Whether you've been shopping for custom suits, tuxedos, dress shirts, jackets, or bedsheets, you've likely come across mentions of thread count, and we're betting that everything you've heard about thread count has been different over the years, depending on who you're talking to or how eager your salesperson is to get that extra commission, regardless of the quality of the product he's trying to sell you. Here at Enzo Custom, we take thread count very seriously, and this article will attempt to clear up any misconceptions you may have had about its importance, what certain numbers mean, and whether or not a higher thread count is always better. First and foremost, we believe that an informed customer is a good customer, and no matter what tailor you end up choosing, we want you to be sure that you understand thread count to the best of your abilities so you'll never get tricked into believing something from a retailer's mouth that is only meant to get you to settle on a quick and easy sale.
Opinions vary on the ideal suit thread count, especially as this changes depending on fabric and canvas. But that "sweet spot" is generally considered to be a number somewhere between 100 and 170. So what exactly do these numbers mean?
Thread Count Explained
In a strictly numerical sense, thread count indicates the number of fabric strands per square inch used in a particular finished product. But thread count numbers on suits usually measure something else entirely, and the numbers provide only an estimate of absolute threads per square inch. The number is actually a relative scale based on the thickness of each thread in microns, and we'll elaborate on this later. Ideally, the strands of a suit, jacket, or tuxedo will not be too thick or too thin, with enough threads per square inch to give the suit optimal fit, comfort, and structural integrity. A thread count that is too high will make a piece of clothing less structurally sound and flimsy, while a thread count that is too low can make a suit feel cheap or cause problems with fitting. A well-made custom suit should fit to the contours of your body, and low thread counts tend to make suits look frumpy.
As a general rule, a higher thread count is better, but only up to a point. Oftentimes people erroneously believe that suit thread counts follow the same rules as bedsheets, where more threads per square inch is almost always better. But for clothing, as you have just learned, this is not always so. Be wary of salespeople who might try to sell you a suit off the rack that exceeds a thread count of 200; while it may feel very fine to the touch, its durability and longevity will be compromised.
Single-Ply vs. Two-Ply
Just as thread count is occasionally misunderstood, the terms single-ply and two-ply can be incorrectly interpreted or explained, as well. Ply refers to the number of yarns twisted together to form a single strand of fabric, the latter of which is used to determine thread count. So to put this into perspective, a suit with a 150 thread count might actually be weaker than one that boasts a 130 thread count if the former is only single-ply. The main difference here is that single-ply fabrics tend to be softer to the touch while two-ply canvases are more robust and rigid. You likely won't notice much of a difference at all in terms of how single-ply and two-ply suits fit to the contours of your body, but it still is something to keep in mind when you are being up-sold on a higher thread count or if extended durability is a priority concern for you.
A Brief Yet Important Note on "Super" Numbers
The one thing that seems to cause the largest amount of confusion when it comes to thread count and fabric strength is the designation of a Super number. Many times when suits made exclusively from wool are advertised, one of the specs that frequently comes up is a number—usually between 100 and 200—preceded by the word Super. While this is related to thread count, this does not directly denote thread count at all, and instead refers to the strength and size of the individual wool fibers, measured in microns. For reference, a micron is equal to one-millionth of a meter.
A fabric rated at Super 100 contains fibers that are 18.5 microns thick, while a Super 130 fabric will have a thickness around roughly 17 microns. While these wool fabrics should have a similar number in terms of absolute thread count per square inch, there is an important distinction of which consumers should be aware. As the Super number increases, the perceived fineness of the fabric does as well.
The Finer Details: Fabric-Specific Thread Counts
As you may have guessed, not all fabrics (and hence thread counts) are created equal. Some fabrics can keep softness and structural integrity with lower counts, while others might fare better with a slightly higher number. In this next section, we'll go over the finer details of each fabric and what thread count range is appropriate depending on the material.
