Certain fabrics have popularity levels that come and go. Indeed, gabardine is one of those fabrics that once enjoyed popularity, but is now relatively uncommon. This is sad as it’s a beautiful, utilitarian fabric with an incredible hand.
This page will deal specifically with gabardine: what it is, where it comes from, how to wear it, and more. You can read it start to finish if you like, but you also have the option to jump to the section that interests you most by clicking any of the links below:
What Is Gabardine?
Gabardine is a tough, tightly woven fabric typically used in suits, overcoats, trousers, and other garments. It’s a twill fabric and can be made of worsted wool, cotton, and wool blends. It is not a specific material, but rather a specific type of twill that has many more warp yarns than weft ones.
It’s characterized by a silky hand and resistance to getting soaked through.
Gabardine Or Gaberdine?
Though the misspelling is somewhat common, “gabardine” and “gaberdine” actually refer to two different things.
Gabardine is the fabric being discussed on this page. Gaberdine, on the other hand, is an apocryphal term that refers to a specific article of clothing: a long-ish cassock-type garment that was worn by the poor in the 16th century. Shakespeare made reference to it in The Merchant Of Venice, and the modern fabric takes its name from this garment.
History Of The Fabric
Gabardine as we know it was invented by Thomas Burberry, of the firm Burberry that’s currently a household name. Burberry created the fabric in 1879 and patented it in 1888. The original fabric was waterproofed before being woven and was made of worsted wool or a worsted wool and cotton blend. It was water repellent, but more comfortable than other rubberized raincoats such as the Macintosh (for more info on such coats, our overcoat guide is a great resource).
The fabric was famously worn by polar explorers, namely Roald Amundsen (first man to reach the South Pole) and Ernest Shackleton, who led an expedition to cross Antarctica in 1914. Actor David Niven has been photographed in gabardine as well.
The height of gabardine’s popularity was in the 1950’s, when stores like J.C. Penney produced short-waisted gabardine jackets called “weekender jackets.” It was also a popular fabric for trousers and suits.
Gabardine isn’t readily available nowadays through most off-the-rack retailers, nor does it represent a large percentage of the offerings of custom clothiers. Still, if you can find it, it’s worth at least having a pair of trousers made up in this fabric as it makes an excellent mid-weight cloth.
Benefits Of Gabardine
Gabardine is not your average cloth and it comes with its distinct advantages, the two most common of which are below:
Though it can be made in worsted wool, cotton, or a blend thereof, gabardine is known for having a silky, lustrous hand feel. This is unsurprising, as this is a typical property of tightly woven fabrics.
Gabardine’s tight weave also contributes to its ability to repel water. To be clear, a wearing a gabardine suit in a downpour is still not at all advisable, but if you get caught in a little bit of rain on your way home from work, it’ll keep you dry without issue.
How To Wear Gabardine & Common Garments
Though not easy to find, a suit is a great way to wear gabardine. Because the cloth tends to be mid-weight, it makes for a suit that can be worn throughout most of the year in most places across the globe.
Back in the 1930’s, wool gabardine was a very popular fabric for odd trousers. Typically worn in tan and paired with a navy blazer, it provided an alternative to to grey flannels, which were, at the time, considered workaday trousers for many men.
Like gabardine suits, trousers in this fabric can be worn any time of year. With that said, give careful consideration to color, as a white gabardine trouser will be great in the summer, but not so much in the wintertime.
Typical Patterns & Colors
Though there are exceptions, gabardine garments are typically offered in solid colors. Tan gabardine is probably the most common color for this material, but many fabric houses the likes of Holland & Sherry, Dormeuil, and Scabal tend to offer gabardine somewhere in their fabric books each season.
Additional Fabric Resources
Now that you know a bit about gabardine, we hope that you feel confident enough to seek it out and wear it, not to mention have an intelligent conversation with your tailor about it.
If yo’d like to earn about different types of fabrics, our guide to fabric will give you a great overview, and our pattern guide will show you all you need to know about the most patterns found in menswear. Finally, if you’re interested in more information on suits in general, check out our suits homepage.
Alternatively, consider perusing some of our related content:
- Herringbone Suit Fabric Guide
- Corduroy Suit Fabric Guide
- Best Made-to-Measure Suit Brands
- Different Suit Making Type Guides
- Bespoke Unit Suits Homepage
"So sad to hear that it's no longer around! I'll look far and wide to see if I can find myself something in Gabardine and get back to you!"Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★