrics for suits, it does have a subtle shine that you will either love or hate. However, it also smacks of subtle European class, and makes a statement of power and beauty for leisurely suits, although it's not appropriate for the boardroom.
Mohair is made from Angora goat wool. Nifty, right? It’s tougher than sheep wool and has a subtle luster and notable strength. While 100% mohair is a little scratchy and stiff, mohair blend suits are a great choice for breathability, understated luxury, and resilience. It also dyes beautifully, which is another reason why it is often used in blends.
After wool, cotton is the most popular fabric for suits. Derived from the ever-versatile cotton plant, it is one of the most breathable fabrics on the market, so it’s a popular choice for summer wedding suits and other hot-weather suiting. Alas, cotton creases, so it needs immaculate care to not look tacky.
Cotton is soft and comfortable but doesn’t have the tactile luxury of wool. It creates a great semi-formal look and is perfect for outdoor events. If you want to use it at work, opt for a cotton/wool blend or heavy cotton to keep the dignity you need to project.
It’s worth mentioning that many other types of suit material are, strictly speaking, made from cotton, but get their own category—like seersucker, which is a light, textured cotton.
Ah, the casual elegance! Linen is ultra-light and super cool, so perfect for breezy days and sipping Scotch in a cafe on the waterfront, or standing up at a summer wedding. However, it has a reputation for being fussy and high maintenance. It stains more easily than other materials and wrinkles like a pro, so it will need regular care and maintenance to stay crisp and fresh. But oh, it’s beautiful when worn well! Keep this one for casual elegance at daytime and summer functions, or for a quick coffee date—it isn’t for the office.
Having said all that, wrinkling is often considered part of the charm with Linen! It’s almost the suiting equivalent of leaving your shirt untucked, so in a casual setting, just hold your head high and roll with it.
Silk spun from the cocoons of silk moths has been a luxury fabric for millennia. It’s breathable, hangs beautifully with a subtle luster that screams elegance, is ultra-light, and is an excellent insulator—so you will stay toasty in winter and breezy in summer.
However, 100% pure silk needs careful care and is thin, so you typically only find it in the highest-end dress shirts and ties. However, many exquisite suiting blends with silk exist to bring you little touches of luxury with added practicality and robustness. A silk blend suit is never out of place and carries an aura of power that is tough to beat.
These three very similar fabric types are all comprised of some blend of cotton, silk, and nylon. They’re very luxurious but very flashy. They feel great to touch, and, depending on the exact blend, can breathe, but they will feel hot to wear and are best for cooler weather.
To keep sartorially elegant, velvet is best used in small doses, for example, in a smoking or dinner jacket, and only for evening events. Needless to say, this one doesn’t travel to the office, though it can be used to make a flashy personal statement at late-night parties.
Synthetics like polyester, viscose, and nylon can be found in budget brands of suits, but they don’t breathe and tend to look a little cheap. In fact, the “lounge lizard” stereotype hinges on the bright, splashy polyester suits of the 70s!
Used in a blend with wool or cotton, you can find some budget-friendly and suitable suits, but avoid 100% synthetics if you’re chasing true elegance.
When it comes to man mimicking nature, nature wins. That’s why we’re huge supporters of 100% natural fabrics… it’s also more sustainable, and kinder to our environment.
The material a suit should be made of isn’t set in stone. Instead, you should choose it to fit the nature of the occasion, the season, your budget, and, of course, current trends and popularity too.
Even the most impeccable suit will look tacky when worn in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, let this be your most important criterion. As a general rule of thumb, heavier and more structured/somber suit materials are a must for the boardroom and events of great formality or those that are set later in the day and evening. Keep lighter, breezier materials for less formal occasions, and splashy ones for places where it is appropriate to let your personal style shine.
So, for the office, formal evening functions like weddings or funerals, or a first date—any serious occasion—you can’t go wrong with a wool or wool-blend suit. While some heavier, darker cotton suits (like our navy cotton suit) will fit seamlessly into an elite meeting of CEOs in hot summer weather, err on the side of caution and make sure you look appropriate. A wool-silk blend will fit these occasions, too.
Linen, velvet, pure silk, and other fabrics are more suitable for events or day wear. If you are about town, meeting friends, attending a daytime/outdoor function, etc. you can experiment a little with structured fabrics like lighter cotton or linen.
Velvet, as we’ve mentioned, is very splashy, so save it for a dab of personal style at evening events where it is appropriate to peacock a little.
Season and occasion are tough to separate in elegant menswear. However, the rule here is easy to guess—opt for lighter and more breathable fabrics in hot weather, and keep snug, warm ones for cold weather. We have some fantastic tips for autumn/winter dressing that are appropriate, without being dull, to help you.
Cotton and linen suits look inappropriate in winter (and leave you chilly) but bring breezy elegance to late spring, summer, and early autumn. Heavy cashmere, flannel, and worsted will roast you in the summer heat, but keep you snug and warm in winter, early spring, and late autumn. When in doubt as to how to balance occasion and season, heavy cotton, medium wool, or a wool-silk blend can be your go-to for most weather.
A quick note—fabrics have “weights” that determine how thick they feel. Always opt for heavier weights of fabric in winter/autumn and lighter weights in summer/spring.
