Worsted vs. Woolen Flannels
I love wool flannel, especially when it’s made into trousers. It never looks too slick or pushy, and even when it’s patterned, the soft and fuzzy surface can make the pattern a bit more muted so that it’s never distasteful. In its most classic form, solid mid-grey, it also gives a strong sense of tradition and refinement. 
In addition to looking sharp, it’s also incredibly comfortable. In fact, some may find it curious to know that flannel was originally used for underwear. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that men and women started using it for outer garments and suits. You can find flannel undergarments mentioned in English novels, such as Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. 
The problem with it, however, is that it often doesn’t wear that well, at least when compared to other wool fabrics. If you put them to work day in, day out, they can develop a sheen relatively quickly, especially around the seat. 
The trick is to buy worsted flannels and not woolens. Worsted and woolens, as you may know, are the two major classes of wool fabrics. Worsteds are made from tightly woven long strands of combed-out wool, while woolens are typically made from shorter ones. The difference between the two is that worsteds are smoother in texture and appearance, and feel bit crisper in the hand. Woolens, on the other hand, are generally softer and spongier, and feel a bit loftier. To give examples, gabardine and twill tend to be worsted, and tweed tends to be woolen. 
Flannel can come in both forms. If you buy worsted flannel, it will feel less lofty, but it will also wear much harder. You can tell which is which by taking a very close look at the fabric. Worsteds generally are made with a twill weave, which means if you look closely, you’ll see diagonal lines, much like you see on jeans, underneath the fuzzy nap surface. Woolens, on the other hand, won’t have a twill weave, or any one that has a regular pattern for that matter, and will generally look a bit more mottled. 
If you can afford woolen flannels, however, you should just go with that. It tends to drape better, feel softer, and just be all around much more interesting. The depth and color variation you see in it far surpasses worsteds, but all this is, of course, at the sacrifice of durability. 

Worsted vs. Woolen Flannels

I love wool flannel, especially when it’s made into trousers. It never looks too slick or pushy, and even when it’s patterned, the soft and fuzzy surface can make the pattern a bit more muted so that it’s never distasteful. In its most classic form, solid mid-grey, it also gives a strong sense of tradition and refinement. 

In addition to looking sharp, it’s also incredibly comfortable. In fact, some may find it curious to know that flannel was originally used for underwear. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that men and women started using it for outer garments and suits. You can find flannel undergarments mentioned in English novels, such as Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

The problem with it, however, is that it often doesn’t wear that well, at least when compared to other wool fabrics. If you put them to work day in, day out, they can develop a sheen relatively quickly, especially around the seat. 

The trick is to buy worsted flannels and not woolens. Worsted and woolens, as you may know, are the two major classes of wool fabrics. Worsteds are made from tightly woven long strands of combed-out wool, while woolens are typically made from shorter ones. The difference between the two is that worsteds are smoother in texture and appearance, and feel bit crisper in the hand. Woolens, on the other hand, are generally softer and spongier, and feel a bit loftier. To give examples, gabardine and twill tend to be worsted, and tweed tends to be woolen. 

Flannel can come in both forms. If you buy worsted flannel, it will feel less lofty, but it will also wear much harder. You can tell which is which by taking a very close look at the fabric. Worsteds generally are made with a twill weave, which means if you look closely, you’ll see diagonal lines, much like you see on jeans, underneath the fuzzy nap surface. Woolens, on the other hand, won’t have a twill weave, or any one that has a regular pattern for that matter, and will generally look a bit more mottled. 

If you can afford woolen flannels, however, you should just go with that. It tends to drape better, feel softer, and just be all around much more interesting. The depth and color variation you see in it far surpasses worsteds, but all this is, of course, at the sacrifice of durability. 

