The Armoury Guide to Cloth

Cloth is important to what we do at The Armoury. Our ready-to-wear is a tightly curated collection of fabrics we’ve selected for specific usages (a summer sport coat vs. a winter suit, for example). Custom allows you to choose a garment’s cloth and details, with our sales staff available to guide you through these choices, narrowing the selection from hundreds to a manageable handful. We thought an overview of some terms would help you better understand our ready-to-wear offerings and navigate your journey into custom. Here we cover everything from various fibers and weaves to even certain processing techniques.

Angora Blend

There are two types of angora fibers — one from a goat of the same name, which results in a cloth that’s better known as mohair, the other comes from the Angora rabbit. Angora rabbits produce a soft, downy fiber that can be spun into a lightweight, insulating yarn. Like camelhair, however, the fibers are silky and fine, which is why they’re often blended with other fibers for durability. You’ll often see angora used for sweaters — the fluffy knits have a distinctive “halo” about them — but the fibers can also be spun into yarns intended for suitings.

Barathea

Barathea is made from either silk or wool, and has traditionally been used for both silk neckties and wool military uniforms (the original Barathea was a registered trade name for necktie fabrics). Today, it has much more formal connotations. Barathea is a smooth, worsted wool made with a twill weave. It’s typically reserved for tuxedos, which are then finished with a grosgrain trim. Angora BlendThere are two types of angora fibers — one from a goat of the same name, which results in a cloth that’s better known as mohair, the other comes from the Angora rabbit. Angora rabbits produce a soft, downy fiber that can be spun into a lightweight, insulating yarn. Like camelhair, however, the fibers are silky and fine, which is why they’re often blended with other fibers for durability. You’ll often see angora used for sweaters — the fluffy knits have a distinctive “halo” about them — but the fibers can also be spun into yarns intended for suitings.

Blacksheep Wool

Blacksheep wool can be tremendously beautiful, even if it has limited uses, but it’s rare. That’s because, over the last few centuries, sheepherders have bred sheep white so that the fibers can take dyes better. Blacksheep, by comparison, are the natural genetic mutations that couldn’t be stamped out through artificial breeding. Some companies, have moved these hairs upscale, spinning, combing, and weaving their fibers into a handsome, mostly earthy brown, cloth. It’s a color that can only be achieved naturally — dyed yarns often don’t have the same color variation or depth. For men who love the color brown, blacksheep wool is worth a look.

Camelhair

Unlike what the name might suggest, camelhair can’t just be sourced from any old camel. The noble fiber is taken from the coat of the Bactrian camel – a two-humped, long-haired species native to the cold deserts of Central Asia. The fiber is prized for its luxurious quality, plush hand, and natural beauty. It also wears very warm. Any other naturally-derived cloth would need to be many times heavier to produced the warmth of camelhair, which is why the material is often used for topcoats and polo coats – it’ll keep you warm without saddling your shoulders. At the same time, the fineness of camelhair means it can be a little delicate, like cashmere, which is why it’s sometimes mixed with coarser wools. Pure camelhair, however, can last many years of hard wear if the fibers are of good quality. In men’s clothing, camelhair is often left in its natural shades of beige, although it’s also occasionally dyed charcoal, black, or navy.

Cashmere

One of the finest and warmest of the noble fibers. Most cashmere today is sourced from China and Mongolia. From the mountains up Tibet and away across the back of the Himalayas to Bokhara, cashmere travels much like the way it did before Marco Polo explored the Great Silk Roads. It comes down from the mountains in countless little loads on the backs of yaks and horses – sometimes buoyed down interminable waterways on rafts and boats – before reaching a major hub, where it’s put on modern transport and swiftly whisked away to Europe.

Cashmere itself comes from the carefully picked bits of undercoat hair grown on various kinds of goats. It’s a soft, downy, almost slippery fiber. When spun into yarn and turned into sweaters, it provides superior warmth for its weight. In fact, that’s the real advantage of a good cashmere – it’ll provide almost as much warmth as a light jacket, but have none of the bulk. However, the fineness of the yarn means it can be quite delicate, and some makers will cheat by weaving the fabric with a lot slack, which saves on yarn (and thus cost). When buying anything made from cashmere, make sure you’re working with a reputable company that can source the best materials.

Cavalry Twill

A sturdy, wool twill originally used to make riding pants, such as jodhpurs and breeches, which is how the fabric got its name – from pants worn by British Cavalry officers. Cavalry twill is a rather hard-wearing fabric that drapes beautifully, stretches where you need, and is surprisingly soft. This is like denim, if denim could be made from wool and was magically more comfortable.


