Someone asked a question over at the tumblr and I felt motivated to pen a lengthier than tumblr worthy pile of drivel about the query. Here’s the question… “Let's talk about gabardine suits. The drapey gabardines of the mid-20th century are really great. With the advent of super whatever number wool and spun silk and so many micro-miracle fibres, why do you suppose we don't see more gabardine suits? And that reminds me, why do you suppose khaki and taupe gabardine look so good and grey gabardine looks so cheesy? And can you think of other textures that work in one color, but not in another?”
I love gabardine and not surprisingly, a rather erudite definition of it is found in a guy named Alan Flusser’s book titled Dressing The Man. The best expressions of gabardine, as my inquirer mentioned, preen in an elegant fluidity of drapy line that simply doesn't manifest in other sartorial swathings. Immediately after reading the tumblr question I thought of a pair of my Purple Label Ralph trousers. They are as close to butter as anything in my closet. Except of course, the little box of Roxanne Burgess’ playthangs in the very back. Oh and by the way, my gabardine musings will be restricted to the woolen sort.
Bulletproof Kevlar Butter. Yep, that’s my new code name for gabardine...BKB be the acronym. I’m already ideating the Gabardine Brand Campaign. To hell with “Got Milk?”…I’m cranking on a “TCB in BKB” theme right now. Seriously, this sings. Now who can I invoice for this little strategic ditty? Somebody get me the number for the Gabardine GrowersAssociation. I believe I could do for gabardine, what marketing did for the vodka category in the commoditized spirits contest. Differentiate or die. Oh wait, I’m sure Burger King would be on my a_s like a rat on a Cheeto what with the “BK” theme and all. Never mind. Shut the…
But along with declaring its kevlarian impermeability let me say this...It’s tricky. So much so that the United States Army, in an effort to fully understand this dynamic-hard finish-high-twist textile, dedicated a testing facility in 1917 solely for putting the fabric in question through all conceivable paces. You’d think that if they’ve been yankin’, twistin’, stretchin’ and stankin’ that cloth since 1917, they’d have it all sorted out and the facility rightfully would have been closed as part of the Department of DefenseBRAC cost cutting efforts. But no. Just north of Baltimore in Harford County, the Gabardine Proving Ground is still hard at it as I type this.
So what about this gabardine trickiness? It’s tricky on many fronts. First, one of the reasons that you essentially don’t see ANY high quality, buttery smooth, drapy gabardine clothing on the rack, ready-made is that the best gabardine cloth is expensive. Expensive like any cloth in the high end range of a swatch book you might peruse during a bespoken sortie. And given that the majority (majority-that would be an amount greater than fifty-percent for you South Carolinians) of ready-made clothing of any material or morphology (morphology…that would denote shape/construct for you South Carolinians) doesn’t sell at full price; gabardine becomes a bad investment choice for inventory.
The aforementioned is exacerbated by the fact that most guys’ Clothing Intelligence Quotient (CIQ) is in the basement. Therefore they just won’t understand something as nuanced as high quality gabardine and will be reluctant to buy it. Got it? The low CIQ dynamic is a contributor to the “I don’t ever see elegant gabardine ready-made, hanging on the rack” question.
There was a time when The Brethren, J. Press et al would offer as standard stock, a well-done gabardine suit in all its high value three button glory. And there’s no better platform, no better host than gabardine to showcase and preen two badges of WASPy munificence...the lapped-seam and the hook center vent. (If someone, South Carolinians aside, doesn’t catch the dichotomy manifest in WASPy munificence, I’m gonna get my feelings hurt and threaten to stop blogging again). Bespokeydoke, let’s move on to the ensuing tricky variable.
Next…gabardine is hard to work with. Highly skilled tailors revere it and consider it an honor of epic magnitude to create a gabardine wrought garment. Average tailors or mass production garmentos eschew it. Why? Because the highly skilled hurdle, in the gabardine sense, is high. Cutting and sewing gabardine is almost antithetical to doing the same with even the highest quality fluffy flannel (I knew a Fluffy Flannel back in ’83…she’s worth a separate story) or an exquisite Harris Tweed. Misalign a flannel or tweed seam…joust wrongly a needle into them when tagging on a detail like a sleeve cuff or a throat tab and no big deal, you rip it out and go again. Their nature is forgiving.
Not the case with gabardine. This purebred hard-finished butter is impregnated with blame and will illuminate every less than precise tailoring move with almost klieg light drama. See the little bump-pucker-pull at the bottom of the hand felled lapel buttonhole above? Its current level of inexactitude is exact. It whispers handwork. But I can promise you that if the artisan who wrought that buttonhole had tugged even one millionth of a smidge harder on the final stitch, that prominent dueling scar would have puckered immediately into Aunt Tootie’s LBJ-esque gallbladder gash. Tailoring chops on par with the best plastic surgeon’s acumen are required here. Gabardine necessitates artistic suturing skills.
And there’s the issue of weight and count. If you can’t afford at least the lightest of light Super Duper 150s, then move on. Anything heavier or less tightly warp-wefted and the cloth looks cheap and polyesterish.
If you want something more substantial, move on to a keeper’s tweed or a cavalry twill.
Don’t be shy about it. If a more prominent, less attenuated warp-weftian look is what you are after, be powerful about it. Tyrone certainly was. Look at the grooves in his twill.
Think of suits made of high quality flannel or other beefy cloths as a Maude Earl oil portrait of a fluffy dog. The quality is obvious and the artisan’s skill is apparent. But there’s forgiveness written all over it. Misplace on the canvas a well-intended daub of spirits based paint? No worries. Gently scrape it off and go again.
Consider its gabardine counterpart as a delicate, precise watercolour on paper portrait of a delicately thin skinned Whippet or Greyhound. One false move in the rendering process and it’s … start over.
Every undulating gabardine lilt, when rendered properly, naturally complements motion. Even when the motion is made by a whiskey pickled Black Jack Bouvier.
So let me draw down chapter one of the Gabardine Warp Weft Dialectic. I'll leave you with another shot of Jack. Baggy, gabardinated and sockless. Next we’ll take on the even trickier issue of gabardine color choice.
Onward. TCB. Sans LFG
ADG the 2nd