People often purchase a suit having been sold on the suit fabric's high Super rating. Usually the sales assistant has no better understanding of the Super S numbers than the customer, explaining that 'higher is better'. As the title suggests, this article breaks down those Super S numbers and explains what they stand for. You may be surprised to find that a Super 150 wool does not necessarily bear any greater quality than a Super 100 wool. It's all about what you are after.
Image: Wool fibres under an electron microscope (not the picture of perfection)
One of the primary measures of a wool's quality stems from the diameter of each wool fibre. This is like picking out an individual piece of your hair and measuring its width. A single wool fibre will range from between 11 microns to 50 microns. (Human hair ranges from 18 to about 180 microns.)
Although there are hundreds of breeds of sheep, certain breeds produce wool that falls within the finer range of what sheep can produce. As it is usually desirable to use a finer fibre when manufacturing garments, sheep that produce finer wool have been selectively bred over centuries of the wool industry. Merino sheep produce fibres typically between 11 and 21 microns in diameter and have, accordingly, been bred at epic proportions, now accounting for 80% of wool produced worldwide. Most wool fabrics found in a reasonable to high quality suit will employ Merino wool. (And it will usually be Merino wool from the Southern Hemisphere.)
Whereas wool professionals systematically grade and trade large quantities of yard according to its diameter, a unit was required to provide everyone who did not have an in-depth understanding of wool with a method of understanding the fabric properties. In order to provide a method in which a customer could easily understand the properties of the suit's wool fabric they were purchasing, the arbitrary "Super S Scheme" was developed. By using this system, a customer could look at the "Super S" rating and evaluate how fine the suit fabric was, thereby avoiding an impractical and potentially confusing discussion of the width of the fibres of the suit.
To be clear, the "S" or "Super" rating is not a measure of quality. It is a measure of the fineness of the fabric's fibres used to construct the fabric of the suit. Super S numbers range from 250 down to 80. A Super 250 suit wool fabric employs fibres with a mean diameter of 11.25 microns. A Super 80 suit wool fabric employs fibres with a mean diameter of 19.75 microns.
Despite the crowing about high S numbers, the house that produced the Super 250 fabric may have woven the fabric poorly or used inferior dyes. The fabric house and the methods they employ are infinitely more important in determining the quality of the fabric you are purchasing than the Super S number. Although fabrics that are a high S rating will typically be finer, softer and more light weight, you should remember that it is the fabric house and the methods they have employed that will ultimately determine the product you receive.
A high Super S fabric will also be more prone to wearing thin. If you purchase such a suit you will not be able to wear it on a weekly basis and expect it to last. Conversely, a low Super S fabric will be heavier and less soft than a high Super S suit, but it will also be able to be worn every other day and not show the same signs of wear as the high Super S fabric. Like we said at the beginning, it's all about what you're after.
So the next time someone attempts to sell a suit based on its Super S rating, keep in mind that a high Super S rating does not necessarily make the suit high quality.