The turn of the century brought great innovation in fabric technology, but brands like Lululemon gave a huge push to athleisure and the industry as a whole. Today, our standard for comfortable workwear is at an all-time high.
In recent years, suits are also becoming integral to comfortable fashion. Here we will discuss buying stretch suits at three different price points - in order to show you that not all stretch suits are created equally. There’s a lot of resources out there on traditional wool suiting and their fabrics, but not much on comparing performance suit fabrics.
Performance suits are extremely attractive in today’s modern and busy world. With an xSuit, you can travel easily and throw them in your suitcase. But most of all, it’s because they’re so comfortable. True stretch suits are not wool blend. You're going to see some suits out there that are 98% wool with 2% stretch, which only gives you a very moderate amount of stretch. That isn't what we’re talking about here. True stretch suits are 100% synthetic fabrics.
Are all performance fabrics and performance suits created equal? The short answer is no, and we're going to break down how to spot the differences. We’re going to do that by looking at three different suits. The first is a $100 suit from a place like Target, the second is a $599 flex tech suit from xSuit, and the third is a $1,000 suit from Theory.
We're going to evaluate these suits across four criteria:
1. Stretch and recovery (how well does it form?)
2. Fabric origin (where is it made?)
3. Dimensional stability (how long does it hold its shape?)
4. Fit & Style (something subjective)
1. Stretch and Recovery
Based on fabric composition, and specific to performance fabrics, there are two terms that are most common.
Elastane, Spandex, and Lycra
What you might not know is that elastane, spandex, and Lycra are all the same things. Elastane and spandex are generic terms - and Lycra is a brand name. For the purposes of this article, we’re just going to use spandex in lieu of elastane and Lycra. Spandex is typically used in compression, so it typically is more expensive to produce, and it's best using things where you need to hold the shape (like athletic tights or yoga leggings). The weakness of spandex is that it's heavier. Therefore it retains moisture, so if you want your sweat to wick it's not great for that. For spandex, you'll almost never see it being more than 30 to 40% on a garment. More often you'll see it be 2 to 10% percent, especially on a more formal garment, because spandex can’t be dyed.
In some people's minds polyester implies cheap. But polyester comes in many different grades. Just like with bread - you have cheap white bread, but then you also have high-end artisan bread from a French bakery. When you see the polyester percentage on a piece of clothing, you need to understand how the polyester is manufactured and it's not immediately obvious.
Target Suit ($100)
Target has an everyday slim suit which is at a very affordable price point and is made of 63% polyester, 35% rayon, and 2% spandex. The type of yarn technology used in this suit is a single polymer type of polyester. That means that this type of synthetic does not inherently have stretch. It went through a texturized processing step that gave it the stretch. Think about hair that’s naturally straight, and you use a curling iron to curl it to give it stretch. Similarly, this type of stretching material over time is going to start losing its stretch because it's not natural to the fiber. Also, because this type of yarn technology was used, it doesn’t look, or feel nearly as great. The pros are you can get the suit at a very affordable price point, and it can make a lot of sense if budget is your primary concern.
The Infinite Flex tech suit by xSuit which includes 9% spandex, and the type of materials used are different from the single polymer type of yarn in the Target suit. It’s made of high yarn dense polyamide fabric that takes significantly longer to produce. With its abnormally high content of premium polyamide and 9% spandex content, it adds an unparalleled amount of stretch. Instead of going through a separate texturized processing step to get the mechanical stretch that you see in cheaper polyesters, this is a kind that over time no matter how long you wear it keeps on recovering to its same shape. It doesn't lose its stretchiness over time like cheaper synthetics, and it creates a much softer hand feel.
Theory’s suit is 90% polyester and 10% spandex. You could potentially even argue that the spandex composition in terms of the blend may give it a slight edge in terms of stretch, though hardly enough to notice. What's interesting is that both the Target and the Theory suit must be dry cleaned, whereas the Infinite Flex tech xSuit can be machine-washed on cold and hung to dry. That's a little bit of a difference in terms of the way the fabric is made, depending on the type of polyester or polyester blend you might not be able to throw in the machine-wash.
2. Fabric Origin
Where did this fabric get milled? In the traditional suiting world, Italy was the number one place where you’d want your fabric to come from. In the performance fabric world this is Japan and Japan has a long history of incredible innovation. For supply chain experts, they would consider Japan the haute couture at the center of the whole world for performance fabrics. Traditionally spandex is a little bit more expensive than polyester but what you'll find is that Japanese polyester is much more expensive than for say Chinese spandex.
Their fabric is coming from China, using a slightly cheaper type of polyester blend and the main goal is to get it at a mainstream price point that’s very cheap.
xSuit’s Flex tech suit, the yarn technology is coming from Japan, from one of the most famous performance yarn mills. It uses a much newer and more innovative type of yarn technology that takes a lot more time to develop. The yarn is knitted in China where machinery is on par with Japan’s, though easier to scale at volume.
For Theory’s tech suit they are sourcing from Italy. Italy has been in recent years growing a lot in its ability to create performance fabrics. It's not their specialty area but still a great sign of quality.
3. Dimensional Stability
For yoga leggings and for athletic type clothing, you want that performance fabric to compress well, but when you look at a suit, you don't want it to be skin-tight. You want it to really hold its shape nicely and not drape limply on your body.
Meanwhile, stability also affects the overall durability of the suit. In cases where the suit does not hold its shape, it will also lose its wearability sooner, meaning you will need to replace it and get a new one.
It uses cheaper polyester. Specifically the single polymer polyesters like you get on that Target suit is not going to hold its shape as well, because it lacks the structural rigor. The suit will not last long and will need to be frequently replaced.
xSuit ($599) & Theory ($1000)
On the xSuit & Theory suits, they use a much higher type of polyester and spandex blend, which gives a type of structure to it and allows the bounce back so that you can wear it hard over time. It’s still going to continue to hold that same type of shape. Meanwhile, these suits will hold up well overtime and maintain good value, with less need to replace.
4. Fit & Style
The final criteria is style and fit. This is obviously very subjective so it can depend on personal preference.
The Target suit is labeled as slim, but the consensus is that it's a little bit boxier and the jacket is a little bit longer. So if that's for you then it works, but for many people who are looking for a more modern suit this might not be a great option.
The xSuit is designed and fitted for that modern fit exactly which is flattering on the body without it being slim and constricting. It’s offered in a wide size ranges, and will fit 90% of people very well off the rack. You also have the option to select different lengths of sleeves and pants with the xSuit 4.
Theory typically goes with a very European/Italian type of look. It's nice and modern, so maybe a great option if you have a more slender body type. However, this style is more tailored to Europe styling, so Americans and people from other countries may find it to be not as comfortable and breathable. Meanwhile, the size and color range is a bit limited.
The most important takeaway here is that the care content label is only just the beginning. You must do your research on how the fabrics are made, and the type of technologies they're using to make them. In the end, the best solution is to find a suit that provides the best quality and value for your price point, and will maintain its durability and comfort over time.