Wool is the primary fabric for men's suits and sport coats, and there are many variations of the textile. Most men think wool comes from sheep, and it does, but it also comes from a wide range of animals. In fact, the dictionary definition of wool is "the soft, thick hair of sheep and some other animals." Other animals include goats, llamas, camels and rabbits.
So, which wool is which?
Yes, the world of wool can feel like Noah’s Ark sometimes. But don't despair. To help you get a firm grasp on the different wool fabrics, we've explained the the most common wools for suits: sheep’s wool, mohair, cashmere and camel hair.
Let's get started.
First up is sheep's wool. As mentioned, sheep’s wool is what most men think of when they think of wool. Like its name implies, it is fabric harvested from the dense coat of a sheep. The coat is sheared and then scoured to remove oil, dirt and any other roughage a sheep may encounter. Once the wool is cleaned, it’s processed and turned into a textile that can be used for clothing, rugs and much more.
If you have a minute, check out this short video that shows how wool is made.
Wool is different from hair or fur in three major ways (this applies to all the wools discussed in this post): it’s crimped, elastic, and it grows in clusters. These factors make wool ideal insulators, moisture-resistant and highly durable.
The two kinds of sheep’s wool we love most are Merino and Lambswool. The latter comes from the first shearing of a baby lamb and is extremely fine and soft.
While Lambswool can come from any baby lamb, Merino wool, however, can only come from merino sheep. Merino wool is among the softest, finest, most opulent wool in the world, and in fact, majority of people say Merino is the best. We don’t disagree—we just think cashmere gives Merino wool a good run for its money (see our paragraph on cashmere below).
What those “S” numbers mean
If you’ve been into Harleys, you’ve no doubt heard us talk about Super 120s, Super 150s, and the like. So, what are we talking about?
We’re talking about grades, basically. In the case of wool, grades are called “S numbers,” and an S number tells you how fine the wool’s fibers are. The S number is determined by the Fabric Labelling Code of Practice, and is based on fiber diameter. The higher the S number, the smaller the fiber.
For example, the fibers in a 120s suit are 17.75 are microns in diameter, in a 130s suit, they are 17.25 in diameter, and in a 140s suit, they are 16.75. The scale runs from 80s all the way up to 200s, at which point the fiber is a mere 13.75 microns in diameter. These wools are very rare and a suit in the 200s range is likely delicate and best worn for lounging on a yacht, not moving about at work.
The difference between a regular S number and a Super S number
A super S number, e.g. Super 120s, means the fabric is 100% wool. If the fabric is a wool blend, then it just has an S number. Also, the blend must be at least 40% wool to be given an S number.
But there is a caveat: U.S. law, contrary to international standards, still allows blends to have Super S numbers.
Mohair is a lustrous fabric harvested from the hair of an Angora goat (why it’s called mohair, we don’t know). Like with wool, the goat is shorn and then its hair is cleaned to remove oil, dirt and debris. Unlike wool, however, mohair has a silky texture and is noted for its natural luster (it’s sometimes called the “Diamond Fiber”). This is because the Angora goat grows long locks of curly, shiny hair.
Mohair is a luxury fabric, which makes it a tad more expensive than wool. But it’s definitely worth it. It does not wrinkle or crease easily, and lasts a long time.
Cashmere is a top-shelf wool, and for good reason. It’s so soft it can make a grown man purr; it’s toasty warm (it can be up to eight times warmer than sheep’s wool), and light as a feather.
Like mohair, cashmere also comes from a goat, just a different breed. Cashmere goats are hardy fellas, as they inhabit some of the coldest places on earth, like Mongolia. To survive icy climates, cashmere goats have coarse topcoats and fine undercoats, the latter being what becomes cashmere.
Separating the finer underbelly hair from the rough topcoat is a laborious process, and is often done by hand. This is partly why cashmere is often more expensive.
Now, here’s where cashmere wins our vote: its fibers are very fine, but they are also tremendously strong (Cashmere goats have to survive winter in Mongolia, after all), which means cashmere feels as soft as a baby bunny but it keeps you warm like a polar bear hug.
So while Merino wool is indeed fantastic, cashmere just might be the softest, most opulent and all-around bestest fabric on the planet.
There is no better way to be casually dapper than with a camel hair suit or sport coat. Camel hair is also great for winter coats.
Unlike most other wools, camel hair is not sheared—it is gathered during a camel’s molting season. The hair falls and then is typically gathered by hand. Then, since camels have coarse and fine hair, the two are separated after gathering.
Camel hair’s reddish-tan hue is a great color for an understated or dressy-casual look. Pair a camel hair sport coat with a white dress shirt and charcoal pants on a cool summer evening, or on an autumn day.
Learn more about suit fabrics
The best way to learn about suit fabrics is to see and touch them, and get a sense of what you like. We encourage you to give our suits the feel-test here at Harleys. Come in today. We are located here.