How to Soften Wool
If you happen to have any wool knits that feel too itchy to wear, try this simple solution: Fill a basin with cold water and thoroughly soak the garment in it. Then drain the basin and gently press the water out (woolens should never be wrung). While it’s still damp, apply a liberal amount of hair conditioner and work it through the fibers. Higher quality hair conditioners will work better (I recommend Bumble and Bumble*), and make sure you’re not using one of those 2-in-1 “shampoos and conditioners” mixes.
Once you’ve really worked it through the entire garment, let it sit in the basin for about 30 minutes to an hour. When you come back, rinse the conditioner out, press it dry, and lay it flat on a towel for about 24 hours. Make sure it’s not placed next to anything like heaters, which can dry out the fibers again. When you come back, your garment should be considerably softer. Of course, this only works on very dry wools, and only goes so far. You’re not going to turn everything into cashmere, but you may soften things up a bit. 
* This stuff, by the way, is fantastic. I strongly recommend giving a small bottle of their shampoos or conditioners a try. Windle & Moodie sell them at a 25% discount, but you can also find them at most higher end hair salons.

How to Soften Wool

If you happen to have any wool knits that feel too itchy to wear, try this simple solution: Fill a basin with cold water and thoroughly soak the garment in it. Then drain the basin and gently press the water out (woolens should never be wrung). While it’s still damp, apply a liberal amount of hair conditioner and work it through the fibers. Higher quality hair conditioners will work better (I recommend Bumble and Bumble*), and make sure you’re not using one of those 2-in-1 “shampoos and conditioners” mixes.

Once you’ve really worked it through the entire garment, let it sit in the basin for about 30 minutes to an hour. When you come back, rinse the conditioner out, press it dry, and lay it flat on a towel for about 24 hours. Make sure it’s not placed next to anything like heaters, which can dry out the fibers again. When you come back, your garment should be considerably softer. Of course, this only works on very dry wools, and only goes so far. You’re not going to turn everything into cashmere, but you may soften things up a bit. 

* This stuff, by the way, is fantastic. I strongly recommend giving a small bottle of their shampoos or conditioners a try. Windle & Moodie sell them at a 25% discount, but you can also find them at most higher end hair salons.