Cashmere Products




Corduroy

A sturdy, cut pile, cotton fabric distinguished by its vertical ribs. Corduroy’s velvety texture is a good way to take out some of the formality inherent in tailored clothing, which is why it’s popular for suits, sport coats, and trousers. The ribs running down corduroy are known as wales (from the Anglo-Saxon walu, which means “to mark with stripes”). The more wales per inch, the sleeker and more contemporary the look. Needlecord, pinwale, and fine wale cords are various ways to refer to corduroys with very fine stripes (typically twelve or more per inch). Wide wale cords, on the other hand, have thicker stripes (usually six or fewer per inch). Over the last hundred years, corduroy’s rustic nature and hard-wearing quality has made it popular with working men, academics, artists, and bohemians. Which is how the fabric has largely gotten its sense of charm.

Cotton Canvas

A sturdy, plain woven fabric. Cotton canvas is commonly used to make sails and tents, to line boots, and to produce workwear clothes such as chore coats. The fabric is hardwearing and easy to clean. Sometimes you’ll see canvas marketed as duck cloth. In the 19th century, cloth merchants used to stamp their cotton canvas with an imprint of a duck to show that it was heavy enough for sail making. 

Cotton Moleskin

A soft, hardy cotton fabric with an almost suede-like texture. Moleskin has been the staple of English country clothes for generations, often used for hardwearing activities such as getting through thick, prickly brush. Today, it’s a common material in fall and winter clothes, particularly in trousers.

Cotton Poplin

In textiles, poplins are among the simplest of weaves. The yarns pass over each other – over-and-under, over-and-under – until they form a basic cross-hatching pattern. The result is something that’s very durable, resistant to shrinkage, and dimensionally stable. Cotton poplins use a slightly thicker yarn for the crosswise warp direction than then lengthwise weft, giving the fabric a more interesting look. These smooth, lightweight fabrics are typically used for dress shirts. 

Cotton Twill

Many cotton fabrics come in either a plain weave or twill. The first is a simple cross hatching of yarns; the other has a subtle, diagonal ribbing, much like what you see on jeans. Being more tightly woven than a plain weave means that twills are often less resistant to soiling. 

Covert

A sturdy, densely woven twill typically used to make country suits and topcoats. The rustic cloth takes its name from its intended usage – clothes to be worn in covert (pronounced “cover”), where a hunter pursues game. Traditionally, finer fabrics risked getting snagged and ribboned by brambles and stray branches, hence why sportsmen favored covert cloth for their outermost layer. Today, it can be worn in the countryside or downtown. It often has a slightly mottled, flecked appearance that gives the coloring some visual depth. 

Donegal

Unlike Harris, Donegal isn’t a protected class of fabrics, which is why you’ll often find it used to describe a design than a production process. Donegal tweed originates in Donegal, a county in the northwest county of Ireland. Today, the term can refer to almost any fabric that has a nubby, flecked appearance — it’s woven throughout England, as well as in Italy and China.

The flecks from the yarn spinning process, where the wool is washed and felted before it’s made into yarn. Since the bits of color are felted, they don’t stretch out, so they glob onto the yarns like bubble gum on piano string. It’s a built-in defect, in a way. Donegal tweed is typically dominated by one or two colors — either as a solid or herringbone — then distinguished by the rainbow of colors that can be scattered throughout. Certain iterations of the tweed can be a good way to add a unique pattern to a wardrobe, or get a garment that’s visually interesting without being overly bold.

Flannel

Flannel is the backbone of any tailored wardrobe – certainly for trousers, if not business suits. It’s refined without being pushy; sharp while remaining ever-so-comfortable. In fact, wool flannel is so soft, the Brits at one point used it to make underwear. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that men and women started wearing flannel as suits. See Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility for references to wool undergarments.


Flannel comes in two types. The first is worsted flannel, where the wool is combed before being spun into yarn (and then consequently woven into fabric). The second is woolen flannel, which is not combed prior to spinning. Woolen flannel is loftier and spongier, and lacks the diagonal lines you see right under the nap (known in the trade as a twill weave). It often has a cloudier, slightly more mottled appearance, which many men prefer, but it can develop a shine more easily over time. Choose worsted wool for its sturdiness; woolen flannel for its beauty.

Gabardine

A tightly woven, medium-weight fabric favored for its sturdiness and versatility. As a twill, gabardine is distinguished by its steep set, diagonal cords. It’s commonly woven in a solid color and used to make suits, trousers, and sometimes raincoats. The material hangs like iron, stretches where you need, and has a wonderful, almost silky hand. In cotton, the tight weave also gives the fabric a natural water-resistance; in wool, it has a certain spring-back quality that helps it resist wrinkles and retain its original shape.