Wool is the most common and sought-after suit material, so its ideal thread count reflects the general 100-170 rule for suit canvases. This balances structural integrity with style and proper fit. As 100 percent wool suits are often advertised with a Super number—as you have just learned—rather than an absolute thread count number, it's common to see custom wool suits that are rated between 100 and 200. As this number goes up, be prepared to spend more out of pocket, since extremely fine wool fibers are harder to obtain. It's also important to be cautious about any wool suits advertised with a thread count over 200, and especially a Super number over this. While it may be fine to the touch, its structural integrity is more likely to be compromised as the fibers of the suit get thinner. Since wool fibers are measured in microns, after a certain point, any perceived fineness will be negligible, so it's best to stick with products in the 100-170 range for maximum balance between the fineness of the fabric and durability.
When most people hear the words thread count and cotton in the same sentence, their first thought that comes to mind is usually something related to bed sheets. In the context of bedding applications, a thread count somewhere between 600 and 800 is generally considered ideal. However, as you may have guessed, a suit with such a high thread count might easily fall apart or unravel. Custom suits made from wool/cotton blends generally follow the same rules on thread count that would apply to a 100 percent wool garment. The benefit of opting for a blend of wool and cotton is that the cotton fibers will add more strength and durability while also potentially reducing cost. While 100 percent wool is generally preferred for custom suits, settling on a blend might be a good idea for those who want to stretch their budget a little further.
Well regarded as a summer suit material, linen does a wonderful job of keeping the body cool in sweltering temperatures due to its very lightweight nature. Unlike suits made from wool or cotton, linen suits maintain structural integrity at a lower thread count, and this is one of the reasons why linen suits can keep you feeling cool and comfortable as the mercury rises. The additional space between fibers allows the suit to breathe very effectively; the only drawback is that linen suits tend to wrinkle easier than ones made from wool or wool/cotton blends. A quality linen suit might have a thread count as low as 80, even though this would be seen as less than desirable with other materials.
In contrast to linen, flannel is a prime material suited for fall and winter months, as this special type of wool retains heat much more effectively than other fabrics. As far as thread count goes, this is where flannel becomes a little tricky. Flannel suits sometimes are advertised with a thread count in their specifications, but even when it comes to flannel sheets or blankets, more emphasis is put on the overall weight of the material rather than individual threads. When shopping for a flannel suit, don't be surprised if the thread count is completely absent from the description. For the most part, flannel suits follow the same guidelines regarding thread count as standard wool, but because of the way flannel is weaved together to form a garment, less emphasis is placed upon actual thread count. You're better off seeing, feeling, and wearing the suit in person, and while we encourage this for any custom suit, this is especially important with flannel ones. Not everyone likes the extra thickness and warmth flannel provides, so it's best to see how it looks and feels before adding a flannel suit to your wardrobe.
As most custom tuxedos are made of wool, logic would follow that standards of tuxedo thread counts match the standards applied to regular suits. And this assumption would be correct; no tricky conversions or rule exceptions are needed here. One thing we would suggest, however, is that you may want to opt for a thread count closer to 100 rather than 150 if you plan on wearing your tuxedo frequently. Depending on the type of wool, tuxedos can be quite an investment, and you'll need to decide for yourself whether you prefer extra longevity or a softer, more refined fabric. These finer details, of course, are aspects of custom suit shopping that our clothiers can go over with you more thoroughly to match your individual needs.
When it comes to dress shirts, there is usually a bit more wiggle room in terms of thread count. Anything advertised between 100 and 140 is common, but anything under 200 is suitable. Just like with suits, a higher thread count will give you a shirt that is finer to the touch while a lower thread count will yield a garment that feels more robust and thicker. The most important thing to consider here is comfort, as the dress shirt—unlike a jacket—will be directly touching more of your skin.
Now that you know more about thread count measurements and the variations of standards between fabrics, we hope that your next suit-shopping experience will be one where you feel prepared and informed. Here at Enzo Custom, we want to make sure you have as much information at your disposal before you choose one of our custom suits as your next addition to your wardrobe. While we provide plenty of online tools to help you get fitted, don't ever feel shy about stopping into one of our physical showrooms, where an expert clothier will be happy to answer all of your questions.