Q and Answer: What is the meaning of numbered fabrics?
An anonymous reader asks: Would you briefly explain the meaning of numbered fabrics (like super  150’s, 120’s, etc)? I’ve never seen a good article on this. Maybe you  could point one out to me. Thanks very much!
Jesse has a knack for answering questions well and succinctly. I don’t have that knack, but will give you the best answer I can. I’ll take you through the history of Super wools, which I think is a fascinating story, as well as what it practically means for you. If you want the short answer, just skip to the takeaway section.  
The History of Super Wools
The story behind “Super wools” is an incredible tale of how early periods of the global economy affected men’s clothing. 
In 1789, King Charles IV of Spain gave two rams and four ewes to Colonel Gordon of the Dutch East India Company, who in turn brought them to South Africa. Six years later, Colonel Gordon died and the original six animals had by then become 26. His wife sold the flock to an enterprising British immigrant in Australia who would then use these animals to found the multi-billion wool industry in Australia today. Most of the middle- to high-end suits in the market these days use Australian wool, which means much of the tailored menswear industry can be traced back to the six animals that King Charles IV of Spain originally gave away as a gift. 
However, that’s not the story of Super wools just yet; it’s only the background. Australia doesn’t weave wool, it only grows it. Once the wool has been shorn from sheep in Australia, it is typically sent off to Yorkshire, England (more specifically Huddersfield) to be spun into yarn, and this yarn is then woven into cloth. The innovation of “Supers” comes from this Yorkshire town, Huddersfield. 
The traditional way of grading the quality of wool yarn in Huddersfield was to see how much could be spun out of one pound of raw wool. The finer the fibers, the most spools - or “hanks - could be filled. Thus, if a wool was “70s,” it meant that a pound of raw wool would yield 70 hanks. Not only would finer yarn give more hanks, but it also meant that it was softer and silkier to the touch. 
For a many centuries, 60s wool was considered the best in the world. Through selective breeding, however, Australians were able to produce new generations of sheep with finer fleeces. This was the advent of 70s and 80s wool. Consumers at this point still weren’t aware of these distinctions, but people in the trade became obsessed with getting the first 100-count wool.
When it was finally achieved in the 1960s, Joseph Lumb & Sons and H. Lesser, two British companies, decided to market the suitings as “Lumb’s Huddersfield Super 100s.” Now, this is a completely arbitrary distinction. There’s nothing inherently more monumental about breaking the barrier between 90s and 100s than 80s to 90s. It just feels more monumental because our ten-count digit system adds another digit once we reach 100. The marketing of “Super wools” however really took off in Japan, where a few Savile Row tailors had outposts. The idea of a wool being “Super” conveyed that this stuff was the best. It made such an impression that early Japanese and Middle Eastern customers would buy bolts of this “super cloth” and give them as gifts. 
The evolution of the Italian menswear industry at the time also affected the wool industry. After the war, Italy’s ready-to-wear menswear industry really took off. I’ve written a bit about the history of Italy’s most important brands, and if you read through my articles, you’ll notice how many of them went global after the war. These Italian firms heavily marketed their suits as being made of “Super wools.” It was, in a way, to help distinguish themselves as a “luxury” brand on the international market. 
This market reaction from Japan and Italy, coupled with the improvements in loom technology in England and breeding practices in Australia drove the development of Super wools to a point where we’re now somewhere in the mid 200s. Quite a feat given that Mother Nature was only able to develop “60s wool” herself. 
So What Does it Mean for You? The Orthodox View
The simple story here is that the higher the number given to the wool, the softer and silkier to the touch it will be. However, many say that the fineness of the wool means that it will break down faster. As you wear your Super wools, they’ll tend to get shinier in areas that get more stress or wear - like say the seat of your pants. Sometimes it will even wear straight through. It’s a “higher end” wool, but in this case, you trade short term luxury for long term durability. For customers who have a lot of money, this may not be really a big deal, and the tradeoff for luxury may be more valued. If you’ve ever handled a Super 120s and Super 200s, you’ll be impressed with how soft the higher count suiting feels against the skin. 
The other advantage of the higher count Super wools is that the the finer yards will allow weavers to get more intricate colors and designs into the fabric. Imagine then a customer going into a store - stroking and gazing at the soft, beautiful cloth, and being told that this was a “Super wool.” Who can resist? 
The More Nuanced View of Super Wools
That’s the simple orthodoxy - super wools are more luxurious, but aren’t as durable. There’s a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding, however. 
First, remember that the way we measure wool comes from a centuries old practice that wasn’t particularly sophisticated. It wasn’t a very precise measure of fineness and to the degree it even did that job well, it only measured one aspect. There is more to the quality of wool than it’s thickness, however. For example, there is the length of the fiber. The longer the better, as it will be less likely to break. There is also the crimp, as a waviness to the wool will give it resilience; its consistency in the batch; the amount of natural oils in the fibers; how well its woven; so on and so forth. This point was very well proven in this article by Jeffery Diduch, one of the best sartorial minds around. In it, Diduch shows an old bespoke piece made of Super 150s wool. The lining has been worn straight through, but the wool is in near perfect condition. The suiting is clearly high quality and can’t be reduced to just a number. 
Second, there is the issue of whether the numbers are even correctly reported. The Wall Street Journal had a great article five years ago about how suits designed as being of a particular “Super count” actually clocked in at a higher or lower number. This was found even in luxury end suits by Canali, one of the best off-the-rack Italian suit makers in the world. You have to wonder then whether what you’re buying is really the Supers designation that was given to it. 
The Takeaway
So what’s the takeaway? Super wools refer to the fineness of the yarn, which in turn translates to how silky, soft, and complex the weave can be. However, there is more to the quality of wool yarn that how fine each fiber is. This means that you shouldn’t judge the quality of a suiting just from it’s “Supers” count - either adoring or dismissing it for its high numbers. Instead, you should just take it as one dimension. If you buy a nice Super 150s wool from a very good mill, it will wear fine, though perhaps not as well as a more traditional cloth in the 60s and 70s. There’s no reason to be afraid of it straight out of the gates, however. On the other hand, if you get a Super 150s suiting from a bad mill, you’re probably just being suckered into a marketing ploy. In the end, there is no quick label to tell you what to buy and what not to buy; you have to do your homework. 

Q and Answer: What is the meaning of numbered fabrics?

An anonymous reader asks: Would you briefly explain the meaning of numbered fabrics (like super 150’s, 120’s, etc)? I’ve never seen a good article on this. Maybe you could point one out to me. Thanks very much!

Jesse has a knack for answering questions well and succinctly. I don’t have that knack, but will give you the best answer I can. I’ll take you through the history of Super wools, which I think is a fascinating story, as well as what it practically means for you. If you want the short answer, just skip to the takeaway section.  

