What is the difference between a wool suit and a polyester suit?
Earning a living as a tailor, in the hot and humid conditions of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, the choice of the right fabric for your tailor made suit or even just for your pants, is always a discussion point with my customers. The common impression here is that wool is too hot to be considerable for a suit. Especially for a jacket, and that is the reason that many prefer polyester as the better choice for a suit over wool.
This inspired me to write this article to shine some light into this topic and to help you to make the right choice, depending on your own preferences. Unfortunately, there is no clear “verdict” or recommendation as it simply depends on your need, at the time you buy your tailor made suit.
Let’s start having a look at wool and what is the specific characteristic of wool fabric used for a suit. Wool has the ability to “breath” which means it can exchange air between your skin and the outside environment. This gives it the characteristic of supporting you to keep you warm in winter, respectively cooler days and cools you down in summer. Yes, wool cools you down in a hot and humid climate. To achieve the maximum effect, most wool manufacturers created a weave called “Tropical Wool”. The term “Tropical Wool” does not say anything about the quality of the wool and the exact weave structure, but it means the weave is lighter than that of conventional wool made for the European winter. Hence, it is very suitable for a hot and humid climate as in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore.
The disadvantage of the “Tropical Wool” weave is typically the longevity of the the suit. Obviously, the lighter weave is not as resistant as a thick winter weave for the German Winter, but does it really matter? In my observation over the last 10 years, a typical “Tropical Wool” suit still serves it’s wearer for good 5 years depending on material, and of course, on how good you care for your wool suit. The winter weave can easily hold you for 10 years or more. But, will you still like your 8 year old suit with the old fashioned cut?
When it comes to odour, wool is typically easy to take care of: Just, hang it in a dry and airy place (but avoid direct sun) and let it just air out for a couple of hours. The wool will lose it’s odour. The only place where it typically stays is under the arm pits with your lining which is typically out of Rayon or Berenberg. Anyhow, dry clean will also not help here, as standard dry clean does not eliminate odours in the process.
When it comes to cleaning, wool has a clear disadvantage to polyester as you have to dry clean it. Never, ever, try to wash your wool suit on your own or you will see a result as described in my article “How to best take care of your wool suit?”.
Contrary to wool, a polyester pants or “Micro” as it is also known today, can be carefully washed by yourself. Only iron it “inside-out” and protect the material with a damp cloth where you put the iron on. Do not use any force here, as the material will get shiny or even white when you press it too hard and too long with a too high temperature.
It is not recommendable to wash the suit jacket yourself, as most suit jackets are fused, and after a wash you will have the almost impossible task to press the jacket back in form. Good dry cleaners have special machines for this task, which makes the whole difference.
When it comes to longevity, polyester material typically has an edge over wool, as long as you care for it correctly. The material also creases less. Polyester has a clear advantage here. When it comes to usage in a hot and humid climate it is of clear disadvantage, as polyester does not “breath” as wool does and you will simply feel hotter and also sweat more.
One other disadvantage of polyester material, is that it burns much faster than wool.If you are a pilot or work at a place where you could get in contact with open fire or you drive a lot in your car, it is worth considering this fact.
Having, said all that, the greatest advantage, of any kind of polyester suit, compared to a wool suit, is the better price! But, you can also get cheaper wool fabric for your suit, whig is from my point of view much better than buying a polyester suit. Just be careful here, as many designers, using polyester fabric for their suit designs and then put it up with a heavy price tag. An expensive designer suit does not necessarily mean that expensive fabrics are used, it may only mean that you pay for the design or for the name of the designer.
Today, cloth manufacturers are very much aware of the above mentioned advantages and disadvantages of polyester and wool fabrics, and are bringing more and more higher grade of polyester fabric and mixed fabrics to the markets. The higher grade Micro-fabric still has similar disadvantages as described above, but the touch and feel is much better than a couple years ago. Combining wool and polyesters fabric, is not only creating interesting and vibrant designs, it also helps on longevity and can even give a better feel while wearing it, as the wool helps it to breath.
A decision for a wool suit or a polyester suit, is a question of where you live, how long and often you intend to wear it and where do you wear it, and what is your budget. Keeping this in mind, the polyester suit is typically more budget friendly, but it can give you a hot and sweaty feeling in tropical weather conditions. Wool is for sure more suitable under tropical conditions, if you wear a “Tropical Wool” weave, but washing the pants by yourself is not a good idea and it creases more than a typical polyester material. Having written all about the pros and cons of a wool suit compared to a polyester suit, my personal recommendation is still, at any time, to chose a wool suit over a polyester suit.
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