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Home > Style Guide > Style Guide: Know Your Fabrics

Style Guide: Know Your Fabrics

June 10th, 2009
    Of all the shirting fabrics that are used in the world, the mighty cotton is King. Cotton is most commonly used because of its breathability, texture, absorbency, and durability. Breathability makes it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It is soft and feels nice against the skin. It holds its color and is strong to last through the years. So it is an easy decision when choosing a dress shirt fabric: choose 100% cotton. Unfortunately your decisions are not simple. There are several kinds of cotton, each serving a distinct purpose in your closet. Here are a few descriptions and recommendations to help you make your choice. COTTON TERMS Long Staple – Staple refers to the length of cotton fiber. Long staple fiber ranges between 1 ¼” and 2 ¼” and they are stronger, more expensive and luxurious than shorter staple cottons. Egyptian, Sea Island and Pima cottons are known for their long staples. Egyptian Cotton - Usually used in ultrafine broadcloth shirts (in addition to bed sheets). Egyptian cotton was originally grown along the Nile River due to its ideal climate, but the Egyptian cotton is now grown in other parts of the world. Egyptian cottons fibers are long (1 ¾”) and they can be spun thinner creating a softer feel and higher thread count per inch. Pima Cotton - Grown in Pima County, Arizona, it rivals the Egyptian version, and is considered by some to be finer (1 ½” staple length). Sea Island Cotton – It is the most expensive cotton due to its long staple (1 ½” to 2 ¼”) and it is found in top-quality shirting fabrics. Sea Island is originally from islands along Georgia and South Carolina coast, but it is now grown in other parts of the world. It is woven with a high number of threads per inch and it is sometimes mistaken for silk due to its fine, silky nature. BASIC WEAVE TYPES Broadcloth - A general term used to describe smooth cotton, used for both dress and casual shirts. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="142" caption="Chambray"]Chambray[/caption] Chambray - Strong fabric with a smooth surface, designed with a tight plain weave. The material is soft and comfortable and has a slight luster. Chambray has very soft coloring, which causes it to appear with a faded look. Downside of chambray is that it wrinkles easily. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="105" caption="Poplin"]Poplin[/caption] Poplin (aka Tabinet) - Tightly-woven plain weave. It has a fine hand and is the ideal conservative business dress shirt – probably the most common weave in Fortune 500 executive board rooms. The common complaint is that undershirts show and it tends to wrinkle easily. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="105" caption="End-on-end"]End-on-end[/caption] End-on-End - If you're tired of wearing solid shirts, but still need to wear a tie, end-on-end fabric allows for a little more texture in the appearance, without a thicker fabric that will add weight. It is loosely woven fabric with alternating fine colored yarn and a white yarn creating a micro check effect with a smooth texture. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="105" caption="Oxford"]Oxford[/caption] Oxford - Is a coarser weave where dyed and undyed threads are combined together to give the fabric a subtle basketweave appearance. This heavy cotton is able to take more abuse than finer weaves and will get softer as it gets more use. Due to its heavy weight and texture, this is a casual fabric, usually paired with a button-down collar and should not be worn with a tie. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="105" caption="Pinpoint"]Pinpoint[/caption] Pinpoint - Is a mix between poplin and oxford. Pinpoint is dressier than oxford but not as formal as poplin. It can be worn in business settings, but not in high-ego meetings. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="120" caption="Pique"]Pique[/caption] Pique - Raised weave design resulting in square or other geometric shapes – think of Belgium waffles. Pique is used widely for white tie events and holds more starch than other weaves, so it provides a stiffer shirt. A tuxedo shirt bib will usually have a layer of pique fabric. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="105" caption="Twill"]Twill[/caption] Twill - Easy-iron fabric is woven on the bias (45 degrees), for a smooth and elegant feel. The nature of a twill fabric allows it to hang well, and hides both stains and wrinkles better than other weaves, making it the standard in business shirts. This is the easy everyday, go-to fabric choice. Twill fabric translates well between business meetings and casual occasions. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="105" caption="Chevron"]Chevron[/caption] Chevron (aka Herringbone) - Threads are woven to form a diagonal structure.  The direction of the diagonals is changed at set intervals to create a zigzag pattern. Chevron fabrics are usually silky and smooth, and give the shirt texture and depth. Small chevron patterns can be worn in business settings but as they get bigger, they become more casual. You will not always like the most expensive fabric. If you like a crisp shirt, the more expensive and easily wrinkled Sea Island Cotton will not please you. An oxford is the least see through, but also much less formal. In short, you need not only consider what looks good, but what feels good, and what message you want to send. Go forth, and pick your weaves!
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