Harris

A type tweed woven in the Outer Hebrides, a group of islands on the West of Scotland. Weavers here, which are typically small and independent operations, have been making tweed for centuries. And unlike any other tweed, its regulations are controlled by a board — the Harris Tweed Association. In order for a cloth to be called Harris, the fabric must have been made from virgin wool sourced from Scotland, and then fully processed — spun, dyed, handwoven, and finished — in the Outer Hebrides region.

Although the name Harris refers to the cloth’s production process, most Harris tweeds share some characteristics. Most are sturdy, slightly spongy tweeds that take inspiration from the region’s landscape. They’re often earthy in color, available in both herringbone and checked patterns, as well as solid colors. Given that they’re slightly looser in weave, you’ll typically find them mostly used for autumn and winter sport coats. Denser tweeds such as Thornproof and Donegal, however, can be used for sport coats, pants, and suits.

High-Twist Wool

High-twist wools are about the closest you can get to a technical fabric while remaining 100% natural. The technology is all in the term. Yarns are made from tightly twisted fibers, much like you’d see on a rope. By twisting the fibers even tighter, a high-twist yarn becomes stronger. This is partly due to the twisting itself, and partly due to the fact that high-twist wools are made from longer fibers. As weavers often say, high-twist wools need a certain “crimp and length” in order to ensure the fibers won’t break.

By using a stronger yarn, you get two things. For one, high-twist wools are often made in loose, open weaves – known in the trade as tropical wools for how well they allow body heat to escape. Second, they have a natural tension, such that the fabric easily springs back, helping the garment shed wrinkles. This makes high-twist wools ideal for garments worn in the spring and summer months, as well as anything that will frequently be used for traveling.

Hopsack

A simple plain weave made with a cross hatching of yarns, such as that each yarn passes over the crossing one in an over-and-under pattern. Unlike other plain weaves, however, hopsack is made from chunkier yarns, which gives it a slight burlap appearance. It’s most often used for sport coats, typically in ways that play up its coarseness, to distinguish the garment as being slightly more casual than a suit jacket. Use hopsack for navy blazers, spring/ summer sport coats, and suits you may want to break into separates.

Linen

Linen is the original technical fabric. It keeps you cool and dry in the warmer seasons, as the fiber helps wick sweat away from the skin, transferring moisture to the other side and allowing it to dissipate. For nearly a millennia, it’s been used to make everything from home products to apparel. In fact, while the fabric can have a slightly scratchy quality at first, it comfortably softens over a very short period of time. This is why household items such as bed sheets are sometimes referred to as linens, because they were customarily made from flax fibers, linen’s source material.

Broadly speaking, British mills often weave linen fabrics a bit tighter, which helps reduce the wrinkling, making the fabric more rumpled than crinkled after a long day’s wear. Italian linens, on the other hand, are more loosely woven to allow for better breathability. When choosing a linen, pay attention to its weight, sheen, and weave. Finding the right cloth depends on what kind of garment you want, as well as the conditions you’ll be wearing it in.

Mohair

A lightweight and luxurious fiber sourced from the fleece of angora goats. Mohair has a slight sheen, a crisp hand, and is often used to make open-weave tropical wools. The material is favored in the summertime because of how well it deals with heat and humidity. Mohair sheds wrinkles better than almost any cloth, but since it can feel a bit coarse in pure form, it’s often mixed with wool. The more wool that’s mixed in, the slightly more toned down the features of mohair. 

Seersucker

Seersucker is an American classic – a long time staple of trad wardrobes, particularly in the South. At the turn of the 20th century, seersucker was considered the poor man’s alternative to linen, as linen was expensive and difficult to maintain. Seersucker, on the other hand, was woven from cotton and could be easily washed (although, nowadays, you’ll want to dry clean). At some point, it became a favorite among college students on Ivy League campuses, which is how it eventually made it into the prep canon.

Traditionally, seersucker was made with different kinds of yarns for the warp – a weaver’s term for the lengthwise yarns that make up the fabric. Sometimes these yarns were made from different fibers or twists, which allowed them to shrink at different rates. This created the wavy textured effect on each of the alternating stripes. Today, that same effect is achieved by using various cotton-elastane blends. Seersucker has a cheerful, textured quality, with a plain-cotton weave that wears a bit cooler than heavy twills. It’s ideal for hot and humid climates, just as it was a hundred years ago.

Serge

A staple, clear finished worsted made with a two-up, two-down twill weave. As a lighter-weight cotton-wool blend, it’s typically used for overcoat linings. As a medium weight, pure wool, it’s a finer suiting that’s favored for how the material hangs and maintains a pressed trouser crease. Serge is a smooth-faced fabric that lends a sense of professionalism. 

