Style Guides

How to Pair Fabric Textures: Choosing a Suit Fabric, Pt. 2

Wool plain weave or twill suit, cotton oxford or broadcloth shirt, silk tie.

That’s the current, standard armor of menswear that man begins with, is married in, and is eventually buried in – it’s a relatively easy recipe to remember, and it works very well.  Make sure everything fits, choose colors that go well together, and you’re done.  Easy peasy. Last time, we talked about the basics of how to choose a suit fabric, but there are other options – and you’ll have to consider how to pair fabric textures.

Besides twill, there’s mohair sharkskin for Mods, slick gabardine for Rockers, and cavalry twill for hunters.  There’s fresco for the heat, flannel for the cold, and tweed for a pint in the pub. And that’s just the plain stuff – patterns abound, suitable for whatever environment you find yourself in.  Try birdseye for the boardroom, chalkstripes for less formal offices, and windowpanes, glen checks, and gunclubs for the casual or adventurous.  Some men see a soft cashmere tie and cannot resist its fuzzy allure.  Others succumb to the easy-going appeal of a rumply linen suit.  All well and good, but understand that arbitrarily changing one ingredient in the recipe can lead to an unsavory sight.  The heft, feel, and texture of fabric thus come into play when choosing one for a suit.

The importance of texture in clothing is often overlooked and under-appreciated.  Those ignorant of it can make an otherwise winning ensemble fail, whereas those who understand how textures play together can upgrade even mediocre outfits with depth and interest.

First, it should be noted that the most basic iteration of menswear – dark wool suit in a plain weave, light broadcloth cotton shirt, silk twill or grenadine tie – is in and of itself a wonderful mixture of textures.  As the main component, a suit in a modest wool is discreet, elegant, and light-absorbing.  The cotton shirt adds another layer of texture, tightly woven and offering a hint of sheen.  Finally, the silk fabric of a fine tie gives off a soft luster that delicately reflects light.   Let’s go over some basic combinations below:

These three elements – again, wool suit, cotton shirt, silk tie – when worn in classic woven fabrics such as the examples above, are your bread and butter.  But…

What if you toast your bread, and melt your butter?  You have now introduced two new textures that are miles beyond their original state: the once spongy bread is now crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside; and the formerly waxy pat of butter now oozes like smooth, liquid velvet through its crevices.  

Here’s a couple of simple tables that can help pull together your outfit so that your fixins fit in:

choosing a suit fabric styleforum alternative suit fabrics suit fabric pairings how to pair fabric textures 

Deviating from the tried-and-true triad of menswear can seem a bit complicated, but hopefully the above charts will assist in making it less so.  Bear in mind they are neither exhaustive nor unyielding, but meant to be used as a guide to assist in making sure your ensemble “ingredients” form a pleasant picture.  

At the top of each chart, there is the wool suit in a plain weave, silk twill or grenadine tie, and broadcloth shirt, which you already are familiar with.  As you go down the chart, the fabrics get more casual. Here are some examples of how to pair fabric textures:

Warm Weather

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And here are some good examples of how to pair fabric textures for cool weather

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A few items are always seasonally correct and good for most outfits:

Silk ties; twill, or – slightly more casual – knit

Silk pocket squares

White pocket squares in cotton or linen

Other factors, such as patterns, also play a role in the formality of menswear.  That’s already been discussed in another article, but hopefully these charts and pictures will help when putting together items based on texture.  When all ingredients come together as a whole, the end result – simple or intricate, urbane or nonchalant – will be a palatable portrait of classic menswear in coat and tie.

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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.

4 replies »

  1. The second (awsm) pic, reminds me of where Chris Pratt sang Cucurrucucu Paloma..

    Anyway, I wonder if u could include a link to Vox’s “Practical ..for Beginners” (I don’t remember the full name, but it’s one of the better intro’s to tailored clothing combos).

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