Picking out fabric doesn’t come naturally to everyone — yet it’s arguably one of the most important aspects of the bespoke design process. Looking at a small square of cloth, it can be difficult to envision how it will all come together in a head-to-toe ensemble. Yet, with a little preparation, we assure you it’s possible to gain a sense of what will look and feel best for your custom piece.
We’ve developed a primer to guide you through the fabric selection process. Consider it a roadmap. We’ve jotted down some important landmarks and key terms so you can walk into your fitting session confident about your decisions and speaking the language of bespoke design.
Do Your Homework
The bespoke process begins before your tailor takes out the measuring tape. It starts with you. It’s essential that you come to the session having already pondered and answered some important questions about the look you’re hoping to create. Nad Lawrence suggests running through these questions in particular:
- How formal will your piece be?
- Will the suit or jacket be worn just in the office? For a special event? Both? What is appropriate in those settings in terms of material, color and pattern?
- How heavy would you like the piece to be?
- Will you wear it all year round, or just for particular times of the year? When you do, will you be outside for long, or mostly in air conditioning?
- Will you wear this piece with other articles of clothing or accessories?
- Do you think you’ll wear the finished piece with a shirt and tie, or sweater and jeans? Both?
So you’ve asked yourself the hard questions and arrived at answers. That’s a great start — but now, you’ll need to communicate these ideas to your tailor. In our experience, visual aids are one of the best methods to do this. Just like going to the hair salon or barber, bringing in a picture of what you have in mind can go a long way. If it’s an option, you may also choose to wear something similar to the session to convey your preferences.
The tailor may instantly realize that you want a tweed with a harder, smooth finish, like a Saxony, rather than a heavy, woolly Harris tweed. Chances are, you would have struggled to put that into words — but a visual will often communicate where words fall short.
Know the Four Components of Fabric
Speaking of language, it’s worth being aware that there are four primary aspects of fabric that affect how it looks and wears. Your bespoke tailor may use points of each to explain the options.
- Design: The obvious aspect – the color and the pattern. We recommend comparing colors and considering a spectrum of shades.
- Material: Consider the fiber, for example wool, linen, cotton or cashmere. You may also want to evaluate how fine it is (the ‘Super’ numbers).
- Weaving: This will shine through in the pattern (twill, herringbone, etc), but it also affects performance.
- Finishing: Probably the most underrated area, this can transform woven cloth into something very smooth and silky or rough and rustic
Equally important is the effect these components have on the fabric of your choice. The impact and interplay of these four properties will result in varying degrees of:
- Hardness. A worsted wool suit has a harder finish than the soft, woolen cashmere you might wear as a jacket. This hard finish makes the fabric sleeker and smoother.
- Crispness or dryness. Fabric that is crisper is sharp, creating a longer-lasting crease in a trouser. The surface also tends to feel drier. Linen often feels dry compared to the worsted wool typically used for suits.
- Nap. The length of the visible fibers on the fabric. This is often in relationship to hardness/softness.
- Weight. Most fabric will specify its weight in grams and/or ounces. Heavier fabric tends to drape and wear better.
- Breathability. Fabric with a more open weave allows more air to pass through, offering a cooler feel.
- Wrinkle-resistance. A high-twist cloth tends to feel stiffer and won’t wrinkle as easily. A great selection for travelers.
When Only the Finest Quality Will Do: Stylbiella
Nad Lawrence has cultivated a unique relationship with the experts at Stylbiella to bring you exclusive and original unisex fabrics of the subtlest heather tones and soft over-check. We can’t think of anything better suited for a bespoke blazer, statement coat, or any number of classic styles.
Stylbiella is rooted in tradition. Since 1975, they’ve developed their own exclusive fabrics, primarily jacketings. Covering a range of weights, patterns and colours, these jacketings are a rare commodity. Think a big brown Prince of Wales with red overcheck; a deep olive with brown windowpane; a caramel-and-brown barleycorn. A trademark dull, matte finish ties all of these styles together. Sumptuous, delicate, brimming with elegance — Stylbiella fabrics are perfect for the clientele we cater to at Nad Lawrence.
A Hands-on Decision
You could liken it to a wine tasting. Sipping from the flight, allowing the flavor to linger on the palate, savoring and comparing each note side-by-side. Nodding and smiling.
Nad Lawrence believes you should take it a step further. Selecting the optimal fabric is a multisensory experience. Engage your eyes and your hands. In our experience, it’s crucial to narrow down your options to 4-5, maximum. Lay them out alongside each other. They may be variations in a similar shade or differing patterns.
Once you have your contenders arranged in a row, go ahead and feel the cloth between your fingers. Get a sense of how smooth, soft or crisp it is. Additionally, make sure you consider which side of the fabric is intended to go on the outside. Usually the reverse side will have a label on it.
Color + Pattern
Consider each shade carefully. Bring swatches of fabric over to a window or outside to get a sense of them in natural light. Try comparing them to each other. Seeing Navy blue against black often results in a startling contrast you’d not have appreciated without seeing them beside each other. You might also try holding up various hues beside a solid colored shirt – white or blue – to get a better sense of them. If there is a pattern, try to visualize it repeating outwards. As a rule of thumb, subtle patterns like herringbone and Prince-of-Wales checks will become more subtle when worn head to toe. They just become a texture. But big, bold patterns and colors can become stronger. If a full bolt of fabric is available, try draping it across yourself to get a full-length glimpse of a pattern or shade.
Take Your Time
There’s no need to make a decision on the spot. We like to offer clients a small section of fabric to take home, so that they can take their time studying the texture and color, comparing it against items at home.
Sure, the cut of your suit matters. But the fabric makes a world of difference. We’ve found that the more we love the fabric, the more likely we are to wear the suit. So it’s worth taking your time to make the best selection. And when you work with us, you can feel confident you’ll be offered your pick of the finest fabrics on the market — sourced from Stylbiella, Lanificio Cerruti, and other esteemed artisans.
Quality is important, but when your custom look is finished, don’t forget to polish it off with the right accessories. We’ve compiled our top 5 adornments in this handy guide, ready for you to put into action today!