Silk

A strong protein filament taken from the cocoons of the Bombyx mori, otherwise known as the silkworm moth. Silk is prized for its resilience, luster, and brilliance when dyed. The material is used for ties and pocket squares, linings, and sometimes sport coats and suits themselves. It’s also occasionally included in a blend to lend strength and luster to a yarn.

Solaro

Most inventions are a result of a strange accident. In the early 20th century, English colonizers wrestled with the question of how to prevent tropical diseases. They noticed they were more susceptible to them than those they colonized, so they came up with a strange theory that it had something to do with skin color. Darker skin, they supposed, was better at blocking the sun’s rays, which somehow affected the growth and spread of microbes. An Italian-English physician named Louis Sambon published some research on this, but seeing an opportunity for profit, came up with a way to weave beige warp yarns and brighter red weft yarns to mimic the effect of darker skin. The outwardly facing tan yarns were supposed to keep the wearer cool since they reflect the sun; the inwardly facing red yarns were supposed to give the health effects.

Of course, Solaro has no positive effects on your health. And thankfully, it’s associations are less with English colonialism and more with Italian style. Men such as Gianni Agnelli and Matteo Marzotto have worn Solaro cloth as summer suits. Its beige, herringbone weave is made distinctive through its slightly glimmering red cast. The weavers proved one thing right — Solaro wears cool, which means it’s well suited for summer, even if it’ll do nothing for tropical diseases.

Thornproof Tweed

A heavy, hard worsted tweed that’s so densely woven, it’s resistant to being torn or snagged by thorns (hence the name). Traditionally, English sportsmen used Thornproof tweeds for their hunting and shooting clothes. Today, however, you can find it in a range of autumn and winter coats and suits, including those worn in the city. The dense weave, while resistant to thorns, is also weatherproofed for rain and wind, which makes it comfortable in cold and wet conditions. Thornproof is one of the easier tweeds to wear as a suit, although it’s also commonly used for sport coats and topcoats.

Vicuna

Famous for being one of the most expensive of the noble fibers, if not the most expensive, the price of the vicuna is partly about its quality and partly about how difficult it is to source. Vicuna hairs come from the small, South American camelid that goes by the same name. It’s an endangered species that lives on the high alpine areas of the Andes. In the late 1960s, it was estimated that there were only 15,000 animals left. The population has since increased, and some are being carefully raised in captivity, but even in the best scenario the wool can only be collected from each animal about once every three years. The hairs are just very difficult to come by.

When found and woven into cloth, however, vicuna has some special properties. Like cashmere, it’s wonderfully soft and luxurious to the touch, while also retaining a tremendous amount of heat given its weight. The fibers are also naturally water resistant, which together with the superior insulation, is what keeps these animals comfortable in the Andes. Vicuna is difficult to dye, however, which is why it’s typically offered in its natural, slightly taupe-ish state. The material is typically made into topcoats, with

Wool-Silk-Linen

You’ll often find wool-silk-linen blends from Italian mills because the mixture perfectly expresses what Italians love in clothes – a slightly more interesting texture, a livelier looking fabric, and a textile that wears especially comfortable in the warmer seasons. The usage of wool allows the fabric to drape nicely, since wool fibers have a natural crimp, giving the fabric a spring-back quality. Linen, on the other hand, provides a bit of a crunchy, rustic texture. Finally, silk is added to make the yarns stronger, which is useful for those cooler wearing, open weaves. Choose wool-silk-linen when you want a very comfortable spring/ summer suit or sport coat that has a livelier, more casual character. The mixture often allows mills to create slightly more contemporary and interesting designs.

Worsted Wool

Wool is a beautifully rich and diverse category, but most wool fabrics can be categorized in one of two ways – worsted versus woolens. Maybe these categories should be renamed to combed and uncombed, however, because it’s the combing process that distinguishes them.

Combing wool is exactly what it sounds like. Before even spinning the yarn, a maker will comb out the wool in order to set the hairs parallel to each other, as well as remove any of the shorter fibers that would spoil the regularity characteristic of worsted. After the wool has been combed, it’s spun into yarn, and then woven into a fabric. By combing the hairs first, the resulting fabric will feel a bit smoother and crisper. There’s often a dressier quality in worsted fabrics, making it ideal for formal settings, although this is far from law.

Woolens, on the other hand, aren’t put through this preparation process. Thus, the fabric is spongier and loftier, as the wool fibers point in every possible direction. To give examples, wool gabardine is a worsted, while tweed is typically a woolen. Flannel can be either. Start first with how you’ll wear the garment, and the choices between worsted vs. woolen will naturally follow.