What is Super Wool?
Posted: Jul 21 2013
So, what is the deal with Super Wool? Does it have special powers? Does it clean itself? Does it tuck you in at night and then go hang itself… ok that was a bit morbid, let’s get this train of thought back on the rails. Many of our clients ask us what the difference is between types of wool, particularly the difference between the Super 100s and 200s and everything in-between. We have already shorn a sheep and looked under the covers in a previous post. This post will put the Wool Super System under the microscope to highlight a few facts and dispel a few myths. All aboard!
Nearly every middle to top end suit sold today is made from wool shorn from sheep descended from just two rams and four ewes. In 1789, King Charles IV of Spain gave the kingly gift of six whole sheep to Colonel Gordon of the Dutch East India Company, who brought them to South Africa. Six years later, an enterprising British immigrant to Australia named John Macarthur bought 26 of the offspring and transported them to Botany Bay. These 26 became the founding flock of the great Australian wool industry, whose sheep now number more than 120 million.
In the Yorkshire wool markets, before the advent of modern grading technology, quality was judged by how much yarn could be spun out of one pound of raw wool. The finer the fibres, the more “hanks”—a spool totalling 560 yards of yarn—can be spun out of a single pound. Wool was thus designated as “60s count” if a pound could yield 60 hanks. This measurement, and not thread count, is the basis for all those confusing Super numbers. Higher-count wool commands higher prices because it can produce more yarn, and what it does yield is softer and silkier to the touch.
For centuries the best wool available was 60s and 70s grade. Over the years, some sheep in Australia developed undercoating’s that grew as fine as 70s and 80s. This wool was the top of the line and was produced in limited quantities, virtually all of it destined for Saville Row. But the Australian growers were not content. 100s count wool was the unattainable, the magic number, and the Holy Grail. Most thought that they would never make it. They did.
Joseph Lumb & Sons decided that the advent of 100s-count wool was an event worthy of note. Lumb bought an entire year’s lot of the wool and brought to market suiting’s dubbed “Lumb’s Huddersfield Super 100s.” An era of sartorial hedonism was born and soon it became possible to make, market, and sell cloth that was exclusively Super 100s. Today’s breeding and pastoral control is able to yield fleece that reaches the lofty yet impractical heights of 200s and the International Wool Textile Organization has codified ‘Super’ to only refer to pure new wool.
Historically, a Suit was made to last. This was less to do with construction and more to do with the strength of the fibres. Sub 100s range is a hardy fabric that will last for generations, once you get past 140s the fibres are too fine and tend to wear easily and require spot cleaning. At Tailor On Ten we believe that a suit should last, which means we sell a lot in the range of 100s to 120s. This will provide a fabric that feels great and is able to be worn regularly. So why would you want a Super 150s? We do stock these higher grades and they do feel amazing; smooth, light svelte, luxurious and creamy. We would recommend it only if you are making a suit that will be worn infrequently or for a special occasion, like a Tuxedo. But for an everyday suit, bigger isn’t always better... which I tell myself every day.
Guarantee of Quality
So we now know that the term “Super” means that the fibre is pure wool, the number following (for example “Super 180’s”) specifies the fineness of the wool, as defined and codified by the International Wool Textile Organisation and the US Wool Products Labelling Act. Labelling for fineness of fibre is voluntary, but if supplied, must be honest and accurate. The enforcement of this rests with the Superfine Wool Council, which is made up of the best fabric mills in the world.
The marketing of Super ‘s’ Wool has led to the perception of quality. Lots of people come to Bangkok looking for a quality suit, but what does ‘quality’ mean? At Tailor On Ten it means the trifecta of fabric, construction and service. A quality suit starts with a quality fabric, which means English or Italian, end of story. There are many other mills in the world that make good fabric but the defining term here is quality. There are some morally bankrupt tailors in Bangkok that will gladly sell you fake fabric and the Superfine Wool Council cannot monitor everyone, so how do you protect yourself from these white cotton collar crooks?
1) Just because it sounds English or Italian doesn’t mean it is. Every fabric will have the name of the mill stitched along the bottom, if it doesn’t, walk away. Just do a quick google search for the mill name and you will probably see that it is a Chinese mill with an Italian sounding name. Have a read of our "Get what you pay for" page to delve a little deeper into this!
2) Shop around and go to as many tailors as you can. Many Bangkok tailors claim they are selling a Wool/Cashmere blend when in reality they are stitching you up with Polyester. If you look around enough you will find the legitimate shops, chances are their sales pitch won’t be as forced and they definitely won’t have hawkers out the front. Oh and if you get a recommendation from a hotel concierge you are guaranteed to get plastic.
3) You could ask to do a burn test but chances are most tailors, especially those you are trying to avoid, will be less than ecstatic with you request to set their shop on fire. That said, most of the real tailors will actually allow you to perform this test, so long as they think you are a legitimate customer.
4) Skip steps one and two and come to Tailor On Ten! We are proud of our affiliations with some of the best fabric mills in the world; Holland & Sherry, Ermenegildo Zegna, Vitale Barberis Canonico and many others. We sell some cheaper fabrics that are milled in China but we will tell you that is what you are getting. All of our luxury suiting fabrics have comparable prices to the other tailors in Bangkok selling slightly suspicious textiles. The difference is ours are the big boys, most of whom are actually part of the Superfine Wool Council. Ours are the real deal. We recommend you click here to read a little more into this.
So there you have it, the evolution of Super Wool and the complications of buying it in bustling Bangkok town. It should be noted that you should follow these practices all over the world as fake fabric has become somewhat of an epidemic. Good luck and happy hunting. Get in touch with us for more!Tweet