The History of Super Wools

The story behind “Super wools” is an incredible tale of how early periods of the global economy affected men’s clothing. 

In 1789, King Charles IV of Spain gave two rams and four ewes to Colonel Gordon of the Dutch East India Company, who in turn brought them to South Africa. Six years later, Colonel Gordon died and the original six animals had by then become 26. His wife sold the flock to an enterprising British immigrant in Australia who would then use these animals to found the multi-billion wool industry in Australia today. Most of the middle- to high-end suits in the market these days use Australian wool, which means much of the tailored menswear industry can be traced back to the six animals that King Charles IV of Spain originally gave away as a gift. 

However, that’s not the story of Super wools just yet; it’s only the background. Australia doesn’t weave wool, it only grows it. Once the wool has been shorn from sheep in Australia, it is typically sent off to Yorkshire, England (more specifically Huddersfield) to be spun into yarn, and this yarn is then woven into cloth. The innovation of “Supers” comes from this Yorkshire town, Huddersfield. 

The traditional way of grading the quality of wool yarn in Huddersfield was to see how much could be spun out of one pound of raw wool. The finer the fibers, the most spools - or “hanks - could be filled. Thus, if a wool was “70s,” it meant that a pound of raw wool would yield 70 hanks. Not only would finer yarn give more hanks, but it also meant that it was softer and silkier to the touch. 

For a many centuries, 60s wool was considered the best in the world. Through selective breeding, however, Australians were able to produce new generations of sheep with finer fleeces. This was the advent of 70s and 80s wool. Consumers at this point still weren’t aware of these distinctions, but people in the trade became obsessed with getting the first 100-count wool.

When it was finally achieved in the 1960s, Joseph Lumb & Sons and H. Lesser, two British companies, decided to market the suitings as “Lumb’s Huddersfield Super 100s.” Now, this is a completely arbitrary distinction. There’s nothing inherently more monumental about breaking the barrier between 90s and 100s than 80s to 90s. It just feels more monumental because our ten-count digit system adds another digit once we reach 100. The marketing of “Super wools” however really took off in Japan, where a few Savile Row tailors had outposts. The idea of a wool being “Super” conveyed that this stuff was the best. It made such an impression that early Japanese and Middle Eastern customers would buy bolts of this “super cloth” and give them as gifts. 

The evolution of the Italian menswear industry at the time also affected the wool industry. After the war, Italy’s ready-to-wear menswear industry really took off. I’ve written a bit about the history of Italy’s most important brands, and if you read through my articles, you’ll notice how many of them went global after the war. These Italian firms heavily marketed their suits as being made of “Super wools.” It was, in a way, to help distinguish themselves as a “luxury” brand on the international market. 

This market reaction from Japan and Italy, coupled with the improvements in loom technology in England and breeding practices in Australia drove the development of Super wools to a point where we’re now somewhere in the mid 200s. Quite a feat given that Mother Nature was only able to develop “60s wool” herself. 

So What Does it Mean for You? The Orthodox View

The simple story here is that the higher the number given to the wool, the softer and silkier to the touch it will be. However, many say that the fineness of the wool means that it will break down faster. As you wear your Super wools, they’ll tend to get shinier in areas that get more stress or wear - like say the seat of your pants. Sometimes it will even wear straight through. It’s a “higher end” wool, but in this case, you trade short term luxury for long term durability. For customers who have a lot of money, this may not be really a big deal, and the tradeoff for luxury may be more valued. If you’ve ever handled a Super 120s and Super 200s, you’ll be impressed with how soft the higher count suiting feels against the skin. 

The other advantage of the higher count Super wools is that the the finer yards will allow weavers to get more intricate colors and designs into the fabric. Imagine then a customer going into a store - stroking and gazing at the soft, beautiful cloth, and being told that this was a “Super wool.” Who can resist? 

The More Nuanced View of Super Wools

That’s the simple orthodoxy - super wools are more luxurious, but aren’t as durable. There’s a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding, however. 

