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Cool Threads For Summer

Cool, Light and Unconstructed are the Breezy Bywords in Luxurious Warm-Weather Suitings
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

(continued from page 1)

During the '30s the Goodall Worsted Co. devised and produced the first successful "blended" fabric--a cotton/mohair combination that it named the "Palm Beach" suit. At around two pounds, nine ounces, it weighed just half of what a normal winter suit did.

By the end of the 1930s, comfort was beginning to be taken seriously. Real summer suits, as we think of them today, began to evolve. As early as mid-century, tropical worsteds had gotten down to nine ounces. Rayon, which had been invented in 1924, was first used for suiting--as were blends of 50/50 rayon and acetate--by 1934. Gabardines, woven in 12- to 13-ounce weights, were popular. Dupont invented nylon, which it introduced at the 1939 New York World's Fair in the form of stockings for women. Fabric for suits would shortly follow.

The Second World War had spurred development of synthetic fibers, as new materials were sought for parachutes, uniforms, airplane seats, tires and hundreds of other products. Polyester and acrylic fibers seemed to be the most important for commercial use, and the first development and use of these manufactured fibers came in the decade and a half after the war. Polyester was trademarked as Dacron by Dupont. Suits made of Dacron, Dacron-worsted and Dacron-cotton were all seen shortly thereafter on the market. The first so-called "wash-and-wear" summer suit was tailored by the Haspel Co. in 1952: a 60/40 blend of Orlon--an acrylic fiber--and cotton.

While the next two decades saw further developments with synthetics, there began to be a movement towards refining the traditional natural fibers. The movement produced the "super" cloths that are garnering so much attention at the upper end of the tailored clothing market today.

"The super cloths and natural blends have definitely been the next important step in tailored clothing these last few years," says Dougal Munro, of the international textile firm of Holland & Sherry. "Our goal has been to maximize the strengths of each cloth to improve the blend. Regular mohair, which was enormously popular in the 1950s and '60s as sophisticated summer suiting, was good, but it had problems: too shiny, too brittle, too scratchy. If you pressed it too often, it split down the creases. Today we blend super 100s merino worsteds with just enough kid mohair to give it a muted luster. Or we blend it with silk and fine wool in a Donegal-weave cloth that looks like tweed, but only weighs eight ounces and can hold its shape.

"Of course we still do pure linens, silks and cottons. Actually, we've got 58 different quality cottons alone, including some beautiful featherweight, pin-cord Italian corduroys which weigh only nine ounces. They're very much a Duke of Windsor sort of thing."

Vincenzo Sanitate agrees about the natural fabrics. "You know, those 100 percent polyester seersuckers and poplins are about the hottest, most uncomfortable thing you can wear. They're not porous, so they don't let body heat and moisture out. You bake in them.

"What I would recommend is one of the supers. The thing to remember is, the higher the number, the more delicate the cloth. So, the 150s and up are really for the man with an extensive wardrobe. They're not everyday suitings. The other fabric I like that is just that bit different is a 100 percent Irish linen, but in a shirting weight of around six ounces. It's got a wonderful slubbed texture and comes in a beautiful range of colors. We make unconstructed sports jackets out of it. You can roll the sleeves back, and you feel like you're wearing the airiest cardigan."

Andrew Tanner, speaking for Isaia, the acclaimed Italian firm of bench-made clothing, agrees that the newer cloths have taken us in two directions. "We prefer the Supers 120s and 150s for important executive suits, the solids and stripes and muted plaids and such. And then there are the crepe-woven cashmeres and silk/wool blends for sports jacketings, and our more casually tailored jackets. These latter fabrics are not the workhorses like the old-fashioned and heavy Irish linens used to be, but because they're crepe-woven--that is, the yarn is twisted round before being made into fabric--it's not as ethereal and fragile as you might think. These are cloths which, in fact, have substance and drape to them."

Bespoke Enterprises (212) 581-9003
Dormeuil (212) 396-4444
Holland & Sherry (212) 758-1911
Isaia (212) 245-3733
Kiton (212) 702-0136
Vincenzo Sanitate (212) 755-0937

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