You may have come across suits or cloths which have values on them, like Super 100s or 120s or even higher.
These numbers are often used as an explanation as to why cloth or a suit should be more expensive, the higher the number, the higher the cost.
But what are they? What do they mean? and are they a good indication of quality?
First, What are they?
Basically, they are an indication of the fineness of the hairs that go into making the cloth. The finer the hair, the higher the number.
The origins of the number are a little misty depending upon who you speak to.
But before I give you the stories, a little background...
Fleece from the sheep is washed, combed and spun into yarn which is then woven into cloth. Now, the more you tease the fleece out when spinning, the finer and longer the yarn you have to weave with, the finer the finished woollen cloth will be.
If you spin your fleece roughly into a thick yarn, then, when woven, the wool will be rough and coarse.
If you spin your fleece into very fine yarn, then the woven wool will be smoother.
Okay, so let's find out where those Super no's originate from.
The continental set of cloth weavers stand by their story...
The aim of cloth weavers was to make smoother and smoother softer and finer cloths, they did this by teasing out the fleece into finer and finer yarns to weave with.
Typically from 1kg of fleece a spinner could create around 80km of yarn to weave with. Slowly the technology got better and the length of yarn that could be spun from 1kg of wool got longer until...
One weaver spun his fleece so finely, that from 1kg of fleece, he spun 100km of yarn. The yarn was so fine, he called this and the cloth woven from it...Super 100s.
The English version (because we used imperial measures) is this.
The spinning process was invented in England and we had a worsted yarn count system to define the fineness of cloth.
When spun, yarn was divided into 'hanks' ready for weaving. Each hank was 560 Yards (512m). The yarn count or S number, was how many 560 Yard hanks were spun from 1lb of fleece (0.54kg).
The higher the number of hanks, the finer the fleece had been spun.
Typically, a high quality yarn had 80 hanks from 1lb of fleece.
When one weaver finally spun his fleece so fine, that from 1lb of fleece, he spun 100 hanks of yarn, he called it... Yes, Super 100s.
If you do the maths...
100 hanks is 56 000 Yards = 51 200km
1kg is 2.2lb, so
from 1kg you got 112640km of yarn.
The two stories are fairly similar, although the British system was a far more established system and most likely to be the true historical origin of the super 100s.
Nowadays the weavers don't go around measuring hanks or km or otherwise. The super number is graded by measuring the thickness of the hairs of the fleece. The finer the hair, the higher the number that is given to the cloth woven from it.
It is this change that I think causes the problems of modern super numbers, because the hair thickness tells only part of the story.
Basically, this means that the higher the number, the finer the hairs that go into making the cloth.
The finer the hairs, the softer they feel, and the more silky the cloth.
But also, the finer the hair, the finer the yarn used to weave with. The finer the yarn, the more detail and definition you can get in the cloth. A bit like, the higher the megapixel count of a camera, the finer the detail of the finished photograph. This makes the cloth designs a lot more detailed and attractive.
The downside; well the higher the number, the less hard wearing it is and the higher the cost of the cloth, usually.
But does quality also get better the higher the super number?
Most sellers of cloth or suits will tell you 'Yes', but I say 'No.'
And here's why...
The thickness or thinness of the hair tells only that. It doesn't take into account the length of the hairs, or the ply of the yarns, or the way it has been woven.
A good quality cloth is woven from hairs of long length. The longer the hairs, the stronger the yarn will be and the better wearing the cloth will be.
As a result, the better, more expensive cloth weavers choose the expensive long staple hairs and the cheaper end of the market takes the short fibres. The hairs both measure the same thickness, so both cloths can claim to be Super 100s or higher, but one will resist creasing, wear better and look good for longer, and the other won't.
Also, to create a finer design and a more silky feel to the cloth, some cheaper merchants use fewer ply yarns to weave with. And just like a tissue, a three ply is stronger than a two.
So next time you're being told that a cloth or a suit is better or more expensive because of a high super number, just remember, there's more to cloth than super numbers.