Popular Poplin suits

Q. I wear poplin suits in the summer and early fall because they are lightweight and not easily wrinkled. I have a blue one and a tan one. Over the winter my closet shrunk both of them, so I went to my favorite menswear store where I had purchased them to buy new ones. The store manager said she had never heard of “poplin” and her assistant indicated he hadn’t either. Is this something new? Am I this out of date?

A. This is not something new and you are not out of date (neither is putting on a bit of weight — sorry, about clothes’ magically “shrinking in the closet” and suddenly needing a slightly larger size). Those two store people seem to be very new to the men’s clothing industry! It is hard to conceive of a menswear store with a sales person, let alone a manager, who has not heard of poplin suits. They are long-established classic elements of fine men’s clothing.

For those of you who are not in the clothing industry and not completely familiar with poplin suits, I will explain what has made them such well-loved seasonal garments for generations.

  • Poplin fabric is lightweight, non-itchy, cool, and comfortable, which makes it particularly popular in summer, in warm climates, and in warm office environments. I have written recently about the other summer fabric, seersucker, which is NOT poplin. Poplin suits are solid color and a smooth, non-crinkly texture.
  • Poplin suits are usually all-cotton, but some are a mix of cotton and man-made fiber. Wrinkling is generally the major objection that men have to poplin suits. Since you mentioned that yours are not easily wrinkled, they must be a cotton-and-synthetic blend.
  • Poplin suits, being primarily cotton, are less expensive than other, similarly-tailored, suits made of wool.
  • If a man has only one poplin suit, it is usually a tan or light khaki color. Darker colors are less common. Still, men who like them choose such shades as olive, dark khaki, blue, and gray for year-round wear.
  • Poplin suits are more casual than their wool counterparts. Some men think of them as a category between a business suit and a blazer or sport coat – slightly casual, but still professional and stylish.

Poplin suits remain readily available at such stores as Brooks Brothers, Macy’s, Jos. A. Bank, and online at Haspel.com.

Although poplin suits are considered “washable,” I do not recommend washing them, no matter whether they are lined or not, no matter if they are all-cotton or cotton/synthetic blends, and no matter how carefully you follow laundering instructions. If they are lined, the two fabrics of the suit and the lining do not react similarly to washing and, thus, will cause the suit to twist out of shape. Cotton suits do not behave after laundering; not only will they shrink, but they will require very skilled pressing. So, why not have them professionally dry-cleaned and pressed from the start?

Besides wrinkling, poplin suits have one other drawback: they are somewhat difficult to tailor/alter, especially for men who need to have their suits “let out” to make them larger. Cotton fabric is less forgiving than wool; the previous stitching tends to show much more on cotton than on wool. This is why men with your same problem, that is, those who have suits that “shrink in the closet” (because the owner has gained weight) might find they need to replace their poplin suits more often than their wool or wool blend suits. Of course, they might also need a larger size belt.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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