“So how big should the pattern be?” he asked, displaying a brow furrowed by concern and concentration.
“How big do you want it to be?” I asked, endeavouring to get some parameters for my answer.
“I suppose so it can be seen, but not seen too much,” he replied, helping only a little.
“So a little above the average, but not loud?” I ventured.
“That sounds about right, yes,” he said, brow suddenly as flat as a lake on a breathless day. “How big would that be?”
The scale of checks, stripes and other patterns are hard to put one’s finger on. They are rarely quoted in terms of inches or centimetres, unlike the calculations of weight in ounces and grams, or the fineness of fibres in terms of super numbers and microns. It’s far more subjective.
Fortunately, the vast majority of cloth books out there hover around an average. The subjective decisions of countless individuals, all making their consumption preferences known through demand for cloth – or lack of it – have led to industry standards.
Most glen checks intended for suits, for example, are around the same size, say an inch or so across the central square. Those for odd jackets are often larger, but in suits they are outliers. Similarly with windowpane checks – normally a couple of inches across and a little more in height.
As to stripes, they fall fairly clearly into two camps. Either they are broad stripes, half and inch or more apart, or they are fine stripes, no more than a millimetre or two apart. Either you want the suit to obviously be striped, or you don’t. That’s the conclusion weavers have made about their target market. There’s not many of you in between.
Of course there are bold stripes and faint stripes, chalk stripes and bead stripes, even double stripes and triple stripes. But all of these will be outnumbered by the options offered to a man in a simple broad or fine. So, my advice to the friend mentioned in dialogue above, is, look through the bunch and work out what density of pattern is most frequent. That is the normal suit. Then find something a touch broader, stronger or chalkier, if the slightly unusual is what you’re after.
(All this assumes, obviously, that you have a nice normal H Lesser & Sons or Hunt & Winterbotham bunch in your hands. If it’s a special order evening bunch from Scabal, the guidance may not apply.)
Again broadly speaking (it is so much more fun to do so), the same thinking is useful if buying one’s first suit off the peg. Go into a Ralph Lauren, Hackett or J Press store and the average pattern will probably be the most common, the safest, the most usually seen. Use that as your base point and work up.