We just mentioned fabric weights - It’s good to undertstand that wool suits come in different weights for all seasons. Some people associate wool with cold winter days, because we’re used to thinking “thick wool socks”. That is certainly true, in that heavy wool fabrics are ideal for winter… but, based on weight, wool suits also make up the bulk of all-seasonal, and even summer collections.
As much as we’d love to have uncapped budgets, most of us have to balance fashion, fit, style, and our bank accounts. Luckily, you can find accessible and high-quality budget suit picks that will help you build a core wardrobe.
If you need to pick one solid investment suit fabric to get you started, consider our basic wool suits. Don’t let the word “basic” put you off - These suits are 100% Italian Wool, with a Super 110S high-quality rating. We often describe these as our “foundation suits”, “the must-haves”, or “starter suits”. You can never go wrong with a classic wool suit. You can build up more unusual fabrics in time and as your budget allows.
It’s time to bring the Oliver Wick’s motto into play—the suit that fits you! Even if you have to choose an off-the-rack suit, instead of a made-to-measure one, to keep your costs moderate, a good fit is your best investment. Remember, we have a range of helpful fitting videos that you can use to fit your suit correctly—just create a quick account on the Oliver Wicks site (it’s free, even if you don’t buy from us) to get access to these, and you’ll always choose correctly!
Looking great doesn’t have to cost the world. Oliver Wicks believes every man should have a suit that fits like an extension of himself, so you have the confidence to feel comfortable wherever you go.
That said, it pays to invest in quality. While cheap mass-market suits may seem like a more budget-friendly offering, they often fit poorly and the material will wear and warp quickly, leaving you looking (and feeling) uncomfortable. It is better to invest in one quality suit in a versatile color (like charcoal or navy) that will last a lifetime than spend the same money on several cheap suits that will quickly look worn out and leave you feeling bad.
The Take Away - A well-fitting $700 suit will look much better on you than a poorly fitting $7000 suit… seriously! A great fit is the golden rule to owning a great suit.
Sartorial elegance doesn’t require trend-chasing. Quite the opposite actually: Dapper gentlemen wear classic looks that stand the test of time, and may even chuckle upon the idea of getting fashion tips from a glossy magazine.
Instead, you simply need to have a great suit that’s well-fitted and elegant, allowing you to project confidence and power. And if your budget is limited, sticking with versatile classics that you can’t go wrong with, is smart. However, there’s no harm in having some fun if you have the budget to do so! While most men’s suiting trends revolve around color and how you wear suits and singles, fabrics come in and out of style, too.
As an example of this, think of your stereotypical favorite university professor. You’ll likely appreciate the respect he had in the room, along with his style, despite the fact that he may have been teaching in the same jacket for 20 years. You never saw him as “not trendy”, right? That’s the power of the classics, and their sophisticated gentlemanly vibe.
Cut type is an important consideration though. Slim fit goes in and out of fashion every 5 minutes - Relaxed classic fits are viewed as old-school. A “Tailored Fit”, going right between the two, is the timeless option, and one that is favored by probably over 80% of our clients.
In addition to the style points above, there are three other factors to consider.
Do you want to wear a suit that leaves you with a puddle of sweat inside it? Breathability means that the fabric lets you naturally regulate your temperature. Wicking means the fabric pulls sweat away from you to the outside of the suit, where it can evaporate instead of leaving you soaked.
Most natural fabrics have some degree of breathability, whereas plastic-based synthetics just trap sweat (and thus, body odor) inside them. Opting for breathable fabrics lets you look (and smell) better, and will cut down on laundering, too. That makes all the difference in the real world, when running for the train won’t leave you feeling conscious about your… bad scent… all day, because you opted for a breathable wool fabric.
The most beautiful suit in the world will look tacky if you’re fidgeting and scratching in it! Stiff suits look gauche, which is why stiffer but practical and beautiful fabrics, like mohair, are blended with other fabrics that have a better skin feel to them—giving you the best of both worlds.
This is also why silk blends are seen as so luxurious—you get that signature whisper-soft feel on the skin, but with a more robust and formal fabric to make it more practical. No matter how perfect a suiting fabric looks, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, skip it.
You may notice that many of our wool suits have a “Super S” number. We could write another 2000 words on that, easily… but all you need to know is that a suit with a Super S rating is a very soft, high-quality wool.
Certain ultra-soft fabrics (silk, cashmere) are exquisite, but their softness means that they wear more easily. Likewise, light fabrics (linen, lightweight cotton, seersucker) can’t take the daily beating that a practical wool suit can, and may stain more easily. Balance your choice of fabric with its useability. A one-off summer wedding is perfect for a linen suit, but a bad choice for the office grind.
There are no “right” or “wrong” suit fabrics (except maybe full synthetics), but it’s rather a case of matching the right fabric to the right occasion and season. If you’re ever in any doubt about the right fabric for your suit, our helpful team is always here—just give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll sort you out!
For the vast majority of occasions, a 100% wool suit is likely your best option. Just consider the weight, so that you can distinguish between summer, all-seasonal, and winter practicality.
Our Oliver Wicks suits are made-to-measure, so they will always fit you. If you have a beloved suit with some fit issues, we’re also proud to offer our tailoring services to help you create the fit you deserve. And if your Oliver Wicks suit needs a little tailoring after you receive it, remember, our 365-day alterations refund is always open to you.