First, remember that the way we measure wool comes from a centuries old practice that wasn’t particularly sophisticated. It wasn’t a very precise measure of fineness and to the degree it even did that job well, it only measured one aspect. There is more to the quality of wool than it’s thickness, however. For example, there is the length of the fiber. The longer the better, as it will be less likely to break. There is also the crimp, as a waviness to the wool will give it resilience; its consistency in the batch; the amount of natural oils in the fibers; how well its woven; so on and so forth. This point was very well proven in this article by Jeffery Diduch, one of the best sartorial minds around. In it, Diduch shows an old bespoke piece made of Super 150s wool. The lining has been worn straight through, but the wool is in near perfect condition. The suiting is clearly high quality and can’t be reduced to just a number. 

Second, there is the issue of whether the numbers are even correctly reported. The Wall Street Journal had a great article five years ago about how suits designed as being of a particular “Super count” actually clocked in at a higher or lower number. This was found even in luxury end suits by Canali, one of the best off-the-rack Italian suit makers in the world. You have to wonder then whether what you’re buying is really the Supers designation that was given to it. 

The Takeaway

So what’s the takeaway? Super wools refer to the fineness of the yarn, which in turn translates to how silky, soft, and complex the weave can be. However, there is more to the quality of wool yarn that how fine each fiber is. This means that you shouldn’t judge the quality of a suiting just from it’s “Supers” count - either adoring or dismissing it for its high numbers. Instead, you should just take it as one dimension. If you buy a nice Super 150s wool from a very good mill, it will wear fine, though perhaps not as well as a more traditional cloth in the 60s and 70s. There’s no reason to be afraid of it straight out of the gates, however. On the other hand, if you get a Super 150s suiting from a bad mill, you’re probably just being suckered into a marketing ploy. In the end, there is no quick label to tell you what to buy and what not to buy; you have to do your homework. 

Q and Answer: What’s the Difference Between Plaid, Tartan and Madras?

Michael asks: I have looked for an explanation of the difference (or relationship) between plaid, madras, and tartan. The results have been less informative than I had hoped for. I was also curious if there was a definitive way to tell the difference between the three.

Scotland has always been known for its weaving, and particularly its weaving of wool. Scotland is also known for Highland Dress, the combination of kilt and other elements that is the country’s national costume. Banned by King George II in the early 18th century, these outfits became a powerful symbol of Scottish and Celtic identity.

One of the most important characteristics of Highland Dress is the distinctive checked patterns of its woolens - tartans. These patterns came into vogue throughout the commonwealth in the early 19th century, and have stayed popular ever since.

The tartan emerged in Scotland in the 16th century. Over the course of the next three hundred years, these distinctive patterns gained symbolic associations. Today, a specific tartan pattern can “belong” to a clan, an organization, even a company. In the United States, when we say “tartan,” we’re usually referring to a pattern that has a specific association, like the famous Stewart tartan, above.

In Scotland, a “plaid” is a specific part of Highland Dress: a sort of pleated blanket-wrap that’s sometimes twice as long as its wearer is tall. This plaid is worn over one shoulder and under the opposite arm, as seen in the photo above. As you can see, the effect is quite impressive.

In the United States, the word plaid is a generic word that describes checked patterns of all kinds. Here in the States, we generally use “plaid” to describe pretty much any such pattern, and “tartan” to describe a pattern with a specific Scottish symbolic meaning. (We also tend to chuck out the window the symbolic meaning of the tartans, unless we’re in a Scottish person’s wedding or at a Highland Games.)

Madras is something else entirely. It refers to a type of cloth, originally made during the British colonial era in Madras, India, (now Chennai). The cloth is a very lightweight cotton, decorated with plaids that are typically in loud colors. The most famous madras fabrics were dyed with natural dyes, which bled when washed - “bleeding madras.” These fabrics were particularly prized by Americans in the middle of the 20th century, and the Ivy League revival has made them popular again today. Today’s madras, largely made with artificial dyes in places other than India, tends to be even brighter than its forbear.

“I am not entirely sure I fit the description of being ‘fashionable.’ Sometimes there have been those generous enough to call me ‘well dressed,’ but if they knew how much of what I wear is many years, even decades old…”

HRH Prince Charles, in this month’s Vogue.

(Side note: the photo caption is “Fresh Prince.”  Really?  Seriously, Vogue?  “Fresh Prince?”  FOR REAL?!)

It’s On Sale
Pendleton for Opening Ceremony Zip-Front Shirt
$74 from $245 (only S remaining)
or in a Black Watch colorway

It’s On Sale

Pendleton for Opening Ceremony Zip-Front Shirt

$74 from $245 (only S remaining)

or in a Black Watch colorway

Eight Days of Style
Reader Lucy wrote to us to ask that we suggest eight super-basic, affordable Hanukkah gifts for her boyfriend “to replace his stained light-wash jeans and Nine Inch Nails t-shirts.”  We’ll offer one choice for each day the oil burned.
Finally, remember how much of his hot, hot heat he’ll lose through his neck, and get him a good basic scarf.  If he isn’t the losing-stuff type, then go with cashmere.  You can always steal it from him, right?

Eight Days of Style

Reader Lucy wrote to us to ask that we suggest eight super-basic, affordable Hanukkah gifts for her boyfriend “to replace his stained light-wash jeans and Nine Inch Nails t-shirts.”  We’ll offer one choice for each day the oil burned.

Finally, remember how much of his hot, hot heat he’ll lose through his neck, and get him a good basic scarf.  If he isn’t the losing-stuff type, then go with cashmere.  You can always steal it from him, right?

It’s On Ebay!
Vintage Woolrich heavy shirt jacket.
Starts at $19.99, ends Sunday

It’s On Ebay!

Vintage Woolrich heavy shirt jacket.

Starts at $19.99, ends Sunday

Q & A
Brett asks:
I like a good scarf. However, I have no idea how to wear one in a way that’s comfortable, stylish and not completely weird looking. Also, don’t really know what kind to buy. Do you have any advice for me?
Have you ever seen one of those desert rabbits with the giant ears?  They use their ears to get rid of heat.  That’s what your neck is like without a scarf.
What scarf should you buy?  That’s entirely up to you.  Wool will be warmest, silk loveliest, blends can be a charming in-between.  For real cold, a traditional Pendleton scarf is inexpensive and easy to find second hand - an Ebay search turns up dozens in a variety of patterns.  You can also try searching for “Made in England” or “Made in Scotland.”  Both are known for their milling, and Scotland particularly is the home of the world’s best woolens.  If you’re not the scarf-losing type, consider investing in cashmere or even mohair.  Good quality can still be found for less than a hundred bucks.  If you’re comfortable paying retail, we’ve loved everything we’ve purchased from Howard Yount, and they have some very lovely scarves this fall.
As far as tying it around your neck, it depends on length and style, but there are three main choices.  The first is a simple knot - the kind you use to start your shoelaces.  The second is, length permitting, folding it in half, draping it around your neck and passing the ends through the loop.  The third is to tie it like a four in hand necktie, without the very last step - around, around, behind and over.  That’s useful for shorter scarves.  Above all, you want your scarf to keep you warm and not be too fussy.  Leave that to the ladies.

Q & A

Brett asks:

I like a good scarf. However, I have no idea how to wear one in a way that’s comfortable, stylish and not completely weird looking. Also, don’t really know what kind to buy. Do you have any advice for me?


Have you ever seen one of those desert rabbits with the giant ears?  They use their ears to get rid of heat.  That’s what your neck is like without a scarf.

What scarf should you buy?  That’s entirely up to you.  Wool will be warmest, silk loveliest, blends can be a charming in-between.  For real cold, a traditional Pendleton scarf is inexpensive and easy to find second hand - an Ebay search turns up dozens in a variety of patterns.  You can also try searching for “Made in England” or “Made in Scotland.”  Both are known for their milling, and Scotland particularly is the home of the world’s best woolens.  If you’re not the scarf-losing type, consider investing in cashmere or even mohair.  Good quality can still be found for less than a hundred bucks.  If you’re comfortable paying retail, we’ve loved everything we’ve purchased from Howard Yount, and they have some very lovely scarves this fall.

As far as tying it around your neck, it depends on length and style, but there are three main choices.  The first is a simple knot - the kind you use to start your shoelaces.  The second is, length permitting, folding it in half, draping it around your neck and passing the ends through the loop.  The third is to tie it like a four in hand necktie, without the very last step - around, around, behind and over.  That’s useful for shorter scarves.  Above all, you want your scarf to keep you warm and not be too fussy.  Leave that to the ladies.