The semantics of the term “dry” can be confusing. Take the dry martini, clearly wet in literal terms, its “dryness” is about the ratio of vodka or gin to Vermouth; or dry humour, which is all about a flourish-free delivery and, of course, has nothing to do with moisture levels at all.
Dry-handle is similarly esoteric, given that only the most pioneering technical sports fabrics might actually feel “wet” to the touch. The term refers to honest, unshowy fabrics, often woven from larger threads, which causes them to feel subtly coarser and to “perform” well (ie, possess superior durability). This season, thanks to a few forward-thinking textile mills, an increasing number of fashion designers and tailors are working with dry-handle fabrics that put aesthetics at centre stage, without giving an inch on performance.
Take the casual blouson jackets from new label MEHM+. This double-face nylon design (£495) in stone with corozo-nut buttons is water-repellent, light and feels like a cross between nubuck and parchment; another version (£495) in a water-resistant navy cotton gabardine has a satisfying matte, slightly rough, high-friction feel. A similar blouson (£695) at Gieves & Hawkes, in a dry wool fresco, comes with coordinating trousers (£175) featuring a subtly gathered waistband – effectively, a dry-handle wool tracksuit, rendered cool (and crease-resistant) by the fresco’s high-twist yarn.
Fine tailoring houses such as Gieves & Hawkes have long featured dry-handle fabrics, which are seen as workhorse suit cloths. And tailors – who, of course, spend a lot of time handling fabrics – are often the first to clock important fabrication trends. “The high-twist wools give the fabric tension and spring, which feel great but also ensure that it won’t break down or ‘bobble’,”says MEHM+ founder (and former Hardy Amies creative director) Mehmet Ali. MEHM+’s natty dry-handle seersucker woven check suit jacket (£475) with trousers (£225) deftly exemplifies how dry-handle and sharp tailoring work together, as does a softer-shouldered jacket (£455) and trousers (£225) in a fine tropical-weave wool over-check in grey/navy – which is totally crease-resistant and ideal for business travel.
A stunning new Italian dry seersucker was used at Timothy Everest for a double‑breasted blazer (£395) in a navy Prince of Wales-style check. It’s enzyme treated to improve softness, which also sanforises – shrinks and “fixes” – the cloth before it’s cut and sewn. It is a connoisseur’s fabric, with a markedly distinct “touch” from other seersuckers. A fuller jacket (£375) and waistcoat (£175) in khaki have a vintage workwear look, but are light and sporty. There are matching flat-front pants (£195) and chino and pleated shorts (£150).
A few tailors are also deploying dry fabrics for outerwear, to very stylish effect. Thom Sweeney’s raincoats (£1,690) are made from Loro Piana’s Storm System wool – a stiff, open matte weave – in navy, stone and burgundy with removable gilets. “Dry-handle wool is, of course, practical, but we actually prefer it aesthetically, to anything with sheen,” says co-founder Thom Whiddett. Along with two-piece suits (£1,590) and vests (£395), also in a Loro Piana dry-handle wool, the raincoats have an elegant sobriety, reminiscent of the Kilgour, French and Stanbury suits worn by Cary Grant in North by Northwest. Outerwear also starred at Ermenegildo Zegna Couture, where a navy Mackintosh raincoat (£2,360) in a technical cotton/silk stretch weave married a similarly sober edge with strong modern accents, like thermo-taped inner seams more characteristic of sportswear.
Paul Smith has always been about the look and the feel of clothes, and deftly demonstrates how dry-handle weaves can easily retain their innate “honesty” (both of fabrication and ethos) even when the patterns are ratcheted up. His collection took inspiration from Notting Hill in 1966 – the year he arrived in London, and a time when West Indian style culture was thriving. It’s easy to imagine the famously dapper style merchants at People’s Sound Records on the All Saints Road sporting these ensembles, such as the tailored blazer (£545) and trousers (£240) in green mini-check wool, and the two-button jacket (£795) and trousers (£315) in a blue windowpane-check wool. There were more windowpane checks at Canali, whose Capri suit (£1,300) in superfine wool is remarkably light, but also crease- and stain-resistant.
For some purists, dry-handle fabrics remain the stuff of legacy menswear. “When I think of them, I imagine beautiful sports jackets passed down from father to son,” says Francesco Barberis Canonico, creative director of the Vitale Barberis Canonico mill in Biella, northern Italy. I admired beautiful bespoke suits (€6,000) at the Florentine atelier Liverano & Liverano cut from VBC’s dry-handle cloths; the four-ply pinstripe and traditional worsteds felt reassuringly stoic, yet were seductively luxurious – proving that in the hands of a great mill, fabrics that evolved strictly with durability in mind can become truly luxury textiles.
But the other moral of this trend story seems to be that dry-handle fabrics are important as much for the sentiments they evoke as for their enhanced capabilities, especially in an evolving sartorial world where, increasingly, a feel-good factor trumps a surface finish almost every time.