Fall’s Best Transitional Fabrics

The Autumn Equinox for 2017 in the northern hemisphere fell on Friday, September 22, and menswear aficionados couldn’t be happier – shorter days and cooler temperatures allow for heavier fabrics, which generally drape and tailor better.

My first real experience with autumn was in ’95, after suffering an intolerably muggy summer in the Hudson Valley in New York.  The absurd amount of sweat that poured out of my glands in that heat could have produced a small lake, but I often found respite at the rope swing at Pawling Reservoir.   Finally, the temperatures gradually fell in late September, until it was tolerable, even pleasant, at the beginning of October.  It’s at that time that the white oaks in Putnam county change first, the edges of the green leaves yellowing slightly, from a muted amber to a bright gold, then mellowing to dark saffron orange just a month’s time.  The sugar maples, though, were the real showstoppers, with their striking crimson red and yellow foliage carpeting the whole valley in fiery beauty, from Sleepy Hollow to Mohonk.  That’s the season for fall, that window of time when you can see your breath in the crisp autumn air, before the leaves fall in surrender to the impending bitterness of winter.  
Heavier than summer dress, lighter than winter gear, transitional clothing is 45°-75°F (7°-24°C) apparel, taking you from autumn’s cool mornings, through mild afternoons, and all the way to brisk evenings.  In other words: San Francisco weather.  With the average daytime temperature in hovering around 64 degrees (with the exception of the recent inferno that sent temperatures soaring to their highest ever recorded), the City is the perfect place for transitional fabrics. Here are a few ideas.

Flannel – My favorite fabric of all time.  Flannel’s unparalleled softness and ample warmth is so seductive it might make you look forward to cooler weather, just so that you can be cradled in its alluring coziness.  Woolen tweed is magnificent, but might run too warm for fall.  In such a case, look for worsted flannel.  Andy57 has several pairs of 8.5oz Fox Bros’ Queen’s Award worsted flannel, which he vouches is wearable up to the 80s.  Generally speaking, though, heavier fabric is superior, as it usually drapes and tailors better and is best for suits. 
Stick to 12 ounces or lighter for transitioning into fall and save the heavy stuff for winter.
Faux tweed – Woolen tweed announces that you have decidedly embraced the upcoming chill, but might be overkill for some temperatures.  For less extreme weather, look for a faux tweed to carry you through the shoulder seasons.  These fabrics look like the real thing, but since they are worsted, they run cooler and softer traditional tweeds and are perfect for fall.  Usually reserved for sport coats, but can also be used for suits, especially in subdued patterns like herringbone or birdseye.  Abraham Moon has a relatively light weight faux tweed in their Heritage Collection, and many swear by Minnis’ Worsted Allsport II range (what they call “town tweeds”), which hovers around 12 ounces.  Look for colors in autumnal tones in dusty brown, burnt orange, and olive green.
Corduroy – Often overlooked, corduroy has texture and comfort in spades.  However, the traditional cotton fabric can feel like stiff cardboard, and needs to be tailored quite precisely for ease of movement.  If you can find it, look for corduroy made with other fabrics.  The cotton-cashmere stuff can be prohibitively expensive, but Gus (@GusW) has a moss green corduroy sport coat made for him by Ring Jacket in a reasonably priced Zegna fabric comprised of cotton with 2% stretch for comfort.  I just purchased a length of 10oz chocolate brown corduroy in wool from Sultan’s Fine Fabrics in Canada.  Described as a “tweed”, its ribbed weave makes it essentially the same as corduroy.  It should arrive just in time for my visit to my tailor in Sicily